On this day, 22 November 1980: Roy of the Rovers
On this day, 22 November 1980 … ‘Let’s get one thing straight right away … if any soccer hooligan is a reader of my paper, please do me a favour, stop reading it! It’s an insult to myself that you should be a reader of Roy of the Rovers.’
Strong words from Roy on just one of three full pages of Roy of the Rovers editorial devoted to tackling the issue of violence at and around football stadia – a troublesome feature of British society throughout the 1970s which was to become even worse during the 1980s. It’s quite the splash from Roy, and looks very much the brainchild of editor Barrie Tomlinson who was a skilled hand at engaging with the topical news of the day and building the character of Roy into a ‘real’ voice in the world around us. The ‘Let’s stop soccer violence!’ page inside this week’s issue has the appearance of a tabloid editorial: shouty lists, short and punchy paragraphs, some in bold and littered with italics, and an appeal to good old British common sense (whatever that may be).
Some of Roy’s solutions seem rather extreme, especially when one considers the likely age of most readers of this children’s comic. At one point he calls for ‘a simple effective solution – send them [hooligans] to a special detention centre where they will be treated in a rough, tough manner. We are too lenient with these thugs. If necessary, bring back corporal punishment! If these thugs want to dish out violence, they should be prepared to receive it from the Authorities.’ Rather than ejecting or banning convicted fans, Roy suggests having them ‘locked in a special section of the ground behind bars surrounded by notices drawing everyone’s attention to their stupidity. If they want to behave like animals, they should be treated like animals.’ And the ultimate deterrent: ‘encourage mum and dad back into the grounds. After all, no soccer hooligan is going to behave violently if he knows his mum is watching him and she is liable to give him a thick ear!’ One can imagine Roy Race’s contributions to public debate finding favour with a rather different constituency than those of Gary Lineker.
He does advocate all-seater grounds, which eventually came to pass as a matter of law but following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster rather than event caused by supporter violence, and interestingly it’s a policy now under review. A few of Roy’s suggestions – based on ‘what we have done at Melchester’ – are worthy: life-long bans, alcohol bans, and greater responsibility to be taken by players and referees. However, I don’t get his policy of ID cards for fans under the age of 18 – this and the thick ear remark suggest the writers assumed the troubles were largely caused by juveniles, which makes the call for corporal punishment seem even more unsettling.
There is no commentary on wider social difficulties and pressures, no attempt to ask why people felt a compulsion to violence, nor to consider whether football itself might not be the root cause. Roy of the Rovers was no sociology journal, but it’s indicative of the reductive way in which ‘hooliganism’ was considered in its day. I’m not sure things would be much different today, to be honest, given the state of our media.
The double-page spread of suggestions from readers is more heartening to read (and it includes two letters from ‘young ladies’, although sadly none from any ‘young gentlemen’). A lot of the comments printed give the impression of being from people who regularly attended football matches. One reader even suggests better segregation of rival fans, which surprisingly wasn’t mentioned by Roy at all. The article is accompanied by a photograph of empty terraces at Hillsborough, from a period in which they were closed for games, which is poignant for modern-day reading.
Elsewhere in the comic, Roy’s in a lighter mood, cuddling up with Roy Junior at home (poor Mel has to play with her dolls) and then making a comedic phone call to Viktor Boskovic, the crazy foreign manager of Danefield United from The Hard Man strip. Roy balks at Viktor’s outrageous pricing of his goalkeeper at two million pounds, which would certainly have been a lot of money in 1980, although coincidentally it’s the exact amount an Italian team bids for goalie Gordon Stewart in this week’s episode of The Safest Hands in Soccer.