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Roy of the Rovers – Melchester Rovers relaunched online comic

EXCLUSIVE: The Rovers Return! Iconic comic book hero Roy Race relaunched online… and Sportsmail has the first look

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UPDATED:

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

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

Front cover of Tiger (13 April 1963 edition), featuring Roy of the Rovers drawn by Paul Trevillion

All Imagery
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.

Comic book hero Roy Race

Roy OF the Rovers - Come On England

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.

Tiger Book of Roy of the Rovers 1960

Roy of the Rovers Annual 1980 Cover

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

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…

Roy of the Rovers - Page One

Enlarge

Roy of the Rovers sample 2

Roy of the Rovers sample 3

Roy of the Rovers sample 4

Roy of the Rovers sample 5

2012 Egmont UK Ltd. Roy of the Rovers

Martin O"Neill backs Sunderland stadium plans

O'Neill supports Sunderland's plan to move visiting fans to create better atmosphere

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UPDATED:

22:29 GMT, 21 May 2012

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill has given his backing to club plans to move away fans at the Stadium of Light.

The Wearside club plan to shift travelling support from behind one goal to the highest level at the opposite end of the stadium.

O'Neill implemented similar changes when he took over at Aston Villa and he believes the moves at the Stadium of Light will assist his players and create a better atmosphere for the home side. The club are also planning a bigger family area to encourage younger supporters.

All change: Sunderland hope their fans will make more of an atmosphere

All change: Sunderland hope their fans will make more of an atmosphere

O'Neill said: 'At Villa the away support was behind one of the goals, in the North Stand, and I just couldn't see that. I remember Celtic fans in the Nou Camp and they were about 14 miles away, you needed a telescope to watch the game.

'We changed it round, other than for the occasional cup game where you have to grant more tickets to the other team, and it was much better. The atmosphere was far better and it was an advantage to us.

Agreement: Boss Martin O'Neill

Agreement: Boss Martin O'Neill

'First of all, it's behind the goal, it's important because if you get a big crowd at some of the games, they can take up the whole end, so it's intimidating for your own goalkeeper having to face that.

'At Sunderland, we've got a really great pocket of support in the corner but you want your fans at both ends. I don't know who will be affected by it, and I apologise if it is people who have been there for some time, but to have both ends full of our supporters will be brilliant.'

O'Neill is also looking to implements changes to his coaching staff this summer.

Former Darlington manager Craig Liddle joined the club's academy coaches and Kevin Ball, assistant director of the academy and former captain and caretaker manager, is expected to join the reserves set-up, with reserves manager Keith Bertschin.

The changes are the first O'Neill has made since he joined the club in December and he has not ruled out loyal assistant John Robertson eventually joining him on Wearside.

Sir Alex Ferguson running out patience with Paul Pogba

Fergie considering drawing a line under contract battle with rebel Pogba

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 4 April 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson is growing increasingly exasperated with Paul Pogba’s refusal to sign a new contract at Manchester United.

The French midfielder, 19, is rated as one of the brightest prospects at Old Trafford, but Ferguson has so far failed to convince him to commit to the club beyond the end of the season, as Juventus hover with the offer of a four-year deal worth 20,000 a week.

The United boss has tried both the carrot and the stick to persuade Pogba to sign in recent weeks, calling him up to the first-team squad and then making him train with the reserves.

Rare run out: Paul Pogba has been used sparingly this season

Rare run out: Paul Pogba has been used sparingly this season

Plenty to cheer, though: Sir Alex

Plenty to cheer, though: Sir Alex

After the France Under 19 international played for more than half an hour at Wolves, Ferguson indicated that he would be involved against Fulham last week.

Instead, Pogba was left out of the squad and made to play for the reserves against Everton after rejecting another request from his manager to sign the new contract.

He was then included on the club’s weekend break at St Andrews before returning to the bench at Blackburn on Monday night as Ferguson once again tried to win the teenager over.

A few weeks ago it looked certain that Pogba would join Juventus, with his agent Mino Raiola set to pocket 1.7million commission — in contrast to United who would receive only around 300,000 in compensation.

However, Pogba is said to be reconsidering his position and will keep his options open for now. Juve are still favourites to sign him if he leaves Old Trafford, but Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and AC Milan have also expressed interest.

Meanwhile, as United look to move eight points clear of faltering City with victory at home to QPR on Sunday, Ferguson believes that his players’ title pedigree is beginning to tell.

‘It’s down to experience,’ said Ferguson. ‘It never fazes them and they can handle it.’

WELSH OPEN 2012: Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens crash out

Welsh duo Williams and Stevens crash out of home tournament

Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens were dumped out in the last 16 of the 888 Welsh Open to end home involvement in Newport.

Williams was beaten 4-1 by the in-form Ronnie O'Sullivan, who ominously appears to be hitting his stride, while Stevens fell to a 4-2 defeat to last year's finalist Stephen Maguire.

Pocket rocket: In-form O'Sullivan brushed aside Williams

Pocket rocket: In-form O'Sullivan brushed aside Williams

Williams has failed to beat O'Sullivan in 10 years and that run was extended after the two-time world champion paid the price for errors in the fourth and fifth frames.

The match got off to a terrific start as the players compiled a century apiece from the first two frames.

O'Sullivan, fresh from his 23 ranking tournament victory in Germany earlier this month, made a sharp start as he forced Williams to spend the opening frame sat in his chair as he effortlessly compiled a break of 125 to take an early lead.

But Williams fought back instantly in front of his home crowd as he punished an early O'Sullivan error to put together a magnificent run of 133 and level.

O'Sullivan reclaimed the lead as a tremendous long shot helped him set up a 90-plus break, and Williams was left kicking himself as he fell 3-1 down after throwing away a winning position.

The Welshman had put together a break of 41 when he missed a red down the side cushion to allow O'Sullivan in for a clearance of 45.

Williams' error was compounded when he missed a long red after a poor positional shot and O'Sullivan made no mistake as he put together a break of 56 to complete another victory over his fellow world champion to set up a quarter-final against Judd Trump or Stuart Bingham.

In the other game Maguire stole an early march by taking the first two frames. But Stevens hit back with an excellent break of 84 in the next frame to put himself back in contention.

Maguire quickly reasserted his authority by compiling 111, but Stevens continued to battle hard and his 66 in the fifth frame kept the contest alive.

Stevens looked set to level the match in the sixth frame, but he missed the final red down the side cushion which would have given him the frame, allowing Maguire to make a clearance that clinched his last-eight spot.

The afternoon session also saw world number nine Joe Allen complete a second straight 4-0 win as he brushed aside Stephen Hendry.

An opening frame break of 81 gave Allen the lead before he fought his way back from 58-22 down with the help of a snooker to win it.

A disconsolate Hendry then conceded the third despite only needing two snookers, and Allen sealed the win with a 68 break in the fourth.

Stephen Lee beat Tom Ford 4-1 in the remaining match as he built on a stunning opening break of 129 to seal a comfortable win.

Six Nations 2012: Harry Robinson surprise pick in Wales squad

Wildcard Harry wings way into Gatland's Wales plans for Six Nations

Shane Williams may have retired from international rugby but a little dancing winger still stole the show when Wales’ Six Nations squad was announced.

Warren Gatland selected Harry Robinson, 18, in his preliminary 35-man group and marked the wildcard on the wing as one to watch for the future.

The Cardiff Blues speedster, picked after an eye-catching cameo against Leinster two weeks ago, has the agility, pace and fancy footwork of his celebrated predecessor Williams — and at 5ft 10in he can probably fit into the same shirt, too.

Pocket rocket: Robinson in action for Wales Under 20s last year

Pocket rocket: Robinson in action for Wales Under 20s last year

WALES SQUAD:

Forwards: C Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys), R Bevington (Ospreys), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), P James (Ospreys), R Gill (Saracens), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), M Rees (Scarlets), H Bennett (Ospreys), K Owens (Scarlets), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), I Evans (Ospreys), L Reed (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Sale Sharks).

Backs: M Phillips (Bayonne), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Webb (Ospreys), R Priestland (Scarlets), J Hook (Perpignan), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), G Henson (Cardiff Blues), A Beck (Ospreys), G North (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), H Robinson (Cardiff Blues), L Williams (Scarlets), L /01/18/article-2088537-0E5A1B8400000578-754_468x414.jpg” width=”468″ height=”414″ alt=”Making the call: Warren Gatland is hoping to build on Wales' successful World Cup campaign ” class=”blkBorder” />

Making the call: Warren Gatland is hoping to build on Wales' successful World Cup campaign

Gatland, who has followed Robinson’s progress through Wales’s youth teams, said: ‘Harry reminds me of Jason Robinson in the way he darts around. He’s young, confident and talented. I’ve been really impressed with him, particularly in the sevens, and he’s looked sharp with the Blues.’

Centre Jamie Roberts, Robinson’s team-mate for club and country, added: ‘He’s definitely reminds me of Shane. He’s pretty small but he’s very powerful, agile, quick, with a great physique and attitude.

‘He’s very likeable with his film- star looks. I’m sure the ladies will be after him now he’s been named in the squad!’

Return of the dragon: Gavin Henson is back in the Wales squad

Return of the dragon: Gavin Henson is back in the Wales squad

A different squad member already loved by the ladies is Henson, who squeezed in pre-World Cup training around filming for a reality TV dating show. Although he has played only 10 times for Wales since the 2007 World Cup, Gatland clearly feels he is worth the baggage.

‘Gavin definitely wasn’t the first name on the sheet but it’s an opportunity for him to come in and impress,’ he said. ‘The last time we were together he did well — mixing filming for The Bachelor and playing a bit of rugby — but his attitude was great, he looked sharp and trained hard.

‘You keep asking yourself if it’s more hassle than it’s worth because of the speculation. I can only talk about how Gavin’s been in our environment and he’s always been great.

‘He’s underdone at the moment — you have to go back to 2008 when he was exceptional — but he’s very strong defensively and I hope he’ll bring out the best in one or two other players, just keeping them on their toes.’

There is no room for Stephen Jones, but Gatland has picked players based outside Wales, even if they can only spend three days with the squad next week.