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Κυριακή, 13 Ιανουαρίου 2013

Roy Race A Brief History by Mark Towers

Roy Race soccer star first appeared in Amalgamated Press' new sports and adventure comic, Tiger in September 1954. The first issue showed Roy playing for Milton Youth club in a cup tie. In true storybook fashion the score was 0-0 with only minutes to go, but Roy tireless and still on his toes, pounced on a loose ball and pushed it past a lunging defender and ripped a shot towards goal from the edge of the six yard box, which flew past the visitors' goalkeeper.

Watching the match was Alf Leeds, Chief Scout for the famous Melchester Rovers. Spotting a potentially great talent Alf invited Roy to join the First Division side's Youth Team and so began a marriage made in alliterative heaven.

Frank Pepper creator of Roy of the Rovers had previously written 'Danny of the Dazzlers' for the Champion comic. He was asked to produce a more realistic football strip for Amalgamated's latest title. His brief was to show an ordinary lad with talent, joining a top class club of long tradition, as a very humble junior who gradually makes his way up the ladder to become a star. The editor was looking for a character the young reader could identify with and ultimately aspire to. Frank Pepper quit after only four issues (returning in the 1960's). Frank's work schedule had become over loaded with various stories including the space faring comic strip adventures of Captain Condor. Roy of the Rovers artist Joe Colquhoun scripted the story for four and a half years. This included work in the excellent first Roy of the Rovers Annual in 1958. A year that also saw Roy become captain of Melchester Rovers.

In February 1960, the front page of the Tiger weekly comic blazed with the news that real life Manchester United and England soccer hero Bobby Charlton was writing  Roy's adventures. Unknown to the readers it was in fact Derek Birnage, the comic's editor. Under Bobby Charlton's (Birnage's) direction, Roy led Melchester Rovers to FA Cup glory in 1961.

Tom Tully was the last and longest running writer for Roy of the Rovers. Tom was responsible for giving Roy a life outside football. Roy married his secretary Penny (nee Laine!) in 1976; had twins Roy (later to be known as 'Rocky') and Melinda and later another daughter named Diana. He briefly managed England in 1978 and in 1981 crazed TV actor Elton Blake shot him "JR Ewing style". This was also the year that Melchester Rovers were relegated from the old Division One (Premier League). Roy recovered from the shooting, quit the Rovers and joined Walford Rovers in 1983, only to return and rebuild his team after a terrorist bomb tore through the tour bus killing many of Roy's long standing team mates. An earthquake ripped through the pitch at Mel Park in 1988, forcing Rovers to move to Wembley stadium long before Arsenal had the idea!
Circulation figures for the comic plummeted in the early 1990's and on 20th March 1993, Roy Race had a tragic helicopter accident ending with the loss of his left foot and the closure of the Roy of the Rovers comic. The last regular annual was produced in 1994 and the story temporarily survived for a further turbulent 19 issues in the Roy of the Rovers monthly. Roy came back to the fore in May 1997 as part of the launch of the Match of the Day magazine. Sadly his wife Penny remained absent, killed in a car accident while in Italy.

The story flourished in the Match of the Day magazine with Roy returning to Melchester Rovers as manager, following a stint as boss of  Italian side AC Monza. Roy's daughter Melinda became Managing Director and Roy's former Rovers team mate Geoff Giles became his Assistant Manager. The club was then owned by the untrustworthy Vinter brothers and they eventually bought Mel Park, leaving Roy as sole owner of the club. Roy and Melinda orchestrated relocation to a purpose built new stadium.

Roy's son 'Rocky' who was now the star player for the Rovers signed a new contract, including shares in the club making him part owner and securing a fruitful future for the club.  Sadly the future of the Roy of the Rovers story was less rosy and it ended again in May 2001, with the closure of the Match of the day magazine, coinciding with the BBC's loss of televised football to ITV.

Roy still lives on though with his own official website at www.royoftherovers.com. There is information, nostalgic and new and lots of topical football comment.

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