The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s
He may have lost his left foot and been the victim of a suicide bomber, but Roy Race will never die. David Pollock has a ball as the comeback kid bounces back
Forget Teddy Sheringham or Craig Brewster. Each would have to play on for almost another 20 years to match the footballing career of Roy Race, who turned out for and then player-managed the famous Melchester Rovers from 1954 to 1993 (with a brief sojourn at Walford Rovers in 1983). Who has been as iconic a representative of British football as Roy of the Rovers over the last half century and more: Best, Gascoigne, Cantona, maybe a couple more? Not bad for a made-up character, now is it?
‘I think Roy’s appeal always lay in his honesty and his flair for the spectacular,’ says Mark Towers, who runs fansite www.royoftherovers.com. ‘He’s even given the English language a new phrase. You still hear commentators referring to something as “real Roy of the Rovers stuff” when a game has been won against the odds. That sums up the excitement of the strip, but also the fact that Roy stood for honesty and integrity.’
Making his debut in the sport and adventure comic Tiger in 1954, Roy was created by the collaborative efforts of writer Frank S Pepper, artist ‘Stewart Colwyn’ (a pen-name of Joe Colquhoun, who went on to co-create the seminal war strip ‘Charley’s War’ for Battle in the 70s) and editor Derek Birnage. Pepper would only write the strip for four issues, before Colquhoun took over, until being replaced in turn by Birnage four-and-a-half years later.
It wasn’t until 1976 that Roy’s adventures were spun out into his own weekly comic, which went monthly just as Roy moved into management in 1993 and eventually folded in 1995. Yet, Roy still had one more comeback left in him, with a short monthly strip in the pages of Match of the Day magazine from 1997 to 2001. In his time he married and had three children with Penny (who died in 1995), won a hatful of domestic and European trophies (despite an England career which lasted 24 years, Roy sadly missed out on international honours), and also variously contended with a shooting incident, the death of half the Melchester first team in a suicide bomb attack, and finally the loss of his famous left foot in a helicopter crash.
Now a new generation of fans are being given the chance to catch up with Roy’s life with reprint books from Titan, including the Roy of the Rovers Archives (to kick off in August), which will tell Roy’s story in chronological order from 1954. ‘Roy’s an exceedingly unusual comic character as he’s the subject of one continuous story,’ says David Leach, editor of the new collections. ‘If kids were to pick up this story from the beginning they’d become hooked. Look at the way Harry Potter moves from one academic year to the next. Roy’s sporting life is the same.’
Although Leach points to the dramatic downturn in the early 90s kids’ comics market as a cause for Roy’s disappearance, it’s ironic that his weekly adventures finished during the ‘92/’93 season, the first year of the English Premier League and the advent of an avaricious era of wags, oligarchs and television money. His return, as well as a nostalgia trip for many, is also a reminder of simpler days when footballers really did seem like heroes.
The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s is published by Titan in June.