Rollerball 2013: coming to a Croydon school near you

Roller derby is Britain’s secret sports obsession, and Croydon’s very own league is growing fast and has a new home venue, reports LILY RAE

Contact sport: Croydon's "Mosquito", with her back to camera, makes a block in the bout with Batter C Power. Photographs by Vicky Walters

Contact sport: Croydon’s “Mosquito”, with her back to camera, makes a block in the bout with Batter C Power. Photographs by Vicky Walters

An import from the United States, even for those who have never seen the cult 1975 James Caan movie Rollerball, roller derby has developed a committed following – with women (and men) from all backgrounds adopting scary nicknames and dipping their toes into the world of “rugby on rollerskates”.

In Croydon, the local team is embarking on an exciting chapter, moving to a new home venue, in the sports hall at the independent Trinity School.

The game is played by two teams of five skaters – four “Blockers”, and one “Jammer” – who skate around the track at breakneck speed with the team’s Jammer attempting to score points by passing the other team’s Blockers, whose job it is to… well… block the Jammer by shrewd teamwork, skilful skating and sometimes sheer bone-crunching force.

Rough and tumble: The action gets underway at CRD's latest bout, the last at Monks Hill

Rough and tumble: The action gets underway at CRD’s latest bout, the last at Monks Hill. Note that even the referees adopt nicknames for the sport

Roller derby leagues started springing up in Britain in the last decade (not long after the somewhat inferior 2002 remake of Rollerball, it should be said). Very much in a grunge/punk style, the leagues are run by the skaters themselves, and harking back to the roller derbies of Depression-era America, they are usually contested by all-women teams.

Croydon boasts a league of its very own: CRD. At only four years old, it is fast becoming hot competition for the bigger and more famous leagues, such as London Rollergirls and London Rockin’ Rollers.

Founded by Dee Hogan (who uses the roller derby moniker “Mosquito”), CRD initially consisted of a group of like-minded women who started meeting up to skate together. “It was all very grassroots back in the day,” says Gin Atomic (or Hayley Shepherd as she is often known). “Most sessions were in St Georges Walk, come rain or shine – or snow!”

Today, there’s a 20- or 30-strong army of dedicated skaters at CRD, and exciting plans for the future. “The league wants to expand to include a B-team, and the A-team wants to continue to improve and bout as many teams as we can,” says Apocalex (Alex Bothwell).

CRD won its final fixture at Monks Hill Sports Centre – due to be bulldozed in the next few weeks – taking a stunning victory against Batter C Power, the London Rollergirls’ third team.

The sports centre was packed for the bout – games always attract good crowds, and this David and Goliath match was no exception. The bout may have marked the end of an era for CRD, but has continued their winning streak – and shows just how far the league has come since skating up and down car parks in the freezing cold.

Ramoana Kapowers (Romy Poole) sums up the sport as “the best decision I’ve ever made”.

She said: “Two years ago I stood outside a sports hall, preparing to attend a rookie skate session. And here I am now: a new and improved version of myself, capable of so much more than I thought was possible.”

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