Members of Glasgow Roller Derby speak to CommonSpace about how it all began, where they’re headed and what makes this women-led sport so special
"THE first time I saw the league training I was in total awe. This powerful group of women whizzing round on skates, wheels screeching as they stopped, and shooting off in the opposite direction."
Ahead of the 10th anniversary event where she will play her first game outside of training, new member Femme Fatality reflects on her experience of joining the league.
"I had never seen anything like it, and this was just the warm up. I would never have believed that I would be joining them at the beginning of this year," explains Fatality, who joined Glasgow Roller Recruits in September 2016 and recently chose her roller derby nickname in keeping with the sport’s playful tradition.
Roller derby is a full contact sport on wheels - understandably a daunting prospect for some, but those who play roller derby will tell you that it’s as rewarding as it is challenging.
Played on an oval track, one player, the 'jammer', from each team scores points by lapping the opposing players during each two minute 'jam', while the four 'blockers' aim to stop them.
Recruits are required to pass Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA) approved skills tests before joining the league, so moving up to league is an achievement in itself.
"The coaches and the girls I'm training with are very supportive and encouraging, and I'm learning so much from them. It’s such a privilege to train with such experienced players who are at the top of their game," Fatality says.
"I feel enormous pride from what a small group of women, without any prior skating or sport organisation experience, managed to achieve through their determination." Mistress Malicious, Glasgow Roller Derby founding member
A league of their own
In 2007, two women, Mistress Malicious and Teri Toxic, set up Scotland’s first roller derby league, initially named Glasgow Roller Girls. Malicious recalls that the first meetup skate was held in Kelvingrove Park, where one of the skaters broke their nose, and the coaching for the first official practice involved reading from pieces of paper printed from the internet.
Malicious, who is now a retired member, having played for the league’s A Team, Irn Bruisers, feels a special attachment to Glasgow Roller Derby.
"I feel enormous pride from what a small group of women, without any prior skating or sport organisation experience, managed to achieve through their determination to make GRD happen. It’s great to be able to look back and think 'Yep, we made that happen all on our own'."
Fast forward 10 years on and there are over 20 leagues in Scotland, and Glasgow Roller Derby has has grown by leaps and bounds. The league now has three home teams who play intra-league games, and an active A and B team who travel the world to compete.
In 2015, Irn Bruisers won the British Championships Tier 1 and made it to the WTFDA Division 1 playoffs in Florida. Now, three of the league’s skaters have been selected for Team Scotland Roller Derby for the 2018 World Cup.
To speak to people involved in roller derby is invariably to be caught up in an infectious enthusiasm for a sport which feels like more than just a game.
On 11 March, the league is ready to celebrate its vibrant history with an action packed day. Hosted at the Glasgow Caledonian University ARC, there will be three games featuring mixed teams of players from across Scotland: Rising Stars Women, Advanced Women, and Co-Ed.
The day will also include a roller disco, face painting, the quintessential cake and merch stalls, and, for GRD super-fans, an after party at the league’s sponsor, Euro Hostel Glasgow’s Mint and Lime Bar.
So, what’s it all about?
To speak to people involved in roller derby is invariably to be caught up in an infectious enthusiasm for a sport which feels like more than just a game. Puma Thurman, a player for GRD’s B Team, Maiden Grrders, explains what roller derby means to her.
"It means playing the only sport I've ever stuck at; it means hard work on track and off, and just being surrounded by the best people.
"Its grassroots 'by the members, for the members' philosophy has grown this wonderful inclusive spirit, and the fact that it's a level playing field (no-one learns derby at school!) is great for the less sporty to come into.
"Derby is very female driven and is much more athletic than at its inception. Think roller derby and men's roller derby world cups- you don't get football and men's football."
"This is a wonderful sport driven by fierce women and we have space for everyone." Puma Thurman, Glasgow Roller Derby member
Femme Fatality had also never been the sporty type, but after reading about roller derby in an article a few years ago, she promised herself she would try it.
"I loved being on skates when I was younger and went through a phase of roller blading up to the school to collect my daughter, much to her embarrassment.
Bad Omens (GRD Home Team), 2016 at the ARC. Credit: Dave McAleavy- boutday.com
"Now my kids are older, I have more time to myself and I’m able to commit to the team. I'm probably one of the oldest in GRD, but it doesn’t make any difference."
Asked to sum up Glasgow Roller Derby in 10 words for the 10 years since the league’s inception (because, why not?), Fatality says it’s all about "empowering women, confidence boosting, solidarity, acceptance, and increasing fitness levels".
Echoing these sentiments, Puma describes the league as an "inclusive community of strong, athletic, inspiring women, supporting each other".
Malicious, who knows a thing or two about the commitment that roller derby can entail, says simply: "Roller derby requires hard work but will change your life."
What does the future hold?
The league is training up new players all the time through the Glasgow Roller Recruits programme, and the aim is to resurrect the home team, Hell’s Belles and travel C team, Cannie Gingers, once the numbers go up.
Puma Thurman hopes to see the league continue to "get bigger and better - promoting the sport of roller derby, establishing firmer foundations, and growing the values that make this a great space for so many," Puma says, adding: "This is a wonderful sport driven by fierce women and we have space for everyone, so if anyone reading this is tempted then I urge them to strap some skates on and come join in."
Malicious has high hopes for Glasgow Roller Derby’s next steps (or should we say, next rolls?). "I would love to think we will finally get our own skating venue and to be teaching juniors, the next generation of derby stars."
For newbie Femme Fatality’s part, she’s looking forward to the anniversary event. "I'm due to play my first game. The thought fills me with fear, but I know I would rather play than be on the sidelines."
Doors open at 10.30am on 11 March. Find out more and book tickets at www.glasgowrollerderby.com.
Pictures courtesy of Dave McAleavy- boutday.com
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