London Rollergirls (#3) vs. Rainy City Roller Derby (#6)
One of the hopes going into the 2017 International WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs Malmö, the first ever held outside of North America, was that European derby would get a chance to showcase its considerable talents. That box has thoroughly been ticked after a nail-biting 124-119 victory by the London Rollergirls of London, England (#3, WFTDA #7) over Rainy City Roller Derby of Oldham, England (#6, WFTDA #17).
London will be heading to the 2017 International WFTDA Championships Philadelphia for the fifth year in a row, but there was nothing routine about the way they got there. Rainy City took the lead in the first jam and would not relinquish it until midway through the second half. The packs dominated from the outset with jams running long — there were only 10 jams completed in the first 20 minutes — as the jammers had to fight for every inch of track.
Of the two teams, Rainy City started the game with greater composure and tactical smarts: drawing back the starting pack every time London’s Rogue Runner jammed to minimise her speed, and regularly sending blocker Menace to disrupt the London pack with some offense. Rainy City held a deserved 32-18 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Arocha led the way for London with some big hits and smart positioning but the game was penalty heavy — 22 for each team in the first half — and Rainy City’s jammers were proving more capable of taking advantage in the early stages. This was particularly true of Wilde who exposed the inside line against London multiple times with great footwork, demonstrated when she was able to rack up a 18-9 jam despite spending time in the penalty box.
That jam took the score to 62-31 and gave Rainy City the biggest lead either team would have all game. It proved a pivotal moment in the first half as a blood injury led to an extended official timeout. Prior to the break London had only managed once to get lead jammer status. The Brawling roared back with seven lead jammer status calls in the nine jams before half time.
Growing in confidence, London began to chip away the lead. Trisha Smackanawa took three points, Rogue Runner another three after a smothering London pack caused Wilde to receive a track cutting penalty, but it was AnDracula who carried the weight in the first half with the majority of the points. Rainy City prevented any big scoring jams but the momentum was shifting: even with two blockers in the penalty box London blocker Arocha did brilliantly to contain Rainy City jammer Lauren Swaffield and allow London to add another five points, bringing London Brawling to within six points at 62-56.
Rainy City smartly took a timeout, giving the skaters and the passionate crowd a chance to regroup. The teams exchanged scores with good offense from Onyeka Igwe freeing Smack and Wilde continuing to have success on the inside line. A penalty-heavy final jam resulted in a one-point lead for Rainy City, 70-69, at halftime.
The start of the second half mirrored the first with Rainy City in the ascendency. Wilde, who would lead all scorers with 56 points in the game, continued to cause London problems and the trio of Ruthless Philly, Fay Roberts and Dana Scurry kept London off the scoreboard even when they had a power jam. Another long jam saw a great hit by Missy Rascal to drawback Smack and prevent her getting lead jammer status. Rainy City added another five points to take the score to 90-70.
The defences were now slugging it out. London’s duo of Onyeka Igwe and Katie “Hellvetica” Black and Rainy’s Fay Roberts and Dana Scurry kept both jammers so thoroughly locked down that no lead jammer status was achieved when the whistle blew for the end of the jam. London’s jammers continued to struggle and with 20 minutes left called a timeout, down by 27 points at 97-70.
It didn’t look like any high-scoring jams were forthcoming as both defences were so good at minimising any scoring opportunities but with the clock approaching the 15 minute mark, London’s Rogue Runner busted out of the pack for a 23-point jam. Great strength and determination got her through on her initial pass but she then showcased the speed and agility to pile on the points on a power jam. The arena erupted, and Rainy City called a timeout as the scoreboard showed a 101-101 tie.
The momentum had swung back and forth all game and you could certainly feel the tide turn on the back of that huge jam for London. Momentum can feel big at moments like this, but experience counts for so much more. Despite all the changes to the London roster (eight skaters departed in the off-season) there are still plenty of seasoned players in that lineup and even before Arocha fouled out, Kid Block had already stepped up to dominate the game. Whether blocking or doing an unusually large amount of jamming, throughout the game she showed the benefit of having a genuine double threat as pivot.
London started putting on the points and took advantage of a power jam to push the score out to 120-101, their largest lead of the night. Rainy City had no intention of going quietly and with three minutes left they launched a comeback attempt that had every London fan in the building nervous and everyone else on the edge of their seats. Five points scored by Rainy City’s Lauren Swaffield and five more by Wilde took the score to 122-114, in London’s favor, with time running out.
The last jam was the whole game in microcosm. Packed with incident with the upperhand changing at every turn. London’s Rogue Runner thought she had lead jammer status after exiting the pack at turn one. But she was called for a track cutting penalty, and Rainy City’s Wilde got lead jammer status. With three London skaters in the box it seemed like the stage was set for Rainy City to secure the nine points they needed, but the clock was ticking. Great defense by London hemmed Wilde in back at turn one and instinctively she took off the helmet cover looking for a star pass.
With lead jammer status relinquished, Rainy City lost the option to call the jam off and to use their final team timeout. The clock kept ticking and this jam would be the last. Wilde couldn’t find a way through the pack and Rogue Runner exited the box to pick up two points to seal the victory, 124-119.
London’s all-time unbeaten record against European teams remains intact, but it has never been closer than this. If this tournament proves to be a watershed moment for European roller derby, it is clear that Rainy City as well as London will have a huge hand in what comes next.
London advances to play Denver Roller Derby of Denver, Colorado, U.S. (#2, WFTDA #5) at 8 p.m. Saturday. Rainy City will take on the Charm City Roller Girls of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. (#12, WFTDA #38) in the consolation bracket at 2 p.m. Sunday.
London Rollergirls of London, England (#3, WFTDA #7) 124
Rainy City Roller Derby of Oldham, England (#6, WFTDA #17) 119