Roller derbies: When women collide

A Slice of Britain: It's basically a series of high-speed gang muggings – but it's rapidly growing in popularity among women

There is a thunderous clattering as one shove turns 10 speeding roller skaters into a human avalanche of steel axles, spinning wheels and neon-clad limbs.

This is Anarchy in the UK, a two-day roller derby in London's Docklands. It is the first time a tournament of the sport has ever been hosted outside the US, and nobody has come to play nicely.

The shove in question was a "booty block", a move executed by smashing into another player as hard as possible with your backside. The bout has only been going five minutes and they're already on to their third major pile-up. This may be a sport for girls, but netball it is not.

The first game of the tournament sees the home team, London Brawling, taking on Montreal's New Skids on the Block. As it is the first bout London Brawling have played on the professional circuit, the scoreboard is pretty unforgiving. It is not even half-time, and Montreal already have 66 points to London's nine.

For those unfamiliar with the roller derby, it is basically a series of fast-moving gang muggings on wheels. Two teams of five skate at high speed in the same direction around a track. Points can only be scored by the "jammer" who tries to break free and lap the opposing team. The rest of the team try to block the jammer, using increasingly violent means.

Last year's Drew Barrymore film on roller derbies, Whip It, sparked an international surge of interest in the sport. Britain has gone from getting its first team in London in 2006 to having more than 80 clubs nationwide.

What began in America in the Thirties as a sedate game on roller skates played by both sexes has exploded into a cult sport for women. With punk-inspired outfits known as "boutfits", wrestling-style stage roles for women of all sizes, it has been embraced by many who previously wouldn't be seen dead doing sport.

The day's competition is as much about getting into character and pulling off some audacious smackdowns as it is about winning. With skate names such as Fox Sake, Kamikaze Kitten and Grievous Bodily Charm, it is clear nobody is going to be a shrinking violet.

Raw Heidi, aka Amy Ruffell, is on the track for London. The 28-year-old has a shock of blonde hair, a single black line of war paint on one cheek and a hard hat bearing her skate name in sparkling letters.

"A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to come and drink beer and watch girls slam into each other on skates. So of course I said yes and I've been hooked ever since."

The bout has an atmosphere more akin to an underground dogfight than an international sporting contest. More than a thousand people have turned up to cheer on the teams, though the volume of screaming makes it sound double that.

London's skaters spend a lot of the game sitting in the sin bin for illegal moves, the most dramatic of which is a violent shove from behind, causing a human pile-up that makes the M25 look like a bridleway. The track is marked out in hazard tape on the floor but there is nothing to stop the skaters careering into the crowd. In fact some have paid extra for the "privilege" of sitting in the hit zone.

Claire Andrews – or Boba Fetish, to use her bout name – is one of those who has paid for ring-side seats. She has travelled down from Cardiff with 20 of her club, the Tiger Bay Brawlers, to see the tournament. Despite her bright yellow and orange hair and lip piercing, the 24-year-old product designer is the most conservatively dressed member of her team.

"It's really big deal to have a proper WFTDA [Women's Flat Track Derby Association] tournament here," she says. Most of her team has never been into sport until now. "It really attracts an alternative crowd. There was a gap in the market for a sport for girls who don't like sport. Something active that gets you fit without involving anything lame like netball."

For some, the boutfits and skate names are a distraction from what they want to be seen as a proper sport. Stefanie Mainey, 29, is one of London Brawling's star players, but she is the only one who insists that the name on her back must be her own.

"I dropped my bout name because I felt they were taking away from the sport. They were making it a bit of a novelty when, as far as I'm concerned, it's very serious. It's a great sport that's really empowering for women. There aren't many team sports like this that are aggressive and predominantly played by girls."

As the referee blows the final whistle, the score is 57 to Montreal's 137, but London Brawling are undeterred. Raw Heidi staggers off the track. "I want a rematch", she says, grinning. "When can we go to Montreal?"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water