The Best of Roy of the Rovers: the 1980s

By Tom Tulley & David Sque (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576948-2

There was a time when comics in Britain reflected the interests of a much larger proportion of the youthful population, and when adults kept their bizarre reading habits a closely guarded secret. Now that it’s practically cool to read graphic narrative, one of the nation’s greatest heroes – sporting, as well as comic related – has been revived in a series of collections from Titan Books.

Roy of the Rovers began on the front cover of Tiger, a new weekly anthology comic published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and Fleetway Publications). Launched on September 11th 1954, “The Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, Amalgamated’s successful response to Hulton Press’ mighty Eagle (home of Dan Dare).

From the first Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also featuring The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others. In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined the more traditional, earthy strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue run it was “the comic with Roy of the Rovers”.

Created by Frank S. Pepper, who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn, and drawn by Joe Colquhoun, Roy was written for much of his early career by the comic’s Editor Derek Birnage (although credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years). In 1975 Roy became player-manager and the following year got his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 issues (ending 20th March 1993).

Roy Race started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and after may years of winning all the glories the beautiful game could offer, settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and triumphant adventure every Saturday…

This glossy oversized paperback covers the period September 20th 1980 to 4th June 1982, when the comic was regularly selling a million copies a week. The stories were always much more than simply “He shoots! He’s scored!!!” formulaic episodes: they’re closer to the sports-based TV dramas of later decades like Dream Team (litigiously so, in some cases…).

This segment begins with Melchester Rovers’ worst season ever. The team are knocked out of the FA Cup and even relegated, only to fight their way back to the top flight despite such distractions as spoilt-brat players, a TV company making a serial about the club and even Roy’s wife leaving him…

Weekly comics have a tremendous advantage when it comes to staying topical. From draught script to issue-on-sale can be as little as six weeks. This meant that with a judicious eye to the upcoming events diary a strip can comfortably lock into big public occasions and even short lived crazes. Two solid examples here are Roy’s attendance of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the dramatic sequence of events following the attempted murder of the indomitable player-manager.

The mystery of “Who Shot Roy Race” mirrored the “Who Shot JR?” furore generated by TV soap Dallas, although with a far more logical conclusion…

Old football comics are never going to be the toast of the medium’s Critical Glitterati, but these were astonishingly popular strips in their day, and produced for maximum entertainment value by highly skilled professionals. They still have the power to enthral and captivate far beyond the limits of nostalgia and fashion. If your footy-mad youngster isn’t reading enough, this might be the cunning tactic to catch him – or her – totally offside…

© 2008 Egmont UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved.