Women-only roller derby: Glasgow Roller Girls
Kirstin Innes gets her skates on for a day’s training with the Glasgow Roller Girls
Mistress Malicious meets me, as arranged, in the foyer of the sports centre. She’s easy to spot: she’s tall and elegant, with tattoos and bright scarlet hair. Oh, and she’s on rollerskates.
I’m here to train with the Glasgow Rollergirls and learn about the women-only roller derby, which, with 14 leagues all over the UK, is going through something of a renaissance. It’s really not your average team sport. First of all, the players look impressive, even just for a practise session. In the US, where it’s now a televised sport, it’s widely associated with alternative music, goth and punk scenes. The Glasgow Rollergirls wear eyeliner, stripy tights, and, in the case of ace ‘jammer’ Troublegum, tartan miniskirts.
Rollergirls also need proper names. Bubbly, excitable team captain Barbara Kerr, for example, rejoices in the title Sister Grimm.
‘It’s a play on the Brothers Grimm,’ she explains ‘because I write. Everyone picks their own — it’s like an alternative personality that we adopt on track. I’m a healthcare professional, so I spend my days picking people up and helping them along, and here I’m knocking folk down and doing my very best to hinder them.’
Although there is an element of showing off about roller derby, don’t think for a second that they’re not taking it seriously.
‘It is a proper sport,’ Mistress Malicious says. ‘It’s very exciting, but we do train hard.’
Games, or jams, are played in two-minute bursts by two teams of five. The ‘packs’ of four ‘blockers’, travel up front; the smaller, speedier ‘jammers’ start from behind. Their goal is to complete as many laps of the track as possible; the blockers’ job is to stop them, using hips and bums and shoulders.
Energy is high and the pace is frenetic; players do frequently end up in the ‘sin bin’ after major penalities, but they’re very good at regulating themselves and zoom back into play as soon as their penalty time is served.
Despite having been pretty good on skates 20 years ago, as an adult, I’m very wobbly and exceptionally grateful to be told that I won’t be bouting today. Instead, safely padded at knees, ankles, head and wrists, I’m given a crash course in, well, crashing. In such a fast-paced sport it’s important to learn to fall safely and I’m impressed with myself when I (spontaneously) manage what Sister Grimm describes as ‘a pretty good four-point fall’: knees, legs and elbows tucked in (backside and personal dignity not so neat).
The Rollergirls have endless patience for newcomers, and despite the ferocity of their on-pitch personalities, are welcoming, friendly, and looking for new members. It could be you, if you don’t mind the bruising.
Equipment Shorts, vests, t-shirts, leggings, (miniskirts, fishnet tights – tattoos and eyeliner optional). The girls will provide newcomers with helmets, padding, wrist guards and, crucially, skates, but if you want to make a go of it properly you’ll need to bring your own.
Who should do it Women of all shapes and sizes with excess energy to burn, anyone with fond memories of the 1980s.
Who should avoid it Delicate wee flowers, Pilates enthusiasts.