…. the thing about Roy Race is, well, he’s not really real but he’s sort of real in a life-mirrors-cartoon kind of way. Roy started out looking like Burnley’s Ray Pointer, big blond quiff and all but, as fashions changed, so did Roy’s haircut. To be seen as ‘with it’, suddenly, his hair was combed forward in a way that eerily anticipated Kenny Dalglish’s quizzical look. All the things that were deemed to be happening in the football world from the fifties through to the nineties, Roy and his team, the mighty Melchester Rovers did. European Cups, being kidnapped, repeatedly – all the exciting things that were being covered by the newspapers were given a slight fictional twist and fed to the boys who avidly read their weekly Tiger then Roy of the Rovers comics.
Eventually, they pensioned off old Roy when he would have been a sixty-year-old player/manager if he had not kept plunging himself into the Fountain of Youth. They made it permanent by slicing off his foot in a helicopter crash so that he truly was finished and there could be no more heroic hat tricks against Chidsea but not before the blurring of reality and fantasy had been accomplished. Actual footballers like Bob Wilson, Emlyn Hughes, Malcolm Macdonald and Trevor Francis began to be featured in the comic, presumably to make it seem more authentic. Geoff Boycott served for several years as Melchester’s chairman and Sir Alf Ramsey briefly managed them. When Roy announced his resignation as Rovers manager in 1992, he did so live on Sky Sports in front of the normally unshockable but for once shocked presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray.
And now we have a strange reversal where current footballers at the very top appear to live in a fictional world, completely out of touch with reality. Fans don’t want to read about Wayne Rooney having to ring the Council seventeen times to have his drains unblocked, they want to read about how an extremely ordinary Scouse lad’s extraordinary talent has landed him in a gigantic goldfish-bowl world of spectacular goals scored by overhead kicks, and about his super-duper house and holidays in places not called Liverpool. And they definitely don’t want the low down about visiting any ‘grandmas’ – do they?
When you consider the real world, as most of us experience it, and the fictional world, it would seem that our superstar footballers have more in common with the fictional. And can Ian Rush and Gary Speed be entirely coincidental echoes of Roy Race? Perhaps football scouts should spend more time scouring the phone book for people with names like Dash, Sprint and Run-Fast.
Roy was way ahead of his time when it came to banana-swerve wonder goals whose impossible paths to goal were so neatly drawn, maybe with an added ‘whoosh’. Impossible? Only in the days when footballs were made of suet pudding. Now, with the modern, lightweight plazzy ones, the only thing a ball cannot do any more is fly straight, true and wobble-free.