Rovin' News - Cerberus, Cider and Cornish Pastings

Adam Peters

This is not what we were expecting at all. It's the back end of February 2014 and this month the national media has been dominated by the weather. Most specifically by stories of England's Western appendage sinking into the sea; it's rail access guillotined by a landslip in Dawlish; the rest of it seemingly a cocktail of submerged cars, sandbags and bulldog spirit as biblical deluges rain down from above. We have travelled here on one of the extra 'rescue flights' put on to service Cornwall in these darkest of days, so the blistering sunshine that greets our landing is something of a surprise. Deposited in Newquay town centre by airport bus, everywhere we turn we see people wearing shorts, shades and sunhats, slurping on ice creams.

We can't help but feel the whole storm thing might have been made up by the locals to finagle some cash off the Westminster government – they're nothing if not wily, the people of Kernow – but the skies have darkened by the time we reach Penzance, less than ten miles from the point where England realises it's just a rock in the Atlantic. We meet up with our hosts, Mollie Tov and Yurt Cobain, people we know from shared Jäger-sodden years in Brighton. One's now a rookie with local ladies Rapscallion Rollers, the other similarly striving at Cornwall's fledgling merby outfit, the Scrumpy Old Men. The couple regale us with tales of recent days spent rebuilding their collapsed access road, and of wading through waist high mud to reach the tent they've been living in. OK, so maybe there has been a storm or two down here.


Next stop: Penzance Leisure Centre. Ah leisure centres, the natural home of the derby-inclined, be they skater, official or fan. There's something reassuring – to the roving derby reporter in particular – about the fact that these venues are pretty much interchangeable, wherever you may be in the UK, Europe or beyond. Scampering clusters of noisy children there for swimming or judo; a soulless café that most likely doesn't sell booze; A4 signs bearing the words 'roller derby' and an arrow, taped hither and thither but only visible to those who are looking for them; and a hall itself whose cavernous dimensions give every sound a dull distant echo. This is not the place for the hungover at midday on a Sunday, but it's where we have to be. Mollie and Yurt were sat in a field drinking cider until 4am – seemingly that's the done thing around here – and look in an even worse state that your writer.


Today's intraleague tournament features three bouts consisting of two 20 minute periods each. The Skate Out is already underway, with all three eleven woman squads on track together as one player per team is called out of the pack in turn to take her applause. This seems to go on forever, but we're pretty sure that's down to our hangovers. The opening bout sees the Kernow Rollers in dark grey taking on the red-clad Raprollers. Things are nip and tuck early on with N/A and HeBeGeBe putting in very physical blocking performances for their respective teams. Kernow, the more experienced side, seem to have a wider range of jamming options, whereas most of the Raps' points are coming from their fleet-footed captain, Gnarly Davidson. The bout features the sort of mistimed call-offs and clock confusions you tend to get at this level – an endearing rather than bad thing – as well as the world's thinnest outside ref lane. (Hey, hopefully the architects of the future will take derby into account when designing sports halls?)


Kernow edge the win 121-104 off the back of a well utilised Feral Perryl power jam late on, and we head out to the car park where someone produces some warm bottles of Rattler cider to help take the edge off the daylight. So what brought us here this weekend? There were plenty of other bouts much closer to home we could have gone to – Portsmouth v Croydon, say, or the latest Sur5al incarnation in Windsor. Neither is quite as historic an event as this one, though. Talking to skaters and fans at the venue and afterparty, it seems we're the only people who have realised it, but this is – and we've checked the maps – the most southerly public derby event to have ever taken place in the British Isles. Not just that, but it's also Great Britain's most westerly derby event to date. They say derby now permeates every corner of the UK, and nowhere is more like a corner than this spit of land we're on. There's also another potentially historic aspect to Cornwall Roller Derby's first ever intraleague tournament... could this (unknowingly) be the birthing point of the UK's first ever 'genuine' derby league?


Wooah. We'd better clarify what we mean. Now, don't get us wrong, we love the 'normal kind' of intraleague; that thing a league sets up when it has more skaters than its travel teams can handle, where people get itchy skates so two to four teams are formed from the overall skating pool, given themes and set up to play each other. What is taking place today is beyond that, though. Partly this is due to the nature of Cornwall – small towns rather than a big central 'city', a transport network and weather systems that render those towns (20-30 miles apart) more isolated than a map would suggest. They may skate together as CRD's travel team, but the fact is these three sides are each based in a different town, with their own training sessions and their own training/bouting venue. The oldest team, 2010-formed Towan Blystra Bombers, skate out of stag do and surfers capital Newquay. The Kernow Rollers (now part of CRD after a period as a separate league) are from county town/city and civil service centre Truro, whilst the Rapscallion Rollers hail from here in Penzance, a beautiful mess of pasties and pirates.


In many ways this approach could be seen as a possible route map for UK derby as a whole – should the sport develop to the heights many anticipate, and stop celebrating itself for long enough to build a mainstream fan base. It will surely be far easier for such 'non-derby' fans to cheer on a hometown team playing against the town up the road, rather than embrace generic intraleague sides differentiated only by shirt colour and fancy dress accessory. The Cornwall Roller Derby league is in many respects a real 'league' in the way that, say, the Kent Football League or South Wales Cricket League are. Could derby's future lie with county or city-wide leagues, each team with based in a specific venue/locale, with an overall 'travel team' representing that county/city against others? It's not a hundred steps away from where UK derby is now, but these are minefield steps. Is this a blueprint for the future? Some of us would like to think so.


Back in the hall, the Raps have barely had time to glug their Powerades before they're back up. The Bombers, army green of shirt, are in many ways the Raps' mum, and the kid they birthed is playing tough from the outset. A half time score of 71-54 to the Newquay side looks bridgeable, but do Penzance have the legs for it? Whilst they were out on track against Truro, the Newquay ladies were sat eating power brownies in the front row. Consecutive jammer appearances from the impressive Madame Warfare early in the second period have helped roll the Bombers up to a 132-67 scoreline with five minutes left on the clock. Things have been getting heated, with some very tough pack-on-pack work and both teams running a conveyor belt to the penalty box. A late Raps power jam sees the Penzance team close the gap and snare triple figures at the game's end. 140-100. Raprollers' tournament is over, and the final bout – Newquay v Truro – will be the de facto final.


"Towan Blystra Bombers are our mentors," Raps bench coach Lady MacDeath tells us at the afterparty, "they took us under their wing and started us off, and we look up to them a lot. It's been really good to actually bout against them for the first time today. I'd like to do it again when we weren't so tired after already fighting one bout. I'd like to see what the outcome would be then." Whilst the tournament venue had been reassuringly derby standard, the same can't be said for this afterparty location. A modern restaurant, high-ceilinged, shiny and as brightly lit as an operating theatre, it's the polar opposite of the grimy cellar rock bars we're used to. Different is always good, though. The hometown team are out in force tonight, and there are plenty of Bombers and Kernow Rollers here too.


The final bout was an edgy affair, with Truro taking an 11-0 lead from the first four jams and keeping the differential up as the match progressed. The jams where Feral lined up in the star against Warfare were amongst the standout moments, as was Newquay captain Go-Nads accidentally sending a ref flying three rows into the crowd. Where the Bombers picked up points it was largely just two or three at a time from pack-hitting call-offs, so the result wasn't really in doubt. Kernow closed it out at 112-59 and the Truro captain raised the fantastic trophy – a triple skated golden take on the Hydra, called the Cerberus. After two battling performances from the young hometown team, the 'final' (the one bout they didn't feature in) had the most definitive scoreline of the day.

It strikes us that the tournament was won by the only team who didn't have to play consecutive games. "I think they used their break well," says MacDeath diplomatically. "I think they were very conservative with their strength and their speed. They took the time to rest, which is what any of the teams would have done in that situation. I think it gave them an advantage, but they also have the advantage of having skated together as a single independent team for a long time." MacDeath sees a bright future for the Cornish intraleague as a whole: "We've had a lot of Kernow rookies at Raps training sessions – so have the Bombers – and we're also invited to their sessions, so it's a really organic inter-connecting intraleague feeling. Each team also has very different training styles. It was great to host this first tournament. The plan is for the three sides to take it in turns hosting this and for it to be held at least annually. I really hope it's going to be more regular than that."


For now the good derby folk of Penzance are looking towards the second event that will take place here at Britain's most southerly and westerly bouting venue, with the leisure centre playing host to the first day of the South West Series on April 6th. So much of what this part of the world is known for – pirates, cider, rum, independence of spirit – is reflected in general derby culture. Indeed, a bout that took place 300 miles away in High Wycombe (Big Bucks v Portsmouth) was confusingly named 'The Pivots of Penzance'. So it's good to see this far flung corner of the UK establishing itself as a derby town in its own right. For now we'll leave the country's most southerly roller derby afterparty, stagger across the road to Great Britain's westermost Wetherspoons, have a drunken argument with an ex-squaddie and spend the rest of the night hiding under a table in the Hell's Angels bar round the corner. Such are the perils of being a roving reporter for Rollin' News.

Photographs courtesy of Alex Woodhouse and Cornwall Roller Derby

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