BIG READ: Grab your gum shield and unleash your fierce side

When asked how they would sum up roller derby, players from Portsmouth Roller Wenches had a simple answer, 'like rugby on skates'

Friday, 2nd February 2018, 10:49 am
Updated Friday, 2nd February 2018, 10:57 am
Portsmouth Roller Wenches and Portsmouth Scurvy Dogs in action on the track

After taking part in a roller derby session, I can confirm they are spot-on '“ and I have the bruises to prove it.

Roller derby has been huge in America for years and now it's catching on over here.

Two teams on roller skates, race around an oval track, with the goal being to score points by lapping your opponents.

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Millie Salkeld, AKA, Mills and Doom, pulls on her skates and gives roller derby a try

It's split into two 30-minute sections and within that units of play called jams which can last up to two minutes.

It's not for the faint-hearted.

Players can block opponents using their hips, shoulders and body weight '“ and knock them to the ground if needed.

It sounds violent, and the odd injury is inevitable, but it's not as aggressive as it's made out in American teen flicks. Though helmets, knee pads and wrist guards are a must.

The Portsmouth Roller Wenches and The Portsmouth Scurvy Dogs

Despite looking like the game could descend into carnage at any moment, Jillie Johnston, one of the newest members, insists the team is like a big, happy family.

The 27-year-old, from Portsmouth, says: '˜Everyone is so nice and happy, we are like a huge family.

'˜I love going to training each week, despite the bruises. Everyone has such different backgrounds in their lives outside the sport.'

On the track Jillie is known as Whisk Taker. All members have tough nicknames. Jillie's came from the fact she is a baker.

Millie Salkeld, AKA, Mills and Doom, pulls on her skates and gives roller derby a try

She took up roller derby while living in Canada with her boyfriend Karl Martin (Prince Harming).

She says: '˜When I went to Canada I thought I would spend a lot of time ice skating but in reality that did not happen and I skated indoors instead.'

When Jillie returned from The Great White North, she found the Portsmouth Roller Wenches and joined up.

The Portsmouth Roller Wenches is a women's team co-founded by Ali Lees, aka The Duchess of Crutches, seven years ago.

The Portsmouth Roller Wenches and The Portsmouth Scurvy Dogs

The 42-year-old hails from New York City and moved here 10 years ago when she met her husband who was working in the Royal Navy.

Ali says: '˜When I was a little girl in the eighties I would watch the roller derby girls on video tapes and I was mesmerised by how glamorous they all were in their outfits '“ yet fierce and independent.

'˜I wanted to be like them but it was not until I came over to the UK that I really started to get into it.'

Ali and fellow teammate Ulrike Roberts (Nina Nunchucks) both qualified for the Polish national team and will be whizzing round the tracks at the World Championships in Manchester this weekend.

Ali says: '˜I am really excited to go and compete at the Worlds.

'˜It has been great training with the Polish team all over Europe. As they are a relatively new team Nina and I have been teaching them skills as well.'

Ali, who owns The Wave Maiden bar, in Osborne Road, Southsea, had a knee injury which left her unable to train for 10 months.

She says: '˜I was not sure if I was going to be able to go back and be part of the team again, but I was not done.

'˜I wanted to be that glamorous roller derby player I had idolised as a little girl and I think making a team for the World Cup is probably the highlight of my career. I expect I will retire at the end of this year but I will be going out on a high.'

The teams run two training sessions a week and courses for new skaters (who are known as fresh meat) on Friday nights at Highbury College.

I joined the latest batch of derby recruits halfway through their 17-week training course which teaches them to skate, jump, duck, dive and thump before they graduate to the roller B team.

One fresh meat pupil, Kaf Eckford, was perfecting her jumps in the session.

The 27-year-old says: '˜I have wanted to do it for the last few years and this year I just thought I had better go for it or it will always be one of those things that I never do.

'˜At first I kept falling on my bottom but it is a really fun sport to do and I would say everyone who wants to do it, should just give it a go.'

The Roller Wenches run fresh meat courses throughout the year and pupils have to pass all their basic training before they can play on the team.

Sass Ben is back and tackling her second course of the year.

The 38-year-old, from Portsmouth, says: '˜I failed the first time around but I am back to try and pass this time as I am really enjoying all the training.

'˜It definitely helps to build up your fitness as I am a runner and I have noticed the difference it makes to my stamina.'

Fresh meat trainer and roller A team player Debsy Bank (Berry Naughty) has been whizzing round the track for three and a half years.

The 37-year-old says: '˜I wanted to do a team sport because I think having that element makes you want to try harder.

'˜For all team sports there is that element but I think for roller derby, because everyone is so close in game play, and you have to learn other people's strengths and know where you are needed and protect your teammates from being bumped out the track. It's unlike any other sport.

'Everyone has a fierce side they can unleash in roller derby.'

The only thing left to do is grab your gum shield and get your skates on.