Book review: The Best of Roy of the Rovers | The 1970s

THE BEST OF ROY OF THE ROVERS: THE 1970S Titan Books £12.99

NOSTALGIA is big business and for men of a certain age there's nothing better for staving off looming mid-life crises than dipping into your past. Thank heavens then for Titan Books' Roy of the Rovers. The comic book hero has already been reissued and repackaged in the form of compilations detailing his deeds of derring-do in the 1950s and 1980s. The latest addition to the oeuvre captures his golden years in the 1970s when his blond hair was collar length and the formidable Rocket was causing goalnets to bulge up and down the country.

Not content with cleaning up on the domestic scene, Roy (accompanied, of course, by his best friend and team-mate Blackie Gray) takes a trip to the United States to help out a pal in the fledgling North American Soccer League. In typical Roy Race fashion, the storyline then takes a ludicrous twist and our hero finds himself agreeing to play a game of American Football and promptly finds himself being flattened by a bunch of burly gridiron meatheads. Naturally, Roy soon recovers and scores a couple of touchdowns as the Limey beats the Yanks at their own game "thanks to good old British fitness".

The mild jingoism of the storyline reflects 1970s Britain, as does some of the character stereotyping. Duncan Mackay, the only Scot in Roy's Melchester Rovers team, is a rugged defender with a beard and a headband who says "och" a lot. More crass is the dialogue attributed to Vernon Elliot, the only black player in the side, whose every sentence ends in "man".

That said, there is an attempt to tackle the issues of the day. Roy is hellbent on eradicating the ugly spectre of hooliganism which has crept into Melchester's games and installs big screens at the ground so troublemakers can be identified and exposed to ridicule from decent fans. The screens also allow referees to watch replays of contentious on-field incidents, a feature that still prompts heated debate but has still not made it into our football stadiums 30-plus years on.

This volume begins with the launch of Roy of the Rovers as a comic in its own right in 1976. Previously a story in Tiger, the breakaway gave Roy a higher profile and for the princely sum of 7p you could get Roy's story plus seven others including The Hard Man, Tommy's Troubles and Millionaire Villa, the engrossing tale of a moneybags club owner who pumped in his cash on the condition he got to play in the first team every week.

Sadly, these stories are omitted from this book in favour of wall-to-wall Racey but it's riveting stuff none the less. In fact, it's a bit like meeting up with old friends you haven't seen in years. So raise a glass to Roy, Blackie, Vernon and Duncan. And don't forget reserve keeper Tubby Morton and dressing-room jester Noel Baxter. We've missed you all; welcome back.