TEN years ago they were a small group of girls, learning to fall over in roller skates, and attempting to play a sport most people had never heard of, let alone seen in action.
But a decade on, Leeds Roller Derby is an international force to be reckoned with, the product of two rival teams merging, and 189th in the world rankings.
Throughout October the team is holding a series of events to mark ten years since roller derby was first played in the city, including a taster session, a roller skate dance class reminiscent of where it all began and annual tournament the ‘Great Yorkshire Showdown’, which will see teams from across the North of England compete.
The month will culminate with a double-header in Leeds on Saturday October 28 featuring both the A and B teams and the unveiling of a new logo and uniforms for the club, which formed in December last year after local rivals Leeds Roller Dolls and Hot Wheel Roller Derby merged.
Leeds Roller Dolls began in 2007, when there were just a few roller derby teams in the UK. The sport, which began in its modern form in Austin, Texas, in the early 2000s, is known as the fastest growing women’s sport in the world, with 450 teams by 2010.
It involves two teams of five skaters – four blockers and a jammer – who skate around an oval track, with the jammer – who wears a star on their helmet - scoring points by passing the opposing team’s blockers.
Leeds Roller Derby head coach John Kirkham said: “It’s hard to believe that ten years ago - when I first started Leeds Roller Dolls - there were only a handful of roller derby teams in the UK.
“We were one of the first teams outside of the USA. Now there are hundreds of teams around the world.
“There is an international tournament structure and a World Cup, which is being held just down the road in Manchester next year. It’s amazing.
“I left the Dolls and set up Hot Wheel Roller Derby in 2010 and for a long time we were rivals but we’ve put the past behind us and I couldn’t be prouder of where we are today. We’ve got an awful lot to celebrate this month.”
Leeds Roller Derby’s A team has just finished its first season in the UK Roller Derby Association (UKRDA) British Championships Tier 1.
The team has also played in two European tournaments this year. Plans for next year are still being finalised but include a game against the South African national team, when they’re in the UK for the World Cup.
A team co-captain Claire Charlton said: “At the start of the year our number one goal was to become a team and we’re really happy with how that’s gone. A year ago we were rivals, and the idea that we might merge, well, no one would have believed it.
“Our B teams actually played against each other at last year’s Great Yorkshire Showdown tournament, which we’re hosting on the 7th of this month.”
A-team co-captain Nina Bentley added: “It’s been a brilliant first year, and I’m so excited for what’s to come. There is more and more competition for spots on both our A and B teams and we’re getting stronger and stronger together.”
Part of the celebrations include a free taster session on Thursday October 5, from 8pm at Ramgharia Sikh Sports Centre,
Mr Kirkham said: “You don’t need to have your own skates or safety equipment, you just need to book a spot so we can reserve the kit you need. Wear some comfy clothes you can sweat in and bring a water bottle, that’s it.
“Roller derby has changed all of our lives, and it might change yours too.”
Full list of events this October:
Thursday October 5, 8pm-10pm - Recruitment Night - Ramgharia Sikh Sports Centre, LS7 3AP - Free but must be pre-booked.
Saturday October 7, 10am-6pm - Great Yorkshire Showdown Tournament - The Edge, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT - Tickets on sale now.
Thursday October 12, 8pm-10pm - Roller Skate Dance Class - Ramgharia Sikh Sports Centre, LS7 3AP - Tickets on sale now.
Saturday October 28, 10am-6pm - Double-header - The Edge, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT - Tickets on sale soon.
For more information visit www.leedsrollerderby.com