EXCLUSIVE: The Rovers Return! Iconic comic book hero Roy Race relaunched online… and Sportsmail has the first look
15:17 GMT, 17 December 2012
'89 minutes gone in the Cup final, we're deadlocked at one-all and heading for extra time here at Wembley. But wait, here come Melchester Rovers again…Noel Baxter has it on the wing and the crowd roars him on. Inside to Lofty Peak and the Scot heads it on to Blackie Gray! He’s looking for options and suddenly there’s Race! Race gets the ball, he lines up to shoot. AND it’s there! Roy Race wins the Cup for Melchester!’
For a generation of football fans, those words and names will have just brought back a flood of memories.
Thousands up and down the country followed the fortunes of comic strip creation Melchester Rovers as closely as their own team for years and years. The fantastical character of Roy Race – that phenomenal goal machine with his flowing blonde locks – drew as much respect and wonder as real life players.
Comic book hero: Thousands of football fans up and down the country followed the fortunes of Roy Race and Melchester United in the weekly Roy of the Rovers comic strips
Front cover of Tiger (13 April 1963 edition), featuring Roy of the Rovers drawn by Paul Trevillion
2012 Egmont UK Ltd. Roy of the Rovers
For nearly 50 years, schoolboys would save up their pocket money and rush down to the newsagent to grab the latest issue of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ – an extraordinary work of riveting football fiction.
There was never a dull moment – when they were not being kidnapped by rebel militias in the South American jungle on their pre-season tour or fighting strife in the boardroom, Melchester managed to win three European Cups, ten FA Cups and ten league championships!
Race enjoyed a 40-year playing career, all but one year of which was with Melchester, and scored an incredible 481 goals (by rough calculations) for his clubs and 52 for England – though he never graced a World Cup or European Championships as injury always seemed to get in the way.
It was boy’s own stuff every week – a cavalcade of hat-tricks, last-gasp victories and shiny silverware. This was what playground footballers always dreamt of issued weekly in a flash of red and gold coloured ink.
The Roy of the Rovers comic strip in its last guise folded in 2001 but in an age when players like Lionel Messi seem like an incarnation of Roy Race, his spirit lives on in the hyperbole of commentators (‘It’s Roy of the Rovers stuff here!’), the old editions gathering dust in many attics, and now in an online archive accessible on your iPad and other forms.
Roy scores again in the 21st century as part of a release of classic comics by Egmont UK this year. Five volumes of Roy of the Rovers comics from the seventies and eighties are available at the moment through the iBook store on Apple’s iPad tablet.
What’s more, you can see a sample of five pages beneath this article. There’s also a new range of merchandise out just in time for Christmas at Marks and Spencer.
Goal machine: Roy Race had a phenomenal record of 481 club and 52 international goals in his 40-year playing career, but he never had the opportunity to represent England at a major tournament owing to injury
THE MELCHESTER TROPHY CABINET
Division One Champions – 1931, 1932, 1933, 1951, 1958, 1960, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1977, 1980, 1988, 1992
Division One Play-Off Winners – 1998
Division Two Champions – 1903, 1982
FA Cup – 1907, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1947, 1953, 1959, 1961, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1984, 1990, 1999
League Cup – 1974, 1986, 1987
European Cup – 1964, 1969, 1973
European Cup Winners’ Cup – 1967, 1971, 1975, 1985
UEFA Cup – 1979
Fans will be able to re-live in high resolution glory all the epic matches and captivating storylines of the original. The team’s disappearance in the depths of the South American jungle in 1960 when their aircraft was shot by rebel forces fighting a bloody civil war.
The extraordinary deja-vu in 1964 when the Rovers were captured by bandits near Bogota in Columbia, only to later escape on horseback. The drama of 1981 when Roy, by then Melchester player-manager, was gunned down in his office by a disgruntled actor who played him on TV.
The collapse of Roy’s marriage to Penny Laine in the early eighties and his sensational move to rivals Walford Rovers after falling out with the board in 1983.
The tragedy of eight squad members being killed by terrorists in war-torn Basran in the late eighties, Roy’s retirement from Melchester live on Sky Sports in 1992 and the helicopter crash that ended his career the following year.
There was also the emergence of Roy ‘Rocky’ Race, his son, in the nineties – if anything, an every hotter goalscoring prospect.
What endeared the comic to so many was its synchronisation with the real world of football. The plot ran in tandem with the football season, with the drama gradually building to a crescendo as May grew nearer. Inevitably, Melchester always found themselves challenging for honours or trying to escape relegation.
Stocking fillers: A Roy of the Rovers annual would always be a delight to unwrap on Christmas morning
Mighty Melchester! An early Rovers line-up
It was a comic strip that could be enjoyed by the whole family and shared with friends, while it also took a ballsy stand against issues of the age such as hooliganism.
‘People who treasure our national game don’t want you! I don’t want you!’ screamed Roy at the thugs in 1990.
The story spawned a whole roster of teammates – Roy’s great friend and strike partner Blackie Gray and uncompromising Scottish midfielder Lofty Peak. There were even some real stars – Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes came out of retirement to play for Melchester in 1985, while Sir Alf Ramsey took over as manager when Roy fell into a coma.
But more than anything, the adventures of Roy and his pals showed football at its best – captivating, unpredictable and so very often, simply fantastic.
The Roy of the Rovers archive can be downloaded for iPad via the iBooks store now. A new range of Roy of the Rovers-related merchandise, including Blow Football, Table Football, wallet and keyring, can be bought via Marks and Spencer here.
A TIMELINE OF ROY OF THE ROVERS
1954 – First appearance of Roy of the Rovers on September 11, as a feature in the comic Tiger
1960 – The Melchester Rovers team disappeared when their aircraft was shot by rebel forces in a South American civil war
1964 – The squad is kidnapped near Bogota and has to escape on horseback
1968 – Roy Race breaks the club’s 30-year club record with his 300th goal
1976 – Roy of the Rovers starts up as a separate comic with the first edition released on September 25. It runs for 853 issues, until March 20, 1993
1978 – Race stands in as England manager for a friendly with Holland after the national team boss is injured in a car crash
1981 – Roy is gunned down in his office by a mystery assassin. It later turns out to be a disgruntled actor who played him on TV
Early 1980s – Roy’s wife Penny leaves him, in a storyline covered by national news
1985 – Former stars Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes come out of retirement to play for Melchester. Martin Kemp and Steve Norman, of the pop group Spandau Ballet, join the board in the same year. Eight members of the Melchester team are killed in a bungled act of terrorism in war-torn Basran.
1992 – Roy sensationally quits Melchester on Sky Sports
1993 – Re-launches as a monthly comic with grittier storylines aimed at teenage readers. Roy’s playing days are ended after nearly 40 years when he loses control of his helicopter and crashes into a field
1997 – Final home for the comic is Match of the Day magazine – until 2001
2012 – Roy of the Rovers archive launched for iPad
EXCLUSIVE: Enjoy our sample of the new Roy of the Rovers archive…
2012 Egmont UK Ltd. Roy of the Rovers