1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 TEEMU!

In March 2014 the first Men’s Roller Derby World Cup took place in Birmingham. It was an event packed with adrenaline and testosterone where the bench coach always had to stay within a smelling distance from the boys.

Photo: Zero G Photography

It’s evening when I arrive at a hostel in Birmingham. The hallways are filled with enthusiastic young men: the very first Men’s Roller Derby World Cup is about to start the following day. My role at the tournament is to be the bench coach for Team Finland.

Our team heads for dinner together. The atmosphere at the restaurant is calm, relaxed and nervous at the same time. The team has now been officially signed up for the tournament and all the paperwork has been taken care of. The roster for the game next morning against Team USA is announced and met with a round of applause.

In the morning the entire team heads to venue to prepare for the game. The weather is sunny and everyone is in good spirits. At the venue, there are no actual locker rooms; instead, tape on the floor next to the warm-up track shows designated changing areas for the different teams. Team Finland’s spot is right next to Team USA’s. Other teams start arriving at the venue and everyone seems to have ants in their pants. The superstars of Team USA flock around us and you can smell the testosterone in the air.

We gather together in a circle and let out our team cheer: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-TEEMU! The cheer is a tribute to the hockey legend Teemu Selänne who has just ended his career in the Olympic Games. The cheer seems to match the situation perfectly.

We head towards the track and the very first game of the tournament with the Team USA skaters. It feels amazing to get to play the first game in the World Cup. On the way I encounter the head coach for Women’s Team Finland, Suvi Hokkanen. She gives me the last minute tip: “When the boys get hot-headed, check whether it is adrenaline or testosterone flowing. If it’s adrenaline, they are ready for action but if it’s testosterone, let them sit out for a while.” These wise words originally come from Ballistic Whistle, a jammer for Men’s Team England and the head coach for Women’s Team England and London Roller Girls. I consider the source trustworthy enough and decide to stay within a smelling distance from the skaters at all times.

Lead jammer, eh?
The game kicks off with an opening ceremony where we sing Maamme, the national anthem of Finland. The boys stand in line with helmets in their hands. Me and coach Joanna Koskinen stand together, holding the Finnish flag. The Finnish fans sing along the anthem with us. An awesome sports event is about to begin.

After the gearcheck we move to the bench and the first line up skates on the track. I’m standing at the second track turn and have a thousand butterflies in my stomach. The first whistle gives me a huge adrenaline rush. Jam is on!

Team USA wins the game as expected and our team fails to score any points, but the audience and fellow competitors never failed to cheer for us. What a great start for the tournament!

The day continues at the venue. The boys need food, drink and rest. In the evening they will face Wales in our second game.

We gather in the changing area again and scout our next opponent. This is going to be the closest game in the tournament for us: Wales is tough but not invincible. Here we go again.

We start the game well. We have scored points and the minutes are ticking down on the clock. Towards the end of the game we just take too many penalties and can’t play on the same level where we started off anymore. Wales beats us 35-107. It is a big disappointment but the following day will see a new game and a new opponent.

In the evening my head is full of thoughts. Two tracks were used for playing epic games. The live stream was followed by as many as 15 500 people. That’s a huge amount of people, I’m thinking.

The whole world has fallen in love with Team Japan: all Japanese men who play derby are on the team. The sport is more like funny TV entertainment in Japan and the skaters are completely unaware of things like lead jammer or calling off the jam. Seeing the whole audience standing, shouting and showing the Japanese lead jammer how to call off the jam was probably the most emotional moment of the day. However, he fails to call it off. For a moment I thought the roof was going to blow off.

Hugging Gay Finland
One of the teams in our qualification group has dropped out. As a result, our boys are offered the chance to play in a mixed team with the Team USA against a team of English and Canadian skaters. The experience is one of a kind for everybody. We sit on the floor with the coach and forget to cheer for our team because we are watching the game so intensely. The boys look so professional recycling the jammers just like their American teammates.

In the first actual game of the day Finland faces its nearest and dearest enemy, Team Sweden. The teams played each other a month earlier in Helsinki and Finland took the win, so we know what to expect. We beat Sweden again, this time the final score was 316-135. All the hugging and friendliness attract so much attention that later I find a note written by the commentators about Team Finland: “will be feasting with Team Sweden in gay village at some point.” I don’t doubt that for a moment.

In the evening we still have one game left, this time against the Netherlands. The boys beat them easily – 303-85. I notice that in two days the boys have improved their performance both as a team and as individual skaters. Defense is working, offense is working, jammers are scoring and calling off the jams on time. I’m so proud of my team.

Live stream followed as far as the South Pole
Winning the two games the previous day means that we are now going to compete for the ninth place against Team Ireland. Team USA high fives us and wishes us luck. This is our game.

We get a good start and manage to score more points than Ireland. Suddenly our skaters start spending too much time in the penalty box and Ireland manages to narrow the gap. The tension grows steadily.

Then the head referee Major Travis T. has to step out. He has lost his voice while refereeing in such a loud environment and he’s no longer able to communicate with the bench coaches and other referees. During the referee change we compose ourselves and get back on the track as a self-confident team. In the end we leave the track as winners, having beaten Ireland 232-163.

The finals and medal ceremony are up next. Team Finland raises their glasses in a sunny spring day with warm beer and toasts to the very first Men’s Roller Derby World Cup and Finland’s final standing in the top ten!

Canada and France meet in the bronze medal game whereas England and USA face each other in the final. The noise is ear-splitting. The final is being watched in all continents of the world, including the Antarctica.

England is fighting team USA as best as they can. The skill level of the skaters is so high that at times it’s hard for me to fully comprehend what’s happening on the track. As expected, Team USA takes what it deserves and wins the final 260-71.

Elsewhere the captain of Team Argentina proposes to his girlfriend in front of the entire world. I’m crying tears of joy but am not entirely sure whether they are due to the touching proposal or the fact that the team traveled to play in the World Cup with eight skaters in the roster.

In the medal ceremony, all teams are called on track one by one. It gets incredibly loud again when all three hundred skaters cheer for each other eagerly. The place is full of screaming, whistling, applauding and shouting. The moment lasts forever. This is something that has never been seen anywhere, ever.

When it’s our turn I follow the boys inside the hall. Cameras are flashing around us when we move to take our place between Team France and Team England. When everybody’s in, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham gives a speech which is met with seemingly endless applause.

All teams go and shake hands with the Lord Mayor as well as the head referees of the tournament. The boys pose to the camera with the flag and the trophy. I find myself wiping my tears, hugging Joanna and thinking: these boys can do anything.

Men’s derby is officially played in one team in Finland, Tampere Rollin’ Bros. In addition, The Sons of Peaches is another team from Kallio, Helsinki.

The world’s first Men’s Roller Derby World Cup Tournament was played in Birmingham, England this year. Altogether 15 countries from four different continents took part in the tournament.

Team Finland was put together during 2013. The team captain was Esa Pajari and the coaches were Joanna Koskinen and Janica Saxelin.

Final standings:
1. Team USA Men’s Roller Derby
2. Team England Men’s Roller Derby
Team Canada Men’s Roller Derby
4. Team France Men’s Roller Derby
5. Wizard of Aus
6. Team Wales Men’s Roller Derby
7*. Power of Scotland
7. Argentina Roller Derby
Team Finland Men’s Roller Derby
10. Team Ireland Men’s Roller Derby
11*. Team Netherlands Men’s Roller Derby
11. Team Germany Men’s Roller Derby
13. Team Belgium Men’s Roller Derby
14. Team Sweden Men’s Roller Derby
Ninjapan Rollers

(* 7th and 11th place shared by two teams)

First published in KARU 01/2014
Text: Janica Saxelin
Translation: Zero Holerance