Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Roy of the Rovers stuff that dreams are made ofOctober 10, 2012 - 8:04am
Let’s say that Roy Keane does manage to secure the manager’s job at Blackburn – there wouldn’t have been a single newspaper in these islands which won’t go with the headline ‘It’s Roy of the Rovers’. And a whole generation of young fans will in reality have no idea what they’re talking about.
Because Roy Race was forced to retire from comic strip football as long ago as 1993, when he lost his left foot in a helicopter crash. And in fairness, while it was a tragic end to an illustrious playing career, he had been at the very top for 39 seasons since he first donned the Melchester Rovers shirt in 1954.
He was player-manager for 20 years, a feat that normally only happens in Soviet countries where the owner and manager and striker all happen to also be the local oil oligarch.
Nowadays, of course, the oligarchs run football instead of the old caricature of a club chairman – big belly, sheepskin coat, trilby hat and a fat cigar – although they do still share one important characteristic; invariably they still know nothing about football.
Back in the day, we have footballing idols but we also had comic book heroes – Hot Shot Hamish, Billy’s Boots, Nipper, the Football Family Robinson, or the stars of other sports like Skid Solo, the F1 driver or Johnny Cougar, the wrestler who inspired American rock star John Mellencamp to adopt his name for a period.
Sometimes actual players made it onto the pages of Tiger or Scorcher or Roy of the Rovers itself, as fantasy football and the real world collided – Emlyn Hughes and Bob Wilson signed up to help out at one stage, as did Alf Ramsey, who briefly served as manager.
When Roy resigned as manger at one stage, he announced it live on Sky to Richard Keys and Andy Gray back in the era when they were still acceptable and Gray had hair.
Perhaps it’s just the view through rose tinted glasses but life – and football in particular – was a less cynical operation back then. Players – in real life – might only play for one club throughout their entire career and nobody had a clue how much money they were earning.
Only a few of them – Bestie, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore, Frank Worthington and one or two others – ever ended up in nightclubs; you’d be more likely to find Bobby Charlton photographed in a cardigan with a nice mug of cocoa than in a pub with a pint.
Roy Race wasn’t whiter than white, it must be said – no one at the top of their sporting profession for four decades could have managed that – but, apart from a truly shocking yellow mullet, you’d almost excuse him the odd indiscretion.
Indeed, Racey was to have his problems on the marital front; happily married for years to club secretary Penny Laine (this was the Beatles era, after all), he fled the family nest in the eighties and then – a la JR – he was shot in his office by a mystery gunman who turned out to be an actor who was playing Roy in a TV series.
But mostly he reminisced about starting out in the youth team with his old mucker Blackie Gray, another star with a four decade career at the top, and helped his side overcome all of the odds and some of the greatest sides in European football as this small-town team swept its way to world domination.
And as with soap operas where they has to be a storyline running at breakneck pace to keep the audience happy, sometimes the writers tried to pile too much into one man’s life – although, that said, it was a sedate existence compared to the real world inhabited by Mario Balotelli.
After the shooting, he left Melchester and then returned only to have to cope with the aftermath of a tragedy in which eight members of the Rovers team were killed during a club tour of the fictional middle-eastern country of Basran, when terrorists accidentally crashed a bomb-laden car into the team bus.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.