Monday, September 14, 2009

Roy Race shot!

Today's Guardian offered a rare treat: A full copy of the much missed football weekly Roy of the Rovers. I felt quite nostalgic going to the newsagent to buy it. Although, being frightfully middle class, my comics were delivered so I never actually had to go to the shop for real when I was younger.

This was not, you understand, a new copy (that would be less fun, what with Roy's leg amputation and his move away from the mighty Melchester) but a reprint of the issue from 19th December 1981.

Wayward striker Vic Guthrie finds Roy slumped over his desk. Is Guthrie himself a suspect after major fallouts with his famous player-manager.

On discovering that his most iconic employee has been shot in the head Melchester Rovers' general manager Ben Galloway asks: "What, you're treating this as attempted murder?"

Ben, a fine servant of the club, shows himself to be a bit slow on the uptake here suggesting he would have struggled in the Premiership era.

Sadly the reprint is a one off. And we leave Roy in a coma, his best friend - and equally enduring - Blackie Gray installed as manager and no further clues as to the perpetrator.

Well, dear reader, I can not quite exclusively reveal how the plot was resolved:
As Roy continued to lie in a coma, and despite Blackie's excellent stewardship, the Rovers' board installed a new manager in the unlikely form of Sir Alf Ramsey 
Sir Alf insists he'll walk away as soon as Roy as fit but in the meantime returns prime suspect Vic Guthrie to the starting line up.

In February 1982 Roy has still not regained consciousness. In his absence Sir Alf adopts a revolutionary new attacking formation. 
As Rovers go one ahead the whole crowd starts to chant the name "Roy Race" - the wall of sound even stopping the players in their tracks!
In the hospital the radio in Roy's room is tuned to the match. Incredibly, if somewhat predictably, the chants get through and Roy opens his eyes. Racey is back.
Rovers go on to win the game 14-0, thus breaking the league record and vindicating Sir Alf's new tactics (although with Rovers unbeaten in 20 league games the change seemed slightly redundant).

By April 1982 Roy is back as manager and Sir Alf departs stage left. But the murderer is still at large.
A month later, however, after scoring two goals on his return to the team Roy subs himself at half time and "Races" to the nearest police station.
There he informs the local cops that his killer was the actor Elton Blake.
After losing out on the biggest job of his career - playing, you've guessed it, Roy Race - Blake had sworn revenge. As ever Roy was to defeat him in the end.
Reading it now Roy of the Rovers is a relic. Transport yourself back and you can understand why you were so beguiled. The tributes to Roy from luminaries such as Morecambe and Wise are the key.

Everyone knew it wasn't real life but everyone was prepared to go along for the ride long enough to allow you to suspend your disbelief.

It gave the magazine a magical quality at the time. But you can also see how irrelevant it would be to its target audience now.

A shame really. But we'll always have nostalgia.

Want to read more? I can recommend Roy of the Rovers - The Playing Years and you might also like Roy of the Rovers - The Unathorised Biography which is reviewed here.