On this day: Roy of the Rovers, 21 January 1978
‘Roy Race, player-manager of Melchester Rovers, had taken over the England squad for a friendly match against Holland while the England manager was recovering from a car-crash. Roy began by discarding most of the original squad of players … a controversial move that was about to be put to the supreme test.’
In an age before we had access to the tiniest of details about what was going on at our favourite professional football clubs, I used to take the fortunes of Roy Race and Melchester Rovers very seriously. Consistency within the Melchester universe was important and was generally well-observed – Rovers usually played a roster of the same teams each season (such as Blackport Rovers, Carford City, Kingsbay, Portdean, Walford Rovers and local rivals Melborough) – but every now and then there was a weird cross-dimensional shift into our own universe. Alf Ramsey stood in as caretaker manager while Roy was recovering from being shot, and Geoff Boycott became club chairman in the mid-1980s. Veteran real-life players Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes joined the team at the same time as Spandau Ballet popsters Martin Kemp and Steve Norman, and there was further canon-busting confusion whenever a sporting celebrity appeared on the back page of Roy of the Rovers with his or her arm around a life-size cardboard cut-out of Roy.
This issue of Roy of the Rovers presented another of these awkward situations as Roy sat temporarily in the England manager’s hot seat and dropped the entire squad (which in the real world had just failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals) with the exception of Birmingham’s Trevor Francis (coincidentally, or not, a columnist for sister comic Tiger) and Arsenal’s Malcolm Macdonald, replacing them with eight Melchester players and three other comic characters: Johnny Dexter (star of Roy of the Rovers’ The Hard Man strip), and Nipper Lawrence and Mike Bateson (from Tiger’s Nipper). Readers’ credibility limits snapped when this all-new England beat eventual actual World Cup finalists The Netherlands 4-1. Despite this achievement, Roy didn’t play for England again until June 1981.
Back in the real world, Scotland did qualify for the 1978 World Cup Finals and were recognised with a back-page pin-up of goalie Alan Rough.