Shooting the UKRDA Roller Derby tournament


 
It’s 5am. It’s a Saturday of a bank holiday weekend. This is wrong. Too damn early for any sane person to be awake.

I had agreed  to cover the UKRDA tournament, but as time rolled on I began to regret it more and more. Not because they aren’t fun, just because they are seriously hard work. The bank holiday made things easier, a whole day to stay in bed and recover. Ponder my next move and psyche myself up to go through the photos from the weekend.

The World Cup had been an experience, one I should have learned from. I did in parts. Don’t try and cover everything. Take it steady, you don’t want to end up doing 3am finishes with 7am starts again. It’s draining and your diet goes to pot. I vowed to take it steadier at Track Queens, the tournament held in Berlin. Back things up as I go along, don’t try and shoot everything, keep something in the tank, don’t burn yourself out.  I had decided on this tactic as I had agreed to a fashion shoot in Sheffield that would commence two hours after I stepped off the plane in Manchester. Two hours after that, New York Shock Exchange. A three day tournament, turned in to four endurance marathon.

Taking it steady was a bad move. I missed Master Blaster scoring the final points against Stockholm, giving Berlin the lead and sending them through to the final. I saw it, but my camera wasn’t to hand and so I missed the shot of the tournament.

I vowed to go back to the old ways. Stay trackside. Shoot everything. You never know what may happen. Sod the mind, the body, keep going and collapse later.

Although it was a 5am start the prep work began the night before. Pack the bags, double check the gear, pack and re-pack, paranoia getting the better of me. Clear off the CF cards, charge the batteries, find my toothbrush. Re-pack again just in case an inanimate had managed to jump out and try and escape.

5:45am. Two black coffees down.  It’s time to leave and head to the train station for the 6.25am train to London. I’d agreed to meet Mistress Malicious at 9am at Alexandra Palace to pick up my wristband and scope out the venue. It should give me just enough time to get in to St Pancras, grab a greasy bacon sandwich, more black coffee and get a tube up to the venue.

6.25am. The train is on time. I thought it would be empty, but obviously not. It’s a bank holiday and everyone heading off for a relaxing weekend in London.

8.34am. St Pancras. St Pancras is bustling as usual. Not as busy as Christmas bust still busier than most stations on a Saturday morning at this hour. I head to the Fine Burger company for a greasy bacon sandwich. Anything to keep me going before diving in to the subterranean maze of the tube and my final destination of Wood Green.  Then a short walk to the Ally Pally to wear off the grease.

I had seen a picture of the venue the night before. Someone had posted a picture of the floor going down.   Not your usual environment, the stained glass windows a adding a certain regeality about the event. I instantly see the shot I’m after in my head.

9.20am. Wood Green Tube station. I step in to the sunlight grasping the map I printed out the day before. It should be easy to get to the venue. I estimate a 15-20 minute walk. What I didn’t estimate was the long slow burn of the incline up to the palace. On most days it would be fine but when you have 10kg of camera gear, laptop, battery chargers and chocolate thrown over your shoulder it takes its toll.

9.30am Ally Pally – Day 1. I arrive and meet my contact. Mistress Malicious. That was easy. The last time I saw her was in a Thai restaurant in Berlin. I wander round the venue to suss it out and head to the concession stand selling coffee to get my head in the right place.

11am the action starts. It’ll be non-stop until it finishes. Fast paced Roller Derby punctuated by coffee breaks and whatever food the venue has to offer. I guarantee none of it will be healthy.

It’s a mix of teams I’ve shot before and those I’ve only heard of. The day kicked off with Brighton Rockers Roller Derby versus Kent Roller Girls, both an unknown quantity to me.  Next up Central City Rollergirls versus Bristol Roller Derby. I’d shot CCR before but Bristol was new to me. The next game saw Brighton take on London Rollergirls, Brawl Saints. I’d shot most of the Brawl Saints the week before at LRGs intraleague final so I was aware of most of the individual skating styles. It makes things easier if you have an idea of who will do what, what to look out for. Subtle nuances to help you get an idea of what is going to happen next to allow one to get the camera pointing in the right direction.

The next bout saw Kent take on Bristol then following them, the Crash Test Brummies versus The Inhuman League. Both teams had met twice before. The Inhuman League taking the win on both occasions. It would be a bruising encounter in the first men’s bout sanctioned by the UKRDA.

Hits came in hard and fast. Sweat flying as bodies collided, mixing in mid-air, fusing Brummie and Inhuman DNA in to some unholy alliance. The game was over, The Inhuman League taking the win for the third time.

9pm. It’s all over for the day. All I need to do is to get to where I’m staying for the night. My friend Freyja has offered me a bed for the night. It means a tube down to St Pancras/Kings Cross then the Northern Line down to Bank, hop on the DLR to King George and a short walk. It’s an hour to anywhere in London, give or take a few minutes.  I picked up a key the week before as no-one may be in. I plan to get in, put the kettle on, back up the last of the files, put the batteries on charge and crash. It’s an hour to anywhere in London, give or take a few minutes so I need to be up and out by 8am to make sure I’m back at the venue for 10am on the Sunday.

Nutters on the tube you’ve got to love ‘em. Shoe waving maniacs spraying fragrances. I assumed the guy was Iraqi from the shoe waving. The sitting opposite me cracking up as the nutter’s behaviour became more extreme and erratic. We were all grateful to be getting off at Kings Cross.  I left Ally Pally bathed in the warm glow of a sunset over London. I’m shot out of the DLR at Bank in darkness. It’s been a long day.

The early night went awry. It’s gone 1am. A bottle of red and a bottle of Saki down and conversation ranging from death, art, culture, music and the prehistoric have left my brain numb. I need sleep but need to remember to get up in time. It’s not an ideal situation.

5am. You never get a good night’s sleep in strange bed, well I don’t, unless I’ve been drinking heavily the night before, which I had, but I need to be up early. Copies of the Fifty Shades of Grey and Hungarian copies of Tolkien that adorn the bookshelf in the room I’m borrowing, they induce random and unsettling dreams.  So while it’s given me time to re-charge, I’m not functioning 100%, probably around 70, I expect to hit about 30 by the time I finish tonight, and then wander bleary eyed and confused back home after I get off the train at Sheffield around midnight.

 The Bulgarians next door woke me once again. This time I’m thankful as I’d never have gotten up otherwise. All I can think is thank god for the bank holiday.

9am. Ally Pally – the second day. I’m in need of coffee. Caffeine will keep me going today. It’s what I’m counting on.  Only four bouts today. An early finish at 6pm. It means I can get myself off to St Pancras and get some food before boarding the train back to Sheffield.

Central City are up first against the Brawl Saints. The Saints take it by a hefty margin. Brighton then take on Bristol. I have my money on Brighton but Bristol are a surprise package and take the win.

The final sees CCR up against Brawl Saints once more. A repeat of the first game of the day. CCR played games back to back and the favourites, Brawl Saints, take on prisoners. The Saints take the win in emphatic form to be crowned the winners of Roller Rumble.

The final things to do for the day are a few team shots and pack my bag. I leave the venue around 6.30pm after saying my farewells and head to the tube.

7.00pm I hit St Pancras. I vowed to go to the John Betjeman and treat myself to a couple of well-deserved pints and some decent food. It’ll help me sleep

I get to the pub and slump in an easy chair, order a pint, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut and a salad. It’s the first vegetable matter to pass my lips in the past 36 hours. It feels good. My body reacts to the nutrients and thanks my brain. I dig the laptop out of the camera bag and start to back up the last of the files from the weekend.  With the files backing up I get chatting to the waiter, it turns out he’s a cricketer from Bangladesh and had a successful day on the Saturday, taking 5 for 14 off 9 overs including three maidens. Impressive. I would stay and chat longer but my mind has given out and I really need to catch my train.

8.40pm. Time to board the train back home. It’s empty. No-one wants to travel at this hour on a bank holiday. It’s laid on so that Midland Mainline can get the rolling stock in place. The trip is uneventful, my body is shutting down and my brain has already turned to mush.

23.40pm. Sheffield station. It’s empty. All the shops have shut up. It’s a ghost town. The few of us who staggered off the train just want to go home. I need to muster up the last of the energy for the final walk back home, and bed. There is a chill in the air so when I step through the front door of my place the warmth of the house is an immediate comfort. I stagger upstairs, drop the gear off in the studio and head to bed. It’s gone midnight. This will be a good night’s sleep.  I don’t fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow, my brain has already shut down, I’m working on basic motor skills, I am a zombie, sleep hit before I stopped moving.

From midnight ‘till 10am the next day I don’t remember a thing. No dreams, no shallow fitful sleep, just a deep uninterrupted abyss, dreams of Hungarian Hobbits sexually abusing each other. The best sleep.

Bank holiday Monday. Coffee and a hearty breakfast. No real sense of time. Just a day where one can steadily work through the shots from the weekend and then get them over to you, the people that make everything work. It’ll take a few days to plough through them all but hopefully the final set will sum up the weekend.

I can recover when I get back to work.

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