Roller derby: What it is and why I love it

Emma, aka Harlot Jo Ransom, plays for Rainy City Roller Derby based in Oldham.

Rainy City Roller Derby Picture: Jason Ruffell
Rainy City Roller Derby Picture: Jason Ruffell

Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on roller skates. Some people say that it’s a bit like rugby but there’s no ball.

Two teams of five skaters skate around an oval track and compete to score the most points in 60 minutes.

Each team has a player called a jammer who scores points by passing members of the opposing team. The other skaters are called blockers who clear a path for their jammer while simultaneously blocking the opposing jammer from passing them.

The league

Roller derby is structured a little differently to traditional sports, in that all of the teams within the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association around the world compete against one another in one big global rankings table.

Each year, the top 28 teams in the rankings are invited to the International Playoffs or go straight to the Championships. These tournaments have predominantly been held in America, but last year’s Championships were held in Canada.

There are currently 455 member teams in the WFTDA from six continents, so it’s pretty widespread! The 10th best team in the world is from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and we’re just behind them at number 11 from Manchester, England.

You can see the current rankings table here: stats.wftda.com/rankings

Rainy City Roller Derby
Picture: Jason Ruffell

How Rainy City Roller Derby started

Rainy City Roller Derby was founded in 2008 by Carly ‘Biertrix’ Harper. She saw the sport on a cable TV channel and was inspired to start up her own team right here in Manchester.

With help from the already established London Roller Derby team and a bunch of women who were willing to give this new sport a go – Rainy City Roller Derby was born.

Roller derby is a predominantly female sport. We never preface it with ‘women’s’ like in ‘women’s football’ or ‘women’s rugby’. The default for women playing roller derby is just ‘roller derby’. This ownership of a physical and full-contact sport gives women a lot of confidence to take up space and to be loud and to be heard.

There’s also the things you learn along the way when you join a team sport and have a bunch of really great people in your team, who all support one another in their journey. It also teaches you to keep getting back up each time you get knocked down.

My advice for someone wanting to get into roller derby

Go for it! It’s going to be so strange at first, but once you step into the world of roller derby you’re going to love it! If you’ve never skated before most teams will teach you right from the beginning, and will even have skates and pads for you to hire before you buy your own.

The main piece of advice I can give is don’t give up and don’t compare yourself to others. Some people find certain skating skills more difficult than others, but just keeping chipping away and you’ll soon be skating laps around the track.

Rainy City Roller Derby
Picture: Jason Ruffell

The common misconceptions

A lot of people think that we just beat each other up on skates. While the hit film Whip It with Ellen Page did a lot to raise the profile of the sport, it did give people this impression that we just trip each other over or punch people in the face. In reality, there’s a lot of rules about how and where you can make contact with another skater. There’s actually a lot of strategy involved, rather than trying to purely physically harm an opponent.

Some people also think that it’s all staged like WWF wrestling, but nothing is choreographed! In the past, some roller derby games were more of a performance rather than a sport, but the game we play today is nothing like that.

Give it a go…

Roller derby is great! If you’ve been put off from sport in the past either by PE at school, or boring gym classes, then I’d definitely recommend getting into roller derby. It’s also such a social sport and I’ve met some of my closest friends through Rainy City and travelled around Europe and Canada.

If you’re interested in the sport, but don’t want to play, there’s always a need for officials to help run the games. They’re a vital part of every game and if you love stats and thinking on your feet, then it’s the perfect role. Each team is often run by the skaters and volunteers, so there’s always a role for you in the community where you will be welcomed with open arms!

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