As readers will be aware, we're quite excited about Newcastle Roller Girls' International Derby Tournament; EuroClash (25,26th March). So, we're running a series of interviews with all the attending teams to learn more about them.
This week, we're covering Wales' entry to the tournament, Tiger Bay Brawlers (who were also one of the first teams we ever interviewed for an article, 6 years ago). TBB are certainly the strongest league in Wales, ranked #75 in the WFTDA rankings (they've been a member since 2013), and #16 in Europe by Flat Track Stats. They are also, understandably, a significant contributor of skaters to the Team Wales roster.
The Brawlers were an early adopter of international derby - attending the 2013 SKOD, and the 2014 ECDX in the USA - as well as the first season of British Championships in the Premier division. However, they had a relatively quiet 2016, track-time wise, for reasons we'll get into below...
Tiger Bay Brawlers Captains, Thrill Collins and Steph Howarth, the former also a Team Wales rostered skater, gave us some insight into the team.
Tiger Bay Brawlers had a short season in 2016, thanks to the significant threat of your usual venue being closed, and the effort to find a new one or save the existing venue. Despite this, you managed to fit in quite a lot of Derby into the first half of the year. What were your high points?
The campaign to save our training venue certainly took a lot of time and effort towards the end of last year, and still does now. It's frustrating that so many teams struggle to find a permanent venue to train in. We won't let that take the shine off last year though!
Playing Crime City in Sweden was certainly a highlight. We really came together as a team. It was a huge test of everything we'd been working on and we felt like we rose to the challenge. We came away from that weekend feeling incredibly proud of our achievements.
Unlike a lot of the competitors at EuroClash, TBB didn't fly across to the USA to play American teams (and work on their WFTDA rankings). Was this a conscious choice (it doesn't seem to have harmed your rankings much - you started 2016 at 93rd, and ended it in 75th place!)?
Yes, it was very much a conscious choice. We've travelled to America twice over the last few years and it's placed a big financial burden on the team. On top of that, it's not easy to commit to long trips away if you have family or work commitments, like many Brawlers do. So we wanted to plan a season that avoided people having to make those difficult life vs roller derby decisions as much as possible.
European roller derby has come a long way over the last few years so we decided to test ourselves against our Euro sisters in 2016 instead. It was good to show that you can still make progress in the WFTDA rankings without having to almost bankrupt yourself!
During and after EuroClash, Tiger Bay Brawlers have returned to British Champs, competing in the Premier Tier once more (and against two other EuroClash attendees) - what are your aims for this year's Champs?
Our aim is to enjoy it! We want our teamwork and unity to shine through on track in every game that we play (cheesy, but true).
We're really pleased that British Champs gives us the opportunity to play more UK-based games this year. We'll have games at home and some just over the Severn Bridge in Bristol. All too often, roller derby takes us far away from Cardiff, so it's great that our fans have got more chances to see us play closer to home this year.
As with the previous Team Wales, Tiger Bay Brawlers have contributed a significant number of skaters to the 2017/8 Roster. How does it feel to be such a big part of your national team, especially when their performance so far has been striking?
We’re so proud of all our skaters that are representing Team Wales in the current training squad. There’s such a massive pool of talent in the Welsh squad and it’s great to see how far roller derby in Wales has come these last few years.
It’s also a great way for us to strengthen our links with other local teams so we can learn from each other and continue to push Welsh roller derby to the forefront of the UK derby scene.
With so many great teams attending EuroClash, which are you most looking forward to competing against (and have you been specifically training against their tactics)?
We've never played Paris before, so we're definitely looking forward to that one. We saw some of them in action in the French national team recently at the Road to TBC tournament in Cardiff. They look in great form.
We're doing our research on them, obviously, but we train to play the best version of our game, not our opponent’s.
And, in the downtime between bouts, you'll be having lots of time to watch the remaining teams - who are you most looking forward to watching?
There are so many great games lined up that weekend, I honestly couldn't choose! It's a real testament to the quality and competitiveness of European roller derby right now.
We’re really excited to see what Leeds have to offer this year too. With such a big change to their line up after their merger I think they’ll be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Finally, what else is in Tiger Bay Brawlers' future?
We can't wait to kick off our season on 26 February with the first round of British Champs. It's a home game too, so we're hoping for a great crowd at what might be our last game in our current venue (sniff).
We're really focused on growing the league this year and welcoming more women to roller derby. We've been running an excellent beginners programme since May last year, which we'd like to build on in 2017. It's already produced game-ready skaters so we're looking for opportunities to get them some experience on track.
To help with this, we've done something a bit different - we've set up a Tiger Bay challenge team. It's open to everyone in Tiger Bay as not only do we want to give our newer skaters some game experience, we also want to give them the chance to play side-by-side with our more experienced skaters.
If you're reading this and you'd like to play our challenge team, then get in touch!