As a feminist I wasn't immediately keen on the idea of a 'sport' apparently based on girls skating about in hotpants with names like 'Titty Twista', 'Silicon Sally' and 'Tanya B Hind' printed across the back of their t-shirts.
Nonetheless (thanks to the persistence of a very excited friend), I found myself taking a seat at York Hall, first opened in 1929 and now mainly used for boxing matches. It's one of the venues used by the London Rockin' Rollers, a women's roller derby league made up of teams including the Voodoo Skull Krushers, the Neanderdolls and the Goldie Lookin' Chain Gang. This particular 'bout' (the correct term for a roller derby match) featured a visiting German team, the Stuttgart Valley Roller Girlz, taking on the London Rockin' Rollers All Stars.
Bouts take place on an oval racing track, and consist of two 30-minute periods, broken down into 'jams' that last up to two minutes. Five members of each team are on the track at a time, most of them close together forming the 'pack'. One member of each side – the 'jammer' – has to try and score points by getting through the pack, while the rest – the 'blockers' – try to stop them passing.
Tripping, elbowing, grabbing are so on are not allowed, but unsurprisingly they do occur, and quite often one are more team members are sent for time out in the 'sin bin' by one of the referees.
There is undoubtedly a large 'show' element involved, with the nicknames, flashy outfits and many team members showing off tattoos and wearing face paints. Loud music is played throughout, and on this occasion there were also Star Wars characters parading around, and a punk band performing in the interval.
But despite all the surrounding paraphernalia, I was impressed by the fitness and skill involved in the game, and most of the I time was so busy following the action and cheering on the jammers that I forgot to worry about the objectifying implications of their skimpy outfits or suggestive nicknames.
Not for everyone, perhaps, but worth checking out – once you're there it's difficult not to get into the spirit of things. As well as York Hall, the London Rockin' Rollers also have bouts at Brompton Hall, part of Earl's Court Exhibition Centre.