The Diary: Forget Pele, Roy is still a Race apart

SO PELE has been chosen as footballer of the century. The boy from Brazil was not bad at the beautiful game, it has to be said. But what about the player whose top- class career spanned 38 years, who survived an assassination attempt, two kidnappings, a terrorist explosion and an earthquake and who won 10 League championships, 10 FA Cups and two World Club Championships ? We are talking Roy of the Rovers stuff here, of course - quite literally.

The Roy of the Rovers 2000 Annual has rolled off the presses of Egmont World Publishing as a timely reminder of the king of the comic book football world. In a question-and-answer profile on page eight, Roy Race declines to give his age, "on the grounds that I might incriminate myself". Having first appeared in Tiger as a 15-year-old in 1954, however, the pen and ink Peter Pan must now be 60. That means he was 54 when he played his last game for his beloved Melchester Rovers - before the fateful helicopter crash which led to his legendary left foot being amputated in 1993.

Roy is manager of the Rovers these days and the star of his team happens to be "Rocky" Race - Roy Junior, his temperamental 22-year-old son. According to the annual, "some commentators are now suggesting Rocky might prove to be a better player than his dad." And, judging by the manner in which Rocky recovers from a knee-ligament injury and a serious spat with his father to score a title-clinching last-minute winner against Western Villa, he is certainly an inspirational chip off the old block. The boy Race, however, still has a long way to go to match his dad.

Roy the first did, after all, survive the terrifying moment when Mel Park was rent asunder by an earthquake 10 minutes into the opening game of the 1988-89 season. He even emerged unscathed from the turbulent time when Geoffrey Boycott was chairman of the Rovers.

Fish or Fox?

LIKE ROY RACE, Billy Thomson has been involved in many a scrape in his time. The "half-man, half-fish" - the goalkeeping star of Fulchester United featured as Billy the Fish in Viz - has been killed (twice), been eaten by Japanese businessmen, faced a firing squad, stood trial for murder and fathered his manager's love child. He can also be found on display in London - or, at least, the fishy half of him can, preserved in formaldehyde, Damien Hirst-style - at an exhibition marking the 20th anniversary of Viz at the National Cartoon Centre.

Billy occasionally appears in Viz. Not the original Billy, though. "The last time Billy died he came back as his own son," Graham Dury, Viz's co-editor, told The Diary. Roy of the Rovers stuff, you could say, though it is difficult to imagine Roy Senior sanctioning the kind of half-time entertainment that took place at the most recently featured Fulchester game: Posh Spice giving birth on the pitch.

The Fulchester team has included several celebrities over the years: Shakin' Stevens, Cardinal Basil (Bazza) Hume, The Queen Mum, Norman Wisdom and Mick Hucknall.

There has never, though, been another character quite like Brown Fox. A "female redskin winger raised by a tribe of footballing Indians, she famously aimed a shot at her own goal in the 1988 FA Cup final. "Me heap sorry," she told the bemused Billy. "It's um time of month."

Tupper wears well

THE DIARY'S personal choice for comic-book sports personality of the century would have to be Alf Tupper, the welder-cum-world-beating runner from the grimy grim-up-north backstreets of Greytone. After a hard day slaving under the bonnet of a truck, Alf would stop off at Aunt Meg's caff for a steaming mug of tea and a fish supper, hitch a lift down to London, get to the White City with a minute to spare and overcome his customary mid-race tumble to pip some toff or some east European hulk on the line. "I've run 'em," he would cry as he breasted the tape.

Alf ran his last race in The Victor some seven years ago now, though he may not have hung up his ragged racing shoes for good. "He isn't dead yet," Dave Donaldson, the managing editor of comic products at DC Thomson, told The Diary. "There's nothing concrete but we do have a mind to bring back some of the classic heroes from our back catalogue. Alf's certainly a possibility. And Wilson has always been talked about in the office."

William Wilson, who appeared in The Wizard in the 1940s and 1950s, was the ultimate comic-strip sports hero. He did, after all, run the world's first three-minute mile, clocked 4.7sec for 100m and long-jumped 29ft 6in, leaping over a pit of fire in Egypt. He also won the world middleweight boxing crown and trained a postman to victory in the Tour de France. The secret to his success was the special diet of herbs and berries he ate in his cave on the Yorkshire Moors. It gave him a pulse of a single beat per minute.

That was, of course, in the days before Nandrolone Man.

Ballet who?

AND FINALLY . . . The Diary can reveal some bad news for the multi-talented Martin Kemp. The man who plays shifty Steve Owen in EastEnders has failed to secure a role in the Melchester Rovers all-time XI.

Not a lot of people might know this but, in his pop star days with Spandau Ballet, Kemp spent the 1985-86 season playing alongside Roy Race for Melchester Rovers. Indeed, he made a scoring debut as a substitute for the great Blackie Gray in a 6-1 win against Stambridge in November 1985. He was also a member of the Melchester side who beat Tynecaster United 3-0 in the 1986 Milk Cup final at Wembley. The East Ender did not do quite enough, though, to earn a place in Roy's all-time team.

As selected in the 2000 annual, the two striking berths are filled by the two Roy Races - Roy Senior and Roy Junior. As it says on the cover: "The legend lives on."

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