Women’s roller derby is one the most bruising, high-octane and colourful pursuits on the planet.
It first rolled into Belfast in 2010 and has grown exponentially, providing an outlet for ladies with a need for speed and a passion for rough and tumble.
This week belfastvibe spoke to Belfast Roller Derby players Mauler Malone and Buckfast Barbie about the sport in which you need to stay on your toes to avoid ending up on your rear end.
Mauler Malone, known to her family as Oonagh O’Flaherty, explained how she got hooked on roller derby: “I played hockey at school, but since leaving school nothing sparked my interest until roller derby.
“Most of the girls who join haven’t done roller skating since they were wee. Myself and Barbie were the same.
Oonagh – I wanted something a bit like Molly Malone, but more aggressive
“You have to learn how to balance, how to be strong, how to take a hit. You need to be able to stay on your feet, or if you can’t, land safely.
“You don’t begin to play the game until you’ve been trained for six months. We call it the Zero to Shero programme.”
Buckfast Barbie, whose utility bills are delivered to one Barbara Robinson, said: “The sport favours people with any sort of athletic ability but the great thing is it doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, there’s a place in the game for you. Some people’s footwork will be their strength, for others it’s their size or speed.”
Oonagh added: “When you see the top, top players what makes them stand out is their fearlessness. They just don’t think about the fact they’re on wheels.”
Belfast Roller Derby, who play their home games at the Valley Leisure Centre, have an A team and B team – Belfast Banshees and Norn Iron Maidens. The Banshees are currently sitting top of their group in the British Championships, a major achievements considering it’s their first year in the flat track competition. They’re also sitting 41st in Europe out of 369 teams.
A roller derby game takes place over an hour with the action being concentrated in two-minute bursts called jams in which each team’s point scorer (jammer) tries to get past the blockers and their opposite jammer in order to rack up points. The machinations of how that actually plays out is rather complicated. The fact that seven referees are required to officiate a high-level game is evidence of this.
Oonagh said: “When you see a few games, especially at a high level, you start to pick up the rules. I suppose it’s no different from sports like rugby that have lots of rules that you only know about the more you play and watch.”
Barbie added: “You’re playing offence and defence at the same time. Having two jammers is like having two balls. You’re trying to help one and stop the other at the same time.”
Barbie – I picked Buckfast Barbie because I like Buckfast
Oonagh said: “Because jams only last two minutes and there’s so many of them, you tend to forget what actually happened when your looking back after the game. We call it jamnesia. Barbie and I are both blockers so if we’ve managed to stop the opponent’s point scorer we’ve done a good job. Remembering anything beyond that is difficult.”
Belfast Roller Derby has a membership of over 70 from coaches and experienced skaters right down to beginners and juniors, from 18 year old girls to women in their early 40s.
One of the founders was Hannah Whittal, brought the sport to Belfast after witnessing a roller derby in Glasgow.
As well as Buckfast Barbie and Mauler Malone, other larger than life characters who have graced the track for Belfast Roller Derby include Mo Mawl’em, Hannahbolic Steroids and Sigourney Cleaver.
Since their inception Belfast Roller Derby have played host to a number of high-profile visiting coaches including Sandrine ‘Francey Pants’ Rangeon who represents the Windy City.