There were so many great games to choose from this month, but our pick is the classic encounter between the Dover A-Soles and Calais Fawnians. SAM SHANDIE reports on this truly historic match-up…
The first ever cross-channel game was always going to be an important milestone in the history of UK derby, and today’s encounter certainly didn’t disappoint. We’d best clarify here what we mean by ‘cross-channel’. Sure, there have already been loads of games between English and French teams, but this one is literally taking place whilst crossing the channel (“à traverse la Manche” for our foreign viewers), with the Dover league having convinced ferry company PDQ to let them stage the game on the passenger deck during a scheduled Dover-Calais afternoon sailing.
“It’s been a strange one to prepare for,” says A-Soles captain Squint Chop Kick. “We knew we needed to get our sea legs – like most people, we’re used to travelling via the tunnel these days – but the only water-going vessel we had access to in the run-up to the game was a small fishing boat one of our players had stolen from an ex. There was only really room for two players at a time on that, so we had to work on blocking pairs primarily. Although a ferry is obviously less wobbly than a small boat, it’s good to have at least some experience of derby at sea. Even the smallest dips and bobs can cause problems when you’re travelling on skates at speed.”
Squint’s words are brought into focus midway through the second half as some very heavy pack-on-pack hitting on the outside corner of turn two sees three Fawnians knocked overboard. The Head Ref calls an official timeout to deal with the situation, and thankfully two of the French skaters are safely retrieved from the water. The Calais team haven’t done any special at-sea preparation for this game. (“We smoke some Gitanes, we drink some Pernod, this is all the preparation we need” their bench coach had earlier boasted.) This could well have been the deciding factor between the teams, since Dover go on to take the game 217-163.
“We’re hoping this will be the first of many,” says Squint. “The ferry company are well behind the idea and they are looking to get even more involved in future games. In fact, we’d hoped that we could use the ship’s whistle in place of the refs’ whistles today, but there were problems getting it to respond fast enough to on track calls. Hopefully that’s one of the things we can iron out for next time.” For Calais, the game may have ended in defeat, but their grinning players believe they will have their revenge soon enough. “We have stolen their passports,” one French blocker tells us, “so I think there will be a rematch on the ferry back, oui?”
PDQ want to hear from other teams interested in Cross Channel Derby. Mersey Ferries, meanwhile, are to host five minute scrims.