WHICH football club had its manager shot, its team kidnapped by terrorists, and its pitch swallowed up by an earthquake – all in the same decade? If you answered Melchester Rovers, you were presumably a fan of ‘Roy of the Rovers’, the weekly soccer comic strip which was recently resurrected for a day.
Last Monday week, ‘The Guardian’ newspaper included something which was bound to resonate with people of a certain age – an original issue of ‘Roy of the Rovers’. Dated December 19, 1981, this was a particularly dramatic edition of ‘Roy of the Rovers’.
‘Roy Race Shot!’ screams the cover, and the story opens with ‘Racey’ slumped on the floor, a bullet having creased his forehead. Roy, who lapsed into a coma for two months, received get well messages from various football luminaries including England boss Alf Ramsey, who subsequently took over as Melchester Rovers manager on a temporary basis. Roy came out of his coma after hearing live radio coverage of Melchester fans chanting his name during a match, which they eventually won 14-0.
Obviously modelled on the ‘Who Shot JR?’ episode of ‘Dallas’, the would-be assassin was eventually revealed as actor Elton Blake, who had been cast as Roy in a TV series but blamed him for his eventual sacking.
‘Roy of the Rovers’ regularly produced moments of unintended comedy, and even this dark incident was no different. On discovering that his most iconic employee has been shot in the head, Rovers’ shocked general manager Ben Galloway asks a police inspector: “You … you’re treating this as attempted murder?” As the Scottish Football Blog puts it, ‘Ben, a fine servant of the club, shows himself to be a bit slow on the uptake here, suggesting he would have struggled in the Premiership era’.
As well as the title story, this issue of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ included stories such as ‘Mighty Mouse’, ‘The Safest Hands In Soccer’, ‘Tommy’s Troubles’, ‘The Hard Man’ and ‘The Footballer Who Wouldn’t Stay Dead’.
This wonderfully-named latter strip concerned young Mel Deakin, who survived a lightning strike which occurred in the exact same place as a bolt that had killed professional footballer Andy Steele 70 years earlier. Ever since his near-death experience, Mel often saw Andy, who gave him tips and told him stories about the game. I was unfamiliar with the story until last week, but I do have fond memories of ‘Billy’s Boots’, in which a hopeless schoolboy footballer developed amazing skill whenever he wore the boots of a legendary striker named Jimmy ‘Dead-Shot’ Keen.
The biggest laugh I got out of the free copy in ‘The Guardian’ was, appropriately enough, on the ‘Famous Football Funnies’ page. In truth, the gags were pretty lame, but in keeping with the ‘votes will not be counted but may still be charged’ warnings one hears on ‘The X-Factor’, those responsible for reproducing the comic added a rider to the promise that every reader who has a joke published won £3. It came in large type on the right hand side: “Facsimile of vintage 1981 joke page. Please do not respond.”