Roy of the Rovers


Roy of the Rovers

from 1976 to 1995, in which it was the main feature.

The weekly strip ran from 1954 to 1993 and followed Race's playing career until its conclusion with his loss of a foot in a helicopter crash. When the monthly comic was launched later that year, the focus switched to his son, Rocky, a player at the same club. This publication was short-lived, and folded after only 19 issues. The adventures of the Race family were featured one final time in short installments in the monthly "Match of the Day" football magazine, in which father and son were reunited as manager and player. These strips began in 1997 and continued until the magazine's close in May 2001; they currently represent the latest printed "Roy of the Rovers" stories. However, in February 2007, it was announced that a group of fans had obtained the rights to reprint classic strips and, eventually, publish new stories in a local football fanzine, but this arrangement came to an end soon afterwards.

In October 2007 Setanta Sports.com started to feature strips from the archive, beginning with the storyline that saw Steve Norman and Gary Kemp from pop group Spandau Ballet join Melchester Rovers. They plan to showcase other strips that appeared in the comic.

Football-themed stories were a staple of British comics from the 1950s onwards, and "Roy of the Rovers" was the most popular ever produced, with an estimated one million readers at the height of its popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. [http://www.royoftherovers.com/backpage/newspaperpicture1.gif- features news reports from the "Daily Mirror", "The Sun" and the "Daily Star", with mention of "one million readers".] As such, it holds a unique place in British football folklore, demonstrated most clearly by the stock phrase "real "Roy of the Rovers" stuff". This is often used by football writers and commentators when describing displays of great skill or results that go against the odds, in reference to the dramatic storylines that became the strip's trademark. [For example, Liverpool F.C. players Steven Gerrard and Neil Mellor are both likened to Race in this pair of articles : [http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1774819,00.html] and [http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N146923041130-1019.htm] .]

Publication history

The "Roy of the Rovers" strip began on 11 September 1954 as a weekly feature in the comic magazine "Tiger", debuting on the front page of the very first issue. After twenty years of continued popularity, the strip was judged successful enough to sustain its own weekly comic, which was launched on 25 September 1976. This title ran for 853 issues until 20 March 1993, [Although none of the issues were numbered, the total of 853 issues is given in Duncan McAlpine's "Comic Book Price Guide 1996/97 Edition", page 748] and featured the main "Roy of the Rovers" strip in addition to other football strips and features. In February 1989, the comic merged with the similarly-themed "Hot Shot", and was known for a brief time as "Roy of the Rovers and Hot Shot", but reverted to its original title shortly afterwards. There were also hardback annuals and holiday specials that featured a mix of reprinted and original content, and for a brief period, starting in 1986, "Roy of the Rovers" strips were serialised in the now-defunct "Today" newspaper. [ [http://www.royoftherovers.com/rotrstories/today.aspx Roy of the Rovers.com - The Official Roy of the Rovers Website ] ] These were all-new strips, which focused largely on the relationship between Roy and his wife rather than the action on the pitch. Between 1988 and 1993, a "Best of Roy of the Rovers" monthly comic was also published which reprinted older stories (although for a short time it featured fresh adventures of "Billy's Boots", "Goalkeeper" and "Hot Shot Hamish and Mighty Mouse").

Following the sales slump and eventual closure of the weekly title in 1993, ["Roy of the Rovers sent off" ("The Times", 16 February 1993)] the comic was relaunched as a monthly publication in September of the same year. Sales of the comic to its targeted demographic of pre- and early-teen boys had been on a steady decline for some years so the monthly title pitched itself at a higher age group, looking to attract teen and young adult fans who had read the weekly comic in their youth. As a result, the strip featured grittier storylines, with back-up features and articles that attempted to capture the spirit of football fanzines. In addition, between January 1994 and January 1995, the monthly strips were mirrored by a weekly edition in "Shoot" magazine. However, this incarnation of the comic failed to attract particularly strong sales figures, and only ran for a further 19 issues, closing in March 1995.

This appeared to be the end of the "Roy of the Rovers" story, until a surprise resurrection in May 1997, with short (usually only two page) strips in the BBC's monthly "Match of the Day" magazine. These strips featured stories and artwork that were closer in spirit to the closing years of the weekly comic, and ran until the magazine's close in May 2001, also spawning an annual in 2000.

In the years following "Match of the Day"'s closure, there was very little active discussion of the series ever making a return to print. Its old-fashioned and wholesome tone, often espousing the virtues of fair play and strong moral character, ["Roy of the Rovers" taught sportsmanship, etiquette and why a fractured ankle, a broken rib and an early case of Polio should never stand between a determined team captain and victory in the FA Cup." ( [http://web.archive.org/web/20050129004740/http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/s2.cfm?id=49502004 The Scotsman] , 15 January 2004 (Archived from the original http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/s2.cfm?id=49502004 on 29 January 2005)] was generally at odds with the current trend for more sensationalist newspaper strips such as "Striker", and television series such as "Dream Team" and "Footballers' Wives". It remains fondly remembered, however, by many British football fans, a fact demonstrated by the nostalgic manner in which it is still written about by sports journalists. [Retrospective articles on the series continue to this day — 15 June 2006 saw the publication of [http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/features/Why-did-we-ever-give.1565795.jp this article] in the "Yorkshire Post".]

On the 29 February 2008 it was announced that Titan Books had acquired worldwide book publishing rights to a range of Egmont's classic comic strip collections, including Roy of the Rovers. They are to publish compilation books of Roy's playing days in the coming months. [ [http://www.titanbooks.com/products/uk/10149-best_of_roy_of_the_rovers_the_1980s/ Best of Roy of the Rovers The 1980s @ Titan Books ] ]

Plot

"For more information on the fictional career of the Race family, see Melchester Rovers"

Weekly strip (1954–93)

The story followed Roy Race, a striker for the famous team Melchester Rovers, and his heroics on the field, with particular emphasis on his characteristic left-footed shot, nicknamed "Racey's Rocket". In the first episode, a teenaged Roy (and his best friend, Blackie Gray) signed for the Rovers after being spotted playing for a youth club team. A year later, he made his first-team debut and soon became a star, leading the team to either the League title or a cup almost every season. By 1975 he had been made player-manager, a position which he retained throughout most of the next 20 years. Although the strip followed the Rovers through nearly forty seasons, Roy did not age at the same rate and appeared to be at most in his late thirties by the time the weekly comic ended. This unrealistic longevity was never remarked upon by the weekly comic, although the later monthly comic would attempt to address it by stating that more than one Roy Race had in fact played for Melchester over the years. [Specifically, the monthly stated that the Roy whose career ended in 1993 had been born in 1954 (the year the strip first appeared) and had debuted, aged 16, in the Rovers' European Cup Final win of 1970 (which had actually taken place in 1969, not 1970, in the strip). All stories prior to that were implied to have featured his father, also named Roy.]

Throughout his career Roy won a huge number of trophies with Rovers, and made numerous appearances for England, including managing the side for a friendly against Holland (largely populating the team with Rovers players and characters from backup strips). He married his secretary Penny in 1976, and they later had three children — Roy Jr., Melinda and Diana. However, he was also involved in a variety of sometimes unusual off-field activities. Up until the late 1970s, the majority of the storylines had focused on Melchester's attempts to achieve glory on the pitch — although distractions, usually involving the issue of whether or not the team would make it to a stadium in time for a match, would occur from time to time. In the early 1980s, however, as the strip reached its zenith of popularity, the story began to take on something more approaching a soap opera nature, with almost as much emphasis placed on off-field events as those on the pitch. One story, which saw Roy's wife move away to Crete, even attracted coverage in a number of British newspapers. [http://www.royoftherovers.com/backpage/newspaperpicture1.gif]

In late 1981, however, the strip featured its most dramatic — and most famous — storyline to date. At the time, Rovers were playing in Division Two, following their shock relegation the season before (just a year after being champions of England). At the height of their push for promotion, however, Roy was shot in his office by a mystery gunman, and lay in a coma for several weeks. The ensuing whodunit proved to be one of the comic's most successful storylines, with an array of potential suspects. In the end, the culprit was revealed to be Elton Blake, an actor who had been cast as Roy in a TV series about the Rovers, but blamed him for his eventual sacking. Roy, meanwhile, was brought out of his coma by being played live radio coverage of the Melchester fans chanting his name during a match — and when the news of his recovery reached the stadium, it fired up the Rovers players so much that they went on to record a British record 14-0 victory over Keysborough! In early 1983, Roy swapped Melchester Rovers for ambitious London side Walford Rovers after a fallout with the Melchester directors, but his stint away was short-lived and he was back at his spiritual home by the end of the year.

The greatest disaster in the history of Melchester Rovers took place in July 1986, in a storyline which was designed to mark the end of the bright, colourful late '70s to early '80s era, overhauling the strip's cast and style and paving the way for Mike White to take over from outgoing artist David Sque. The Rovers squad had been kidnapped while on tour in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Basran, in the sort of storyline to which readers of the strip had long since become accustomed. The story looked to be over when the team were rescued, as was the norm in such a situation, but as they were being driven away in a coach (still wearing their football kit), the writers performed a shocking double-bluff. A car, driven by Basranian terrorists intending to carry out a bombing, swerved and accidentally crashed into the coach — detonating the bomb and killing six of the Rovers first team. Although this was a massive development in the strip's history, the depiction of the Basranians as stereotypical "Arab terrorists" drew a certain amount of criticism, and an editorial decision was taken that future strips would avoid referring back to this incident. ["Roy Of The Rovers Monthly" #1 (September 1993), Letters Page, response to a reader's letter that had asked why the Rovers never marked the anniversary of so many notable players' deaths.]

Two years later, and having rebuilt a vastly different side to before the tragedy, Rovers' home ground was struck by what appeared at first to be an earthquake during a match at the start of the season, but which subsequently was revealed to be massive local subsidence requiring extensive remedial work. Although there were no fatalities or serious injuries this time, Melchester were left homeless for much of the 1988-89 season playing at Wembley Stadium. Roy continued to face on and off field pressures but in the final game of the 1991-92 season he scored in the dying seconds of the season to win Rovers the league championship and become the record scorer in English football. It was to be his last glory.

The final dramatic incident of Roy's playing career came in the very closing pages of the final weekly issue, in March 1993. In buoyant mood — having just been reinstated as Rovers manager following an earlier resignation — Roy set off in his private helicopter to scout a promising player at a local youth team match. Disaster struck, however, as — for unknown reasons — he lost control of the helicopter and ploughed into a field. Thus the weekly strip ended its thirty-nine year unbroken run on a downbeat and unresolved cliffhanger, as Roy was taken into hospital while fans, the media and his family awaited news on his condition.

Monthly comic (1993–95)

for more information.]

Reconciling the continuity of the monthly strip with the stories that both preceded and followed it presents difficulties, as the new writers attempted to carve out a fresh continuity, retconning the story's history in a number of ways. Significantly, the strip rewrote various parts of Melchester's history (such as the years in which various honours were won), and shortened the recorded playing career of Roy Sr. to more realistic levels. Meanwhile, in another attempt to add some realism to the strip, the identities of the imaginary teams that Rovers played matches against were changed. Rather than having entirely false clubs with names like "Burndean", "Castlemere" and "Tynecaster", the clubs in the monthly strip were thinly-veiled parodies of existing clubs, with similar kits and lookalike players, and named after relevant real-life places—so Liverpool, for example, became "Toxteth", Arsenal were "Islington", and so on.

The monthly strip was also notable for often shifting the focus of its stories away from its titular characters. One memorable storyline featured star striker Paul "Del" Ntende (often nicknamed "Delroy of the Rovers"), an English-born player with a Nigerian father, agonising over whether or not to play for the Super Eagles in the 1994 World Cup (for which England had failed to qualify), after four of their players were killed in a dramatic car-crash on the eve of the tournament. For much of the monthly run, Del was given similar prominence to best friend Rocky, and he was also pivotal in the attempts by the comic to speak out against racism in football throughout the storyline.

At the end of the monthly strip's first season, Rocky had saved the club from relegation with a last-minute wonder strike reminiscent of his father's best days, but the problems continued throughout the 1994/95 season. Blackie Gray was forced to resign after receiving death threats from fans, and was replaced by another former Rovers player, Mervyn Wallace. By the time the strip came to an end in March 1995, while there was some level of optimism surrounding the burgeoning careers of Rocky and Del, Melchester themselves were in dire straits, on the verge of bankruptcy and with their long-term future far from certain. The story writers wrote in the final edition that they intended for Melchester to win the FA Cup at the end of the 1994-95 season, but this was never included in future honours lists.

Match Of The Day Magazine (1997–2001)

With the return of the strip in "Match of the Day" magazine in May 1997, much of the monthly comic's new continuity was disregarded. None of the new characters created during that tenure were kept on, with only one player — Steve "Nobby" Wooten — from Roy's own playing days still at the club. A lot of the historical retcons that had been introduced were similarly discarded, including the "parody clubs" aspect, but the basic continuity thread of the club having struggled against relegation and being severely in debt was continued.

It was revealed in the first strip that in the intervening years, while Rovers had managed to survive the threat of bankruptcy, a bribery scandal had caused a mass exodus of players (providing an explanation for the jettisoning of most of the monthly strip's characters), and eventual relegation to Division One. Rocky, meanwhile, was playing for fierce local rivals Melborough, after a bitter falling-out with his father over a car accident in Italy in which Penny had been killed. Roy, who had quit football as a result, was blamed by some (including his son) for the accident, even though he had no memory of it happening, and the precise circumstances surrounding the event were never resolved.

With the relaunch of the strip, in May 1997, Roy was seen being persuaded to rejoin Melchester as manager and part-owner, with backing from the unscrupulous Vinter brothers, and arrived just in time to save them from yet further relegation. The following season, Roy and Rocky resolved their differences, the latter rejoining the club, and promotion back to the Premiership followed at the end of the year. In 1999, Rovers won the FA Cup, and their turnaround was complete in 2000, when they claimed the Premiership title. This was to be the last completed season that the comic would depict — when the magazine itself was closed down in 2001, Rovers were attempting to achieve a league placing that would secure them Champions League football and, in the process, give them financial security. While this storyline was never resolved, there was a certain sense of closure achieved by the fact that, shortly beforehand, Roy Sr. had finally wrestled full control of the club from the Vinters, thus completing his almost fifty-year progression from player, to player-manager, to manager, to outright owner. During this time, he had only left Mel Park for another club on two occasions — once when he quit as player-manager and took over as manager of Walford Rovers after a dispute with the Melchester chairman (although he returned to Melchester before the end of the season, just in time to defeat Walford in the FA Cup final), and secondly for a brief spell as manager of AC Monza after his playing career ended. He had also stepped down as manager on two other occasions — in 1978 and 1992 — but in both instances he remained as a player and took up the management post again shortly afterwards.

Recently, [http://www.royoftherovers.com/rotrstories/matchoftheday.aspx the Official "Roy of the Rovers" Website] have begun to publish the monthly "Match of the Day" strips from the beginning, updated on a roughly weekly basis.

Recurring characteristics

Over the years, the strip became famous for its employment of certain types of storyline and stylistic storytelling devices. [Cite book|author=Jones, Dudley|co-author=Watkins, Tony|year=2000|title=A Necessary Fantasy?: The Heroic Figure in Children's Popular Culture|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0815318448|pages=180-183] For example, despite the fast-paced nature of a football match, exposition would be provided by members of the crowd apparently commenting to one-another. This often created a disconcerting effect, as fans could seemingly make lengthy comments in the short time it took the ball to travel through the air (for example, as the ball was struck towards goal, one might "hear" a member of the crowd saying "Racey's had a shot!", followed by another responding "The 'keeper won't make it!", and so on). Even more implausibly, the players on the pitch could apparently hear comments made by individual members of the crowd and would often respond with comments such as "The fans are right, we need to work harder!" Nonetheless, loyal readers would usually willingly suspend disbelief at such moments, although this characteristic would often be parodied mercilessly, most notably by "Viz" magazine's Billy the Fish.

In the interests of keeping the strip exciting, it seemed that no season for Melchester Rovers could ever consist of simple mid-table obscurity. As such, just about every year the club would either be competing for the major honours at the top of the domestic and European game, or struggling against relegation to lower divisions. Often, such spells of good and bad fortune and form would directly succeed one-another, with no middle ground — so a Rovers team that had won the European Cup one year could find themselves struggling to stay in Division One the next. [In the original strip, the club were only ever actually relegated to the old Division Two once, and made a hasty return the following year. In the years between the end of the 1990s monthly comic and the "Match of the Day" strips, meanwhile, the club were relegated from the Premiership to the new Division One, spending two seasons there before being promoted under Roy's guidance.]

Storylines would often centre on new signings being unable to settle easily in the Melchester team, either because they refused to change their style of play and expected the Rovers to play around them, such as Duncan McKay, or had personal characteristics which made it hard for the other players to accept them, for example the "intelligent" university student Gerry Holloway and ex-circus ball juggler Sammy Spangler. It was down to Roy to devise ingeneous methods of bringing them into line or letting them go, usually the former.

When playing foreign teams, particularly in the European club competitions or on South American tours, the opposition would often cynically employ overt gamesmanship or downright dirty tactics, which would be overlooked by weak referees. Roy would usually find ways to turn the tables and Rovers would prevail.

Because the strip followed the structure of the football season, there were several months of every year when the Rovers were not actually playing football, but the strip still needed to depict something more exciting than the players going on holiday and then reporting for pre-season training, with the result that the players tended to spend their summers involved in bizarre activities like competing in charity cricket tournaments. By far the most common summer storyline, though, would see the Rovers go on tour to a fictional country in an exotic part of the world, normally South America, where they would invariably be kidnapped and held to ransom. In addition, the summer would often see Roy having to fend off lucrative offers to leave Melchester, usually to manage the international side of an oil-rich state. [As with most British comics, Roy's adventures were aimed at a very specific age group, and thus readers would generally "outgrow" the strip and cease to read it after a few years. This allowed certain stock plotlines to be regularly re-used, as readers who had seen them used once would most likely have stopped reading the strip by the time they were used again.]


Sky in 1992

Another notable feature of the strip, especially during the 1980s, was that real-life personalities often made appearances. Most famously, former Division One stars Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes were brought out of retirement to play for Melchester in 1985, along with longtime fans of the strip Martin Kemp and Steve Norman, of the pop group Spandau Ballet. [ [http://www.royoftherovers.com/whoswho/spandauspecial.htm Roy of the Rovers.com - The Official Roy of the Rovers Website ] ] Prior to this, cricketer Geoff Boycott had served for several years as Melchester's chairman, and Sir Alf Ramsey had briefly taken over as manager of Melchester while Roy lay in his coma. Other players such as Malcolm Macdonald and Trevor Francis would sometimes line up alongside Roy in England matches, despite the fact that the clubs they played for in real life were never featured in the strip.

The concept of TV pundits and anchormen making appearances, meanwhile, was a later development. When Roy announced his resignation as Rovers manager in 1992, he did so live on Sky Sports in front of shocked presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray. The "Match of the Day" strips were able to take this further by making use of their association with the TV series — and so throughout that incarnation, the likes of Des Lynam, Gary Lineker, Ray Stubbs and Alan Hansen would often be seen on TV screens commenting on the goings-on at Mel Park.

Creators

Writers

Roy was created by the author Frank S. Pepper, [ [http://www.royoftherovers.com/behindthescenes/writers.htm#pepper Roy of the Rovers.com - The Official Roy of the Rovers Website ] ] who had previously created the similar strip "Danny of the Dazzlers", but he only wrote four installments of "Roy of the Rovers" for the magazine due to commitments to another of his characters, "Captain Condor". His role was taken by the strip's first artist Joe Colquhoun, who used the pen-name "Stewart Colwyn", and was himself replaced after four-and-a-half years by Derek Birnage, the editor of "Tiger", who had commissioned the strip in the first place. In 1960, as an attempt to whip up publicity, it was announced that Bobby Charlton had taken over as writer, although in reality it was still Birnage (who claimed that he did consult with Charlton occasionally for story ideas). [( [http://www.wsc.co.uk/articles/206rotr.html "Race Against Time"] , "When Saturday Comes", April 2004)] The longest-serving writer of the strip, though, was Tom Tully, who began writing intermittently from 1964 — in addition to the returning Pepper — and then continuously from 1974 until the end of the weekly comic in 1993. Ian Rimmer became the main writer for the strip during the "Match of the Day" years, having first co-written some of the monthly strips with Stuart Green. It is also worth noting the contributions of the various editors, most notably Barrie Tomlinson, who first oversaw Roy's adventures in "Tiger" before following him to the weekly comic, and later editors Ian Vosper and David Hunt.

Artists

After Joe Colquhoun departed, he was succeeded first by Paul Trevillion - also famous for the You Are The Ref comic strip - and then the late Yvonne Hutton (who died in a car crash in her home town of Weymouth in Dorset in December 1991) who illustrated from 1967 to 1974, before David Sque took over in 1975. Despite reportedly not being a football fan, ["They said, 'This is football! You’re not interested in football' and I said, 'No I can draw anything.' People are people, figures are figures — just put a football shirt on them or whatever! Now of course I was sworn to secrecy and couldn't tell the Sunday papers that I didn't like football when I was doing the national footballing hero in comics! Obviously I've played it, but I'm a doer not a watcher. I loved playing football at school and in later years." ( [http://www.fustar.info/2006/03/23/120/ Interview with David Sque] , Fustar.info, March 2006)] he was responsible for one of the strip's more definitive looks in its famous early-80s period. He was replaced in 1986 by former "2000 AD" artist Mike White, who gave Roy a more muscular look and the strip a more modern feel. Barrie Mitchell — then the artist of one of the comic's other popular strips, "Playmaker" — took over in 1992, with a style quite similar to White's, and was kept on to draw the opening section of the first issue of the monthly comic, in the style of the old weekly, leading into a second section drawn by Robert Davies in the newer, grittier style. After the first issue, the monthly comic saw an inconsistent rota of artists used, in contrast to the lengthy tenures of the weekly strip's creative teams. Artists for this era included David Jukes, Sean Longcroft and Garry Marshall, but Mitchell did make a return to co-illustrate the final issue. This provided yet another continuity link between versions, as he returned in 1997 as the sole artist of the "Match of the Day" strips for all four years.

Regular features

The weekly comic generally featured a handful of different strips, of between one and four pages in length, in addition to a letters page, hints and tips about playing football, and features on real-life players, teams and events. "Roy of the Rovers" itself was usually the lead feature, although once the cover of the magazine stopped featuring actual strips (instead using photographs of footballers, or artwork that depicted the events contained inside), it would not always be the first feature in the comic. On some occasions, too, the "RotR" strip would be split (usually due to where the colour pages in the comic were), both opening and closing the issue and featuring a cliffhanger at its break.

The backup strips were almost always football themed, and included:

"Billy's Boots"

Arguably the most famous of the backup strips, "Billy's Boots" had appeared in "Scorcher", "Tiger", "Valiant" and "Eagle" before finding a home in "RotR". It told the story of Billy Dane, a hopeless schoolboy footballer who suddenly developed amazing skill and intuition whenever he wore the old boots of legendary striker "Dead Shot" Keen. The strip never tended to dwell on the morality of whether or not Billy's actions could be considered cheating; there was, however, frequent rumination on whether or not the boots were genuinely magical, or simply gave Billy the confidence to play well (he would quite frequently lose the boots, at which point he would revert to playing poorly).

Billy was one of several characters in the comic to not age properly, as he remained a young boy throughout the long-running storyline.

"Hot Shot Hamish" and "Mighty Mouse"

Originally these were two different humorous strips, both written by Fred Baker and drawn by Julio Schiaffino. "Mighty Mouse", a "Roy of the Rovers" strip, featured Kevin "Mighty" Mouse, a successful, skilful Division One player despite being a portly, short, bespectacled medical student. "Hot Shot Hamish", meanwhile, followed gentle Hebridean giant Hamish Balfour, the man with the most powerful shot in the world, and began its days in "Scorcher", before various mergers saw it end up in "Tiger" and finally "RotR". Once the two strips were appearing in the same comic, they were eventually merged to form "Hot Shot Hamish and Mighty Mouse" (later shortened to simply "Hamish and Mouse"), when Mouse was transferred from Tottenford Rovers to join Hamish at Scottish club Princes Park in 1985. Five years later they moved to Glengow Rangers, with the last new adventures involving the duo appearing in early 1993.

"Tommy's Troubles"

Another of the comic's more popular strips (to the extent that, after the strip ended in 1985, it was revived within six months by popular demand), this strip told the story of teenaged Tommy Barnes. Initially it centred on his bid to be allowed to form a soccer team at rugby union-playing Crowhurst School. Later, Tommy and his pal Ginger Collins formed Barnes United FC and played local league football. The strip began in the first edition of "Roy of the Rovers" in 1976, finally appearing a decade later.

="The Hard Man" and "Dexter's Dozen"=

Two strips that chronicled the career of tough-tackling centre-back Johnny "Hard Man" Dexter at two different clubs. "The Hard Man" was a mostly comical strip, noted for the antics of fat, bald, camp but extremely successful Hungarian manager Viktor Boskovic. "Dexter's Dozen" originally took a more serious approach, with Johnny moving to the league's worst team and trying to turn their fortunes around, but it later took on more comedy elements, with Viktor also re-appearing. Dexter would later transfer to Melchester Rovers and appear in the main "RotR" strip. Indeed, he was one of only a handful of characters from the weekly comic to appear in the monthly title, often being portrayed as having an awkward relationship with the Race family.

"The Safest Hands In Soccer" and "Goalkeeper"

Rare among strips of the time in that it focused on a goalkeeper (thus meaning that the emphasis of the strip was on match-winning saves as much as match-winning goals), "The Safest Hands in Soccer" (1977-82) starred Tynefield City's Scottish keeper Gordon Stewart. He reappeared in the first episode of "Goalkeeper" in 1983, in a story set many years after his previous adventures had ended, when he died in a plane crash. The new story followed his teenage son Rick, who joined arch-rivals Tynefield United and remained in the comic until 1990. The Stewarts were fairly strait-laced characters, a marked contrast to the maverick "Rapper" Hardisty of later goalkeeper-focused strip "Goalmouth".

"Playmaker"

Having previously been the lead strip in the short-lived "Hot Shot" comic, "Playmaker" went on to become one of the more popular strips of the latter years of "Roy of the Rovers" (1989-92). The story followed Andy Steel, a prodigious 15-year-old midfielder for Millside City in the First Division. Later strips would see him transfer to rich Second Division club Lands Park, and finally to big-name Spanish side Real Santania, along with his team-mate and fellow prodigy Kevin Radnor. [Radnor, a loudmouthed joker of a character, was a clear homage to Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne; curiously, though, he wasn't the only such character to appear in "Roy of the Rovers" around this time, as the 1992–93 season would see the similarly Gazza-homaging Derek "Mozzie" Mostin sign for Melchester in the main strip.] Perhaps surprisingly (particularly as by this point the strips shared an artist), Steel was never signed by Melchester.

"Durrell's Palace" and "Wayne's Wolves"

Young manager Dan Wayne was to face constant battles as manager of Western League minnows Durrell's Palace, who he became manager of in the first episode of the popular series in April 1981. Over the next few years he and veteran assistant/groundsman Joe Croke fought valiantly to keep the club in business amid a series of off-field difficulties, but enjoyed success in non-league cup competitions and even appeared at Wembley Stadium in 1984. Sadly the club folded the following year but Wayne remained in the comic in the new "Wayne's Wolves" story for a year. This saw him managing top-flight side Wolverdon, who were financially crippled. After bringing former Palace players Jess Barton and Duke Dancer with him and operating on a shoestring budget, Wolves defied the odds to avoid relegation and win the FA Cup.

"The Marks Brothers"

Running from 1980 to 1983, "The Marks Brothers" was one of several long-running and popular stories to appear in the comic during the 1980s. The storyline followed the fortunes of brothers Steve and Terry Marks. It began with older brother Steve playing in attack for top-flight giants Kingsbay and Terry being the star defender for struggling neighbours Stockbridge Town. Terry would eventually make the switch to Kingsbay and together the brothers were UEFA Cup winners in 1981 and FA Cup winners when the storyline ended in June 1983.

Others

Other popular strips in the 1970s included "Mike's Mini Men" (1976-80), following Mike Dailey's Table Football adventures (the game appeared to be Subbuteo although it was not called this). "Mi££ionaire Villa" (1976-77) followed rich-kid David Bradley, a fanatical fan and hopeless player who had bought himself a place in the Selby Villa team for £2million. "Simon's Secret" (1977-79), meanwhile, featured a young boy whose footballing abilities were enhanced by "cybernetic" implants received after a car crash. "Smith and Son" (1976-78) followed Barry and Danny Smith's double act at lowly Grandon Town, and "The Boy Who Hated Football" (1979-80) starred disinterested schoolboy John Smith, who ultimately did fall in love with the beautiful game. "The Kid from Argentina" (1979-81) followed Manton County's disastrous mix-up in spending big money on an unknown youngster called Jorge Porbillas from Argentina, rather than their intended target who was a famous Argentine international of the same name.

The 1980s saw a slew of popular strips run in the comic, including "The Apprentices" (1983-84) — a short-lived strip detailing the exploits of Melchester's apprentice professionals (effectively acting as the Melchester Rovers story in the comic as Roy was managing Walford for much of its run) — and "Harker's War" (1985), a strip that took an unconventional angle by showing a former policeman's one-man war on football hooliganism. The mid-1980s also saw reprints of "Nipper", a popular strip originally appearing in "Score 'n' Roar" and "Scorcher and Score", that featured Nipper Lawrence, a plucky working class teenaged orphan playing for Blackport Rovers. Interestingly, an older Nipper had previously shown up in the "RotR" strip itself, appearing in the England team that Roy Race selected during his one-match tenure as national coach. The strip also appeared in the short-lived monthly comic. There were some storylines that stretched reality in the 1980s, including "The Wheelchair Wonder" (1982-83), as a First Division teenage wonderkid managed to play again after a road accident despite being confined to a wheelchair most of the time, while "Project 917" (1985-86) featured robot Rob Smith being a prolific goalscorer for Westhampton City. Meanwhile, Kevin Clarke progressed to Melchester Rovers after being a cocky teenager with Selbridge in "Kevin's Chance" (1986-87).

In addition to reprints of classic strips, a number of memorable new features began in the early 1990s. "Goalmouth" (1990-92) took quite a modern tone, following brilliant young goalkeeper Nick "Rapper" Hardisty, who was also part owner of the struggling Fourth Division club he played for, and who had a propensity for rapping very loudly at opponents and teammates during matches. Rapper was another player who would eventually be signed by Melchester, ending his own strip. "Buster's Ghost" (1992-93) was a sequel of sorts to "Nipper", created by the same writer (Tom Tully) and artist (Solano Lopez) and featuring the same club, Blackport Rovers. Buster Madden had been a top-class player for the club, but was killed in a car crash, and reappeared as a ghost to aid his former team-mates on the pitch in a variety of bizarre ways. His cousin Nigel Foster, also a Blackport player, was the only person who could see him (a similar story called "The Footballer Who Wouldn't Stay Dead" had run a decade earlier). "United" (1992), meanwhile, was one of a handful of strips that only enjoyed a short life due to being introduced in the dying years of the original weekly comic, and was unique among "Roy Of The Rovers" strips in that its fictional protagonists (a struggling Premier League side) were actually shown playing against real-life teams and players. "Cheat" (1992-93) saw Nick Leach continually cheat his way to the top, only to ultimately see his well deserved comeuppance, while "Future Ball" (1992-93) gave an insight into how football may be in the future, played across the planets. The final new story to begin was "Dream Keeper", which ran for just a few weeks in 1993.

Over the years, there were also occasional non-football strips, such as "Racey's Rocket" (1984-85), which was about stock-car racing, and "Johnny Cougar", the story of the "redskin wrestler" which had previously run in "Tiger", but these strips never seemed to fit into the football-themed comic and were invariably quickly dropped. Another spin-off was "The Son of Racey" (1989-90), which gave schoolboy Roy Race Jr his first prominent role in the comic just before he joined Rovers as an apprentice.

In addition to the players mentioned above who migrated from their own strips to the main "RotR" strip, there were also occasional "cross-overs" between strips in the weekly comic — for instance, in an early episode of "The Legend", lead character and superstar player Agostina Da Silva was shown playing against Melchester.

Spin-offs and merchandise

The popularity of "Roy of the Rovers" at its height prompted copious amounts of merchandise and spin-off material, some of which is still available.

In addition to a "Roy of the Rovers Annual" every year from 1958–1994, [Even before the establishment of the weekly comic, "Tiger" published "Roy of the Rovers" annuals every year from 1958 onwards. In 1958, the annual was simply known as the "Roy of the Rovers Football Annual". For 1959 and 1960, the title changed to "Tiger Book of Roy of the Rovers", and after that the titles would be "Tiger Roy of the Rovers Annual" (or slight variations thereon) until the last one in 1975, after which the "Roy of the Rovers Annual"s themselves would begin, to tie in with the standalone comic. The final three annuals of this iteration, however, would change their title to "Roy of the Rovers Yearbook".] and again in 2000, there were a number of tie-in books released. These included a handful of paperback prose storybooks in 1977 and again in 1993, and two football quiz books in 1978 and 1979. In 1994, a book entitled "Roy of the Rovers — The Playing Years" (ISBN 1-85291-548-X) was compiled by Peter Acton and Colin M. Jarman. This impressive tome documented the entire available history of Roy Race's playing career, alternating between press-cutting style summaries and lengthy segments of strips from the original comics, and has long been seen as a vital part of any "RotR" fan's collection.

Despite its one-time popularity and longevity, "Roy of the Rovers" never made the leap from page to screen, either in film or on television. In recent years, rumours arose that Colin Farrell was interested in playing Roy Race in a new movie version, [ [http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/mndwebpages/farrell%20touts%20for%20comic%20book%20soccer%20star%20role "Farrell Touts for Comic Book Soccer Star Role"] (contactmusic.com, 19 May 2003)] but these seemed to be based more on a comment in an interview than any serious potential production, and nothing has come of the story since then. Roy did manage to make an appearance on the BBC comedy sports quiz "They Think It's All Over" in 1999, but only in the form of a cardboard cut-out! [ [http://web.archive.org/web/20061021081407/http://www.royoftherovers.com/backpage.htm Archived] from the original http://www.royoftherovers.com/backpage.htm on 10 October 2006.]

Only one "Roy of the Rovers" computer game was ever released, on the Commodore 64 [http://www.lemon64.com/?game_id=2183] , Atari STFact|date=February 2007, Amstrad CPC [http://www.cpczone.net/index.php?game=1245] and ZX Spectrum [http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0004251] in 1988. It was split into two parts: the first an adventure game, in which — taking the role of Roy Race — the player had to find and rescue the kidnapped Melchester team, before then playing the second part, which consisted of a charity match to raise funds for the club. The fewer players you managed to find before the match started, the less you had to play with in the match. In the worst case you'd have to play with only Roy. The game garnered mixed reactions, with the Spectrum version receiving 7/10 from "Your Sinclair", but only 3/10 from "Sinclair User". [ [http://www.ysrnry.co.uk/articles/royoftherovers.htm "Your Sinclair" review] of the "RotR" game, with summaries of other magazines' reviews.]

A number of official Melchester Rovers Subbuteo teams were produced in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, with official production of plastic Subbuteo players having ceased, a number of businesses offer unofficial versions. Subbuteo World, for example, offers handpainted Melchester teams in kits from every decade from the 1960s to 2000. There was also an officially-licensed board game in the 1980s, which saw players take on the role of Roy Race and manage the club.

No official Melchester replica shirts were ever produced during the comic's life, save for one or two special limited edition shirts (usually for competition winners). However, The Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company now makes officially-licensed replica shirts. There is currently no 1980s or 1990s version, but they have recently added a tracksuit top, as worn by Sir Alf Ramsey during his brief tenure as Rovers manager.

Two slightly more unorthodox pieces of merchandise arrived towards the end of the weekly comic's life. In the late 1980s, a "RotR"-branded, pineapple-flavoured chew bar was marketed at UK newsagents, [ [http://www.handycandy.co.uk/roy-of-the-rovers-bar-p-401.html Handy Candy the online sweet store ] ] and in 1990, a record was released by "Roy Race" and Gary Lineker, titled "Europe United". It was described in the comic as "a hot rocking heavy metal rap, featuring Gary Lineker and Roy on vocals and Roy on lead guitar." [ [http://www.royoftherovers.com/collectorscorner/memorabilia.aspx#rotrrecord http://www.royoftherovers.com/collectorscorner/memorabilia.aspx] ] It did not chart in the UK Top 40.

Parodies

Parodies of the "Roy of the Rovers" strip have included:
*"Billy the Fish" in adult comic "Viz": Billy is a fish with a human head, who acts as goalkeeper for Fulchester United.
*"Lenin of the Rovers", a 1988 radio comedy starring Alexei Sayle, based around Britain's only communist football team.
*During the late 1990s and early 21st century, satirical magazine "Private Eye" featured parodies of "Roy of the Rovers" in every issue; these three-frame strips, done in the same style of artwork as the real comic, would mock current events in the footballing world, and have humorous names to match ("Roy of the Roverpaids", "Nistelrooy of the Rovers" and so on).
* In the late 1980s, Shoot! magazine (later to include Roy of the Rovers) regularly featured 'Ray of the Rangers', a skit on Roy of the Rovers.
* BBC Three adult cartoon Monkey Dust featured a parody called "Roy of the Roasters" where Roy was very similar to Roy Race but the rest of his team were caricatures of modern yob footballers such as Lee Bowyer and Stan Collymore. The parody featured Roy winning the cup final despite being the only player in the team, the rest of his team having been arrested for a variety of offences on the way to the match.

Notes

References

Articles and books

*Acton, P and Jarman, C.M, "Roy of the Rovers : The Playing Years" (Queen Anne Press, 1994) ISBN 1-85291-548-X
*Berkmann, Marcus, [http://www.ysrnry.co.uk/articles/royoftherovers.htm "Roy of the Rovers" review] ("Your Sinclair" #37, January 1989)
*Berry, Chris, [http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/features/Why-did-we-ever-give.1565795.jp "Why did we ever give "Roy of the Rovers" the boot?"] ("Yorkshire Post", 15 June 2006)
* [http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/mndwebpages/farrell%20touts%20for%20comic%20book%20soccer%20star%20role Farrell Touts for Comic Book Soccer Star Role] , contactmusic.com, 19 May 2003
*Fifield, Dominic, [http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1774819,00.html "Match-saver cannot wait to take his genius to Germany"] ("The Guardian", 15 May 2006)
*Fustar.info [http://www.fustar.info/2006/03/23/120/ Interview with David Sque] , 23 March 2006
*Harper, Nick, [http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1014225,00.html Roy Race "interview"] ("The Guardian", 8 August 2003)
*McAlpine, Duncan, "The Comic Book Price Guide 1996/97 Edition" (Titan Books, 1996) ISBN 1-85286-675-6
*McGinty, Stephen, [http://web.archive.org/web/20050129004740/http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/s2.cfm?id=49502004 "A teen mag for boys - but will they buy it?"] ("The Scotsman", 15 January 2004) (webarchive)
*O'Meara, Tom, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1308222,00.html "He shoots... he scores!"] ("The Guardian", 20 September 2004)
*Platt, Mark, [http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N146923041130-1019.htm "Neil Mellor - The New Roy Race!"] (Liverpoolfc.tv, 30 November 2004)
*Rose, Neil, [http://www.wsc.co.uk/articles/206rotr.html "Race Against Time"] ("When Saturday Comes", April 2004)
*"Roy of the Rovers" sent off" ("The Times", 16 February 1993)
* [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/toptens/story/0,,1098267,00.html "The 10 best comic book footballers"] ("The Observer", 30 November 2003)

External links

* [http://www.royoftherovers.com The Official "Roy of the Rovers" Website]
* [http://www.britishcomics.com/Roy_of_the_Rovers/index.htm "Roy of the Rovers" on BritishComics.com]
* [http://littleoak.com.au/books/football_annuals/roy/roy_of_the_rovers.htm The "Roy of the Rovers Annual" Collection]
* [http://www.handycandy.co.uk Handy Candy]
* [http://www.subbuteoworld.co.uk Subbuteo World] (offers handpainted "RotR" Subbuteo teams)
* [http://www.toffs.com/icat/melchesterrovers The Melchester Rovers page of the Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company] (makers of officially-licensed Melchester Rovers replica shirts)
* [http://www.fustar.info/2008/07/09/return-of-the-rocket-the-titan-interview/ Interview about the Titan "Roy of the Rovers" reprints]


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