Updated: Saturday, 22nd February 2020 @ 5:50am

Play (and watch) at your own risk: Oldham's roller derby team on blockers, jammers and SUICIDE seats

Play (and watch) at your own risk: Oldham's roller derby team on blockers, jammers and SUICIDE seats

| By Richard Browne

How many sports do you know require you 'learn how to fall' to take part, include positions such as blockers and jammers and have viewing areas known as 'suicide seats'? 

Roller derby does.

Oldham's own roller derby team are getting their skates on and remain 'stronger and tighter' ahead of a tough European competition. 

The Rainy City Roller Girls will be looking to make a name for themselves on the continent in the fiercely competitive and frenetically tactical world of roller derby.

The Oldham based squad will be travelling to Belgium at the end of May to participate in ‘A Skate Odyssey’.

They faced perhaps their biggest challenge at the start of March though when £1,500 worth of equipment was stolen which had threatened to knock their entire season off course.

After generous donations from other UK roller derby teams and messages of support they are back on a roll.

Here at MM we have taken a look at the sport which is placing Oldham on the map.

Roller derby is a full-contact sport involving two teams of five players – four blockers and one jammer – on quad skates competing on a circuit track.

“The jammer is the player who scores the points by lapping members of the opposing team,” explained Rainy City’s PR Director Emma Lyskava, or ‘Harlot Jo Ransom’ in roller derby lingo.

“It's the blockers' job to 'block' the opposing jammer, while simultaneously helping their own jammer get through the pack.”

OUT OF THE WAY: Jammer's must battle their way through to score points

The Rainy City Roller Girls were founded in 2008 by Carly ‘Biertrix’ Harper and Robyn ‘Sinthia Pain’ Roberts, who had a passion for the sport but found there was nowhere in Greater Manchester they could join.

Since then, Rainy City has grown immensly attracting new members through their New Skater Training sessions on Monday evenings in their Oldham venue, the Thunderdome.

“Some of the safety equipment and skates can be expensive if you're just giving it a go, so we hire out kit to encourage people to come along,” said Lyskava.

“As a beginner it helps if you have some background in skating or a sport that requires balance, but this isn't a necessity and some people can surprise you!”

To an inexperienced observer, the sport looks chaotic – the rapid changes in play are part of its appeal, but a good grasp of strategy is as crucial as having strength and stamina.

“You’re playing both offence and defence simultaneously, so you really need to be able to switch from one to the other and think about three steps ahead,” explained Lyskava.

“You need what we call ‘track awareness’, where you know where everyone is on the track at one time and where they're most likely to move to.”

ROLL OVER: Roller derby can be physical for players and occasionally even the crowd!

Being a full-contact sport, roller derby requires attentive officiating – seven referees oversee each game, with player safety their primary concern.

Rainy City’s Head Referee, Matt the Knife Price, said: “It can be pretty challenging to become a skating official as there are lots of things to be watching out for.

“The ability to relate action you witness to the printed word of the rule book in a split second takes a lot of training and learning.

“You also need to get to be a competent skater, so that you can focus fully on watching other people rather than concentrating too much on what your own feet are doing.”

The referees all have specific responsibilities during a game, be it following the main pack of skaters, tracking the jammers’ progress or keeping on top of scoring.

To communicate with each other, the players and officials use ‘a defined system of hand signals and verbal cues’.

Rainy City also take the safety of their spectators into account – they have installed bleachers for fans, and give warning to those who wish to sit closest to the action.

“All skaters are taught how to fall small and safely before competing in games,” said Lyskava.

“But some skaters can spin off into the crowd.

“You definitely sit in the ‘suicide seats’ at your own risk, which is why they come with a warning and they’re over 18s only!”

DANGER!: Front-row 'suicide seats' highlight the potential risk

The Thunderdome – suicide seats and all – has become more than just a playing venue for Rainy City, but they are also looking further afield.

After hosting the Northern Sur5al tournament in Oldham at the start of April, the squad will be going to Europe for their second foray into the 'A Skate Odyssey' continental competition.

Lyskava hopes that the lessons learned from last year, when they finished ninth out of ten teams, will enable them to go in with a ‘stronger and tighter’ approach – and they look to have the players and ambition to do just that.

Images courtesy of Darren Crompton, D. Crompton Photography, with thanks.