Long before ‘Fantasy Football’ became a reality, children on both sides of the Irish Sea lost themselves in the weekly adventures of fictional Melchester Rovers star Roy Race, writes Sean Egan
Comics editor Barrie Tomlinson had a problem. Arriving at Lord’s cricket ground, where he had an appointment to see a star of the sport, he was having difficulty getting past the venue’s famously tight security. “Eventually I said, ‘Look, I’m from Tiger,’” he recalls. “He said, ‘Tiger? Why didn’t you say so? Come on in.’ It had that sort of reputation.”
This elevated standing for a children’s comic that saw people retain an affection for it long after they were past its reading age was, to a very large extent, predicated on ‘Roy of the Rovers’, the strip that had been Tiger’s mainstay since its debut issue in September, 1954.
Tiger initially proclaimed itself a ‘Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly’ and would feature many iconic strips in that vein, including ‘Jet-Ace Logan’, ‘Johnny Cougar’, ‘Skid Solo’ ‘Billy’s Boots’ and ‘Hot Shot Hamish’. ‘Roy of the Rovers’, though, towered over them all.
For decades Roy Race was as iconic a footballer as the illustrious likes of Bobby Charlton and Kevin Keegan, regardless of the fact that he didn’t actually exist.
A swashbuckling centre-forward with a shock of blonde hair, ‘Racey’ played for the fictional Melchester Rovers. In an era when comic sales were astronomical, his high-scoring exploits achieved such penetration of the culture across multiple generations that, by September 1976, his name was widely recognised as a byword for fantasy-level soccer brilliance.
It was in that month – almost exactly 22 years after his debut appearance – that Roy achieved the apex of his prominence when he was awarded his own publication.
Tomlinson had been editor of Tiger since the turn of the Seventies and the Roy of the Rovers comic was his suggestion.
An exclusively football-themed paper, it continued the character’s incremental development.
Along with Tom Tully – who’d begun writing Roy in 1969, and would be the character’s exclusive scribe from 1974 until 1993 – Tomlinson had realised that Racey was looking rather out-of-place in a world in which the nomenclature ‘centre-forward’ had been replaced by ‘striker’ and decreasing numbers of people could remember a time when footballers didn’t have a status akin to pop stars.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own