……..This was how Ron Atkinson described the genius that was Gordon Strachan when he signed to play for Coventry in the twilight of his footballing career. But those words are more apt today than ever before, because the greatest player of all time is about to make the comeback of all comebacks – this guy hasn’t played since the 1990′s! Of course when I mention greatest player of all time most footballing aficionados would conjure up names like Messi, Best, Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Cantona. But this is the player who tops all of them – in fact this is the player who is Messi, Best, Maradona, Pele, Cruyff and Cantona rolled into one! It is of course, Roy Race, player and then player-manager of the famous Melchester Rovers, a footballer so fantastic and so famous that he gave rise to the now oft-used cliched description of skilful football “This is real Roy Of The Rovers stuff!”
He is to my mind the greatest fictional footballer of all time (though admittedly it’s a pretty short list!)
No sooner had I written a post about the comeback of DI Rebus in the next Ian Rankin novel than I read that my all-time fiction hero Roy Of The Rovers, is to be resurrected in a new digital books series to be available on Apple. Imagine it, a comeback even greater than that of DI Rebus. If someone now tells me they are also bringing back Alf Tupper, The Tough Of The Track, my life will be complete!
The story of Roy’s comeback was announced in a story in the Guardian a couple of days ago, which included Roy giving his backing to new England manager Roy Hodgson (I forgive Roy Race his love of England – it’s not easy but somehow I am able to see past it!) The Roy Of The Rovers comic strip is apparently due to be available soon through iBooks, and is being published by Egmont Publishing, who are specialists in children’s books.
I loved Roy Of The Rovers when I was a kid and my love for it continued well into adulthood. I’m a man who paid for copies of Roy Of The Rovers to be sent out to me when I lived in Spain!!! I am a man who got an adult sized Roy Of The Rovers strip for Christmas in his twenties – and wore it that day!!!! I’m a man who still owns Roy Of The Rovers annuals and Roy Of The Rovers Playing Histories!!!! I’m a man who was devastated when Roy announced his resignation to Richard Keys and Andy Gray live on Sky Sports (in a comic you understand!). So I for one will be signing up to follow Roy’s adventures through iBooks! Can’t wait!!!
The return of Roy Of The Rovers does make me refect on the relationship between fiction and football. It works in a comic but I’ve never really felt that it has worked in a novel – mind you I can’t say I’ve read that many! In fact, the only one I can think of that’s any good is the great “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby!
The first novel about football I ever read was a thing published donkey’s years ago called “They Used To Play On Grass!” co-written by Gordon Williams and Terry Venables. It’s really puerile nonsense about the lives and ego’s of a bunch of top foootballers – all 70′s coiffed hairstyles and with sexism reeking off every page! And look at the cover – if there’s a book that says “I’m the 1970′s so buy me!”, then this has to be it! Maybe it was so bad, it put me off for ever and so for many years I kept my two loves pretty much apart!
But then I discovered non-fiction and at last my two loves of books and football could go out together – not a ‘full on’ relationship or anything like that! But every so often, usually during the summer or at Christmas when there was an avalanche of sports biographies, they could at least meet up for a pint!
Of course for every great football biography I’ve read, there have been some stinkers – but hey for every great team like Manchester United there unfortunately has to be a down-side called Liverpool!!!!!!
So all this reminsicing about Roy Race and football biographies and non-fiction has left me wanting to write more about football! And as there is nothing more to be said about “They Used To Play On Grass” except to repeat that it’s absolutely bloody terrible, I’ll have to write in future about great football non-fiction – and I’ve plenty to choose from so I am now off to wallow for an hour or six flicking through them and deciding what to include in my “TheOnlyWayIsReading’s Great Footballing Non-Fiction List!”. Bet you can’t wait!
Till then, I leave you with this quote – for no other reason than it’s my favourite, it’s Sir Alex and it has a go at Liverpool – and what are Liverpool for if you can’t have a go at them!!!!!
“My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment. My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool off their fucking perch! And you can print that!” Sir Alex Ferguson
P.S. I think we’ve well and truly done the job of knocking them from their perch Sir Alex!
Update – If you are a Roy Of The Rovers fan/aficionado and want to follow Roy’s new adventures from Egmont you can get all the info and access you need from the iTunes site here!