Gallery: Suffolk Roller Derby comes to Ipswich in its pursuit for new recruits, Gemma Mitchell reports

Gemma Mitchell tries her hand at Suffolk Roller Derby.

Gemma Mitchell tries her hand at Suffolk Roller Derby. - Credit: Lucy taylor

The last time I was on roller skates it was 1998, I was wearing dungarees paired with a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt and my hair was in bunches.

Gemma Mitchell tries her hand at Suffolk Roller Derby with the help of Joni bendall

Gemma Mitchell tries her hand at Suffolk Roller Derby with the help of Joni bendall - Credit: Lucy taylor

As I strapped on the skates this time round, I was in a room full of sharply-dressed adults darting fearlessly around the hall at Inspire Suffolk in Ipswich during Suffolk Roller Derby’s (SRD) new Friday night session.

As one of the team’s referees started handing me different pieces of safety gear – a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist pads – I was beginning to wonder what I had let myself in for. I turned to her and whispered timidly: “I’m going to fall over”, she simply replied: “Yes you will.”

Roller Derby dates back to the 1930s when it was formed in the US as an endurance race. After noting the crowd’s reaction when skaters crashed into each other and fell down on the floor, it was soon adapted to become the full throttle sport it is today.

The modern revival has mainly centred around women, with dozens of female-only teams in action across the UK. SRD has been training in Bury St Edmunds since 2011 and is now searching for new recruits in Ipswich as it heads toward the British Roller Derby Championships. It is East Anglia’s first co-ed derby team, which means men and women train alongside each other.


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One of the team’s coaches, Jason Ryan, moved to the UK from America two years ago and has been involved with SRD since.

“The big thing I like about Roller Derby is the community,” the 32-year-old said. “I came here from the States and I didn’t know anybody. I saw a poster in the chip shop in Bury and when I showed up they just opened their arms up to me.”

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Jason previously coached a league of 150 women in Arizona, and said the sport offered women the opportunity to be strong, powerful players and leaders.

Having always attracted big audiences, the game relies on an element of drama. The skaters all adopt a derby name to be reckoned with to accompany their bone-crushing alter ego.

Team member Jayne Shepherd, aka Jayne’s-GottaGun, 34, is petite in size but certainly not in game-play.

“Some players are a lot stronger than you so you’ve got to be more agile and skilful on your skates,” she said.

“It’s challenging and that’s why we do it. You can be any size, shape, it doesn’t matter what you have, in derby you can just work with what you’ve got.”

She said derby prided itself on being an all-inclusive game, which often attracted people who were never interested in sport at school.

As the session came to an end, I was surprisingly steady on my feet, well equipped with the derby basics, and had only fallen over six or seven times.

After a quick stretch and group huddle, in which I was hustled to the middle of and patted sympathetically on the back, it was to the pub for a medicinal cider.

If you’re interested in joining the team, contact suffolkrollerderby@gmail.com, no previous skating experience is required, or visit www.suffolkrollerderby.com for more information.

The rules:

Roller Derby is played by two teams of five, four blockers and one jammer on each team.

The game, or ‘bout’, is played in two 30 minute halves, through a series of two minute ‘jams’.

The jammer is the point scorer and their goal is to get through the blockers.

Once the jammer is through the pack they have to get round the track, and then lap the other team’s players, every player on the other team that they are able to lap, is a point.

The goal for the blockers is to keep the other team’s jammer from breaking through, they will also try to help their jammer get out by interfering with the other blockers.

The first jammer who breaks free from the pack then gets lead jam, which means they are able to control what happens in the jam, and can call it off at any time and end the game.

The jam consists of two minutes, unless it gets called off.

The team that has the most points at the end of the two 30-minute halves wins.

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