Dame Kelly Holmes was on the radio a little while ago exhorting girls to get involved in sport. We're not entirely sure that roller derby was what she was thinking of at the time, but a group of daring Londoners are keen to welcome new female recruits to their weekly Saturday afternoon practice sessions.
Let's be clear about one thing before we start - roller derby is a contact sport and participants can expect deliberate collisions and the falling that so often accompanies being knocked off course at high speed shod only in wheels. The website of the London Roller Girls is, however, reassuring on this point:
As long as you are wearing your padding, helmet and mouth guard you will be fine. We constantly practice falling techniques and strength training so that we don’t hurt ourselves or each other.
It should be stressed that, while pushing and pulling are an integral part of the game, tripping and punching most definitely are not.
Talking of the game, a roller derby consists of a series of "jams" between two teams of five skaters each. In every jam both teams have one "jammer" and four "blockers" skating anti-clockwise round an ovalish track. Basically, the blockers start off and, a few seconds later, the jammers chase after them. When the jammers reach the pack of blockers they have to try to get past all of them. Assuming they manage that without any unplanned detours into the local scenery they can start scoring some points by charging round the track again to catch up with the blockers a second time. Once they've achieved that, every opposition blocker overtaken scores the jammer's team a point and they can keep on racking those up until they are parted from the vertical or two minutes is up, whichever is the sooner. Sounds to us like this could result in a lot of nil-nil draws, but we're guessing from the popularity of the sport in the US that it doesn't.
The two-and-a-half hour skating sessions are usually £5 a time, but newcomers can have their first practice for free. Contact the Roller Girls in advance and you may even be able to borrow some kit if you don't yet have it. Beginners' skating lessons can also be arranged. Non-skaters who wish to act as referees, score keepers, cheerleaders, announcers or just simply supporters are also welcome. Skaters, who must be women aged 18 or over, are asked to arrive early, or at least promptly, for the 3:45pm start at the Mulberry Leisure Centre, Richard Street, E1 2JP. The nearest tube station is Shadwell on the East London line, or Whitechapel and Aldgate East stations on the Hammersmith and City or District lines.
Oh, and one last piece of advice. On no account ask where the ball is.
Picture of roller derby, Vegas style, via arabella's Flickr stream.