The Rover's return: Roy signs up for yet another season in the top flight
Wednesday 07 February 2007
He briefly managed the England side, was shot by a television actor and survived a bombing of his team coach, an earthquake on the pitch and a helicopter crash that robbed him of a leg. And through it all, his trusty left foot kept dispatching goals, usually when the score was 0-0 with only minutes to go.
With staying power like that, it was inevitable that Roy of the Rovers, a blond centre-forward who remained at the top of his game between 1954 and 2001, should make a comeback - and yesterday he did. A North-east publisher has reached an agreement with the company that holds the rights to the character which will allow him to return to life.
Most middle-aged football obsessives remember Roy Race of Melchester Rovers, inseparable from his teammate Blackie Gray and married to Penny, his former secretary. He has now been tempted out of retirement by Players Inc, a stylish football fanzine which covers all North-east football clubs.
The fanzine plans to republish past adventures and create new ones. "It's a feelgood factor for us because Roy's such a huge name to bring on board. As far as I'm concerned, it's the biggest transfer in the January transfer window," said the editor, Steve Wraith, who has been dreaming of this day since the Seventies.
The deal revives a character who first appeared in the Amalgamated Press's new sports and adventure comicTiger in September 1954. Roy was playing for Milton Youth in a cup tie, in the first issue, when he pounced on a loose ball and pushed it past a lunging defender, before firing a shot that flew past the visitors' goalkeeper. Soon, every football fan knew that shot as "Racey's Rocket". Race's Melchester teammates - Lofty Peak, Vernon Eliot and others - became the stuff of boyhood legend as the weekly Roy of the Rovers comic secured an estimated one million readers at the height of its popularity in the late Seventies and early Eighties. It was comfortably the most popular of the football-themed stories that had been a staple of British comics since the Fifties.
Until the Seventies, most storylines focused on Melchester's battles on the pitch, with no more drama off it than the issue of whether they would make it to a stadium in time for a match. But, by the early Eighties, as the comic moved past its zenith, soap opera storylines appeared, including the "Who Shot JR?" style whodunnit which left Roy in a coma. Needless to say, his teammates were so inspired by his return to consciousness during a game, that they won 14-0 - a British record.
None of this could stop the comic strip going monthly, in 1993. Eventually, Roy transferred to Match of the Day magazine which took him down with it when it ceased publication in 2001.
There has been no lack of razzmatazz for his return, with a special front cover of Players Inc to mark the occasion. "We're going to run the 1975 season as it appeared at the time and we are currently in negotiations about creating a new strip and some new stories," said Mr Wraith.
Egmont, which holds the rights to Roy, is frequently approached about endorsements. Unlike representatives of some modern strikers, the company turns down many in the interest of preserving the integrity of the character. A car company which asked if it could make him "Roy of the Motors" and an online gambling site which wanted Race to endorse its services have been rejected in the past year.
The rise of retro reading
Look and Learn
The best of the children's magazine which ran from 1962 to 1982 is being republished in a series of 48 comics, that will include Don Lawrence's "The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire".
Hugh Grant, George Michael, former Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley and Tracey Ullman all graced its photo stories. It launched in 1978 and folded in 2000. An annual was published last Christmas.
A 2005 retro annual was a big hit, prompting another in 2006, with gems like "What's your remedy for a broken heart?" and "exclusive pics" of the Bay City Rollers. It ran from 1964 until 1993.
A "best of" annual was published at Christmas after the magazine closed last year. It became a favourite of pop fans after its launch in 1978.
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