Northamptonshire's Vixens are on a roll

Roller derby is the sport that gives everyone a chance.

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 7:00 am
The Vendetta Vixens roller derby team are looking for new recruits (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Players of all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of strength and agility can all take part, and it's also the country's fastest-growing female sport.

Northamptonshire's Vendetta Vixens, whose name was inspired by Alan Moore's graphic novel, invited this newspaper down to one of their training sessions.

Throughout, the women skate at and into each other as they fight to either break through a pack of four or prevent the 'jammer' from overtaking them and scoring points.

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(L-R) Actors Landon Pigg, Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore attend the Whip It film premiere in Los Angeles in 2009 (Photo by Frederick M. Brown - Getty Images)

It's very physical and at times can seem brutal. Because the sport is so dynamic there's a chance of injury as players are constantly in motion, putting their balance to the test.

But because of that threat of injury, the team are supportive of one another in an atmosphere that's both fiercely competitive and friendly.

Claire from Wellingborough, known as 'Highlander' among her Vixens teammates, explained: "Because we're on skates and we're hitting each other we have to be supportive because you might hurt them."

"There's a real team spirit, there's a real community within the team," said Romilly, aka 'Basher'.

The atmosphere is both fiercely competitive and friendly (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

"If someone is down we pick them up."

Like others in the team, Romilly's first contact with roller derby came when she watched Drew Barrymore's 2009 film Whip It.

It stars Ellen Page whose character Bliss Cavendar joins a roller derby team, much to the chagrin of her parents who prefer beauty pageants.

Romilly and her mum are now both Vixens and her dad is a referee.

A jammer (who wears a star on the helmet) attempts to get past opposing team blockers (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

So what is roller derby? Well, it's a contact sport played by two teams of five who skate around a track.

During a series of short match-ups (jams), two teams designate a jammer (who wears a star on the helmet) and they score points by lapping members of the opposing team.

The teams attempt to stop the opposing jammer while assisting their own - in effect, playing both attack and defence simultaneously.

The sport became popular in 1940s America, but in the ensuing decades it became a form of sports entertainment where theatrical elements overshadowed athleticism.

A Vixen tests her footwork and balance (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Roller derby today retains some sports entertainment qualities like the player pseudonyms and colourful uniforms and is enjoying a revival abroad and in the UK, where it's the fastest growing female sport.

Karen 'Thunder Kaz' Pomerantz joined the Vendetta Vixens two years ago.

"It's nice to have something for ourselves," she said of roller derby being dominated by women.

"If you come along to a session you become obsessed; it's not just a hobby.

"I like that it's a different sport."

The challenge for the team is the lack of affordable facilities and sponsorship.

To play roller derby the Vixens need an entire gym floor and venues often prefer to hire the space out for badminton.

The Vixens train in Moulton and play competitive fixtures at Daventry Leisure Centre.

"It's very expensive to hire out halls," said Lucy.

"We have to travel to Daventry because it's the cheapest hall to hire."

The Vendetta Vixens are about to begin the British Championship tournament for 2019 after a successful 2018 where they rose to 69 from 230 in the European rankings.

The team hopes to build on last season's positive results and is open to new recruits.

Hollie, 25, joined the team in February last year after she moved to Northampton from Yorkshire.

"Roller derby gives everyone a chance - you have players of different shapes and sizes, everyone here has their own strengths," she said.

"Just come and try it. It can be intimidating but the team is so welcoming.

"Even now I get butterflies coming to practice; I think it's excitement as well as nerves because I never played a competitive sport before."

The Vendetta Vixens play a home game in Daventry on June 29 and train in Moulton.