On this day, 20 March 1993: Roy of the Rovers
On this day, 20 March 1993 … All of this had happened before. Roughly ten years earlier two friends and I had a three-team Subbuteo league. Obviously I wanted to pick Roy Race as my team’s number 9, but so did my mate Murray and he had a more forceful personality so Roy spearheaded the attack of his all-conquering Murrell’s Magic squad (they won every league we ran, but had a stupid name so hey). For my centre-forward I chose the name Jeremy Lundon, which was revealed by ouija board to my mum when she was at school as the name of the man she would marry (the board was wrong). What made it all worse was that his Roy was knackered and so shouldn’t really have been allowed to play. Due to some accident or other probably involving Murray’s little sister, or even an over-exuberant celebration of his own, his Roy Race had no head. I’m convinced this gave him some sort of advantage – the lightness of his figure made him faster than other players, or created some ungodly spin on his flicks that baffled my and Cyrus’s goalie-stick action. Whatever … it’s all in the past, if clearly never to be forgotten.
Anyhow, the point is that the terrible accident that caused Roy Race to lose a limb (even if it was his left foot rather than his head) and bring to a tragic end the sixteen-and-a-half year run of Roy of the Rovers weekly comic, not to mention the near-forty years of Roy’s career as a professional player, came as no surprise to me. For a decade or so something in me already thought of Roy as heroically maimed, even through all the cup wins, championships, temporary transfer to Walford and the Basran massacre. What a legend.
This issue sits outside my regular remit of IPC comics from the 1970s and 1980s, but I felt that such a landmark issue could not be ignored. Twelve pages of this 24-page edition are devoted to Roy’s final episode, which begins with the Rovers ignoring the playing instructions of unpopular manager Ralph ‘Flash’ Gordon, leading to Roy’s reinstatement as boss, then continues with Roy flying his personal chopper on a scouting mission that will end in disaster as he loses control and plummets to the ground. The final pages see Roy in critical condition in hospital, the extend of his injuries unknown, and his son Roy ‘Rocky’ Race announcing to traumatised fans that whatever happened his legacy would live on.
True enough, Roy of the Rovers did return in September of 1993, this time as a monthly aimed at a slightly older readership and adopting Rocky as the lead ‘Roy’ as he made his debut in the Rovers first team, but still following the story of his dad as he came to terms with the amputation of his foot and had a spell of management in Italy.
Absolute respect and thanks must go to artist Barrie Mitchell for the quite superb dramatisation of this stunning final episode, and equally to the incredible Tom Tully who had written the Roy of the Rovers strip since 1969 and for whom this must have been a desperately sad day. Heroes both.