The Guardian's children's comics: Part 2 - Roy of the Rovers

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 22 September 2009

Last week The Guardian and The Observer published a series of reproduction comics from the 1970s and 1980s, and yesterday I blogged about some of the transformations they illustrated in the relationship between reader and publisher. Today I want to focus on examples from the 19th December 1981 issue of Roy Of The Rovers.

Comics given away with The Guardian and The Observer

The 'team chart'

One of the weekly features of Roy Of The Rovers was a chart for you to fill in to track your team's progress. I can remember not only doing this, but also keeping a scrap-book of newspaper match reports of my favourite team in the seventies.

Roy of the Rovers team chart

The Internet, has of course, made this hobby completely redundant. If I want to see a match report of Leeds United versus Leyton Orient, I can find any number of them via a search engine in an instant, and official team website keep meticulous club statistics that used to only be available to fans via the purchase of a matchday programme.

Changes in the media landscape have also altered another couple of aspects of this Roy Of The Rovers form - not least of which is the pre-Sky Sports assumption in the opening blurb 'Fill in all the details of your favourite team's match on Saturday'. Plus the optional box at the bottom to fill in other results in case your team had played twice in a week as the exception, rather than the general rule.

Great goals!

The 'Great goals!' feature is one where again the Internet and media landscape has completely transformed the reader's experience. For the opportunity to win the princely sum of £3 if your choice was selected, readers could request the comic to print a black'n'white still picture of a particular goal. In the issue given away by The Guardian it is George McCluskey scoring for Celtic against Dundee in October 1980. Now you can't move on YouTube for clips of goals. Here is a selection from the Queen's Celtic - along with the inevitable sectarian abuse.

Roy of the Rovers great goals feature

Story ratings

A feature of the Roy Of The Rovers comic that has echoes in the Internet era is the ability to rate content. The last panel of each story has a cut-corner for the owner to give it marks out of ten. It is hardly the same as routinely driving by the Mail's site and marking down the comments from the racist knuckle-draggers though, as there was no way for the publisher to collate or display there ratings. It was purely to entertain the reader, with their data kept in splendid isolation.

Roy of the Rovers story vote

'Call of the week'

Where story votes did happen to feature in The Guardian's repro copy of Roy Of The Rovers was in 'Call Of The Week'. Young readers could call an 01 number - no 08xx premium numbers in 1981 - and leave an ansaphone message which might get published in the comic. Think of it as a slow-burn TalkSport for young people. In this issue, Neil Rogers of Great Barr in Birmingham mentions that he always rates the Durrells Palace strip as 10 out of 10.

Call Of The Week

A World Cup Finals without the hype

I don't know whether this tells us more about the media or more about the changes in football, but with Blackie Gray filling in the editorial spot whilst Roy Race was in hospital having been shot, he talks about the upcoming 1982 World Cup Finals. He complains that expanding the finals to 24 teams will include too many "weak" nations, there will be too much TV coverage and the whole thing would last too long. Heaven knows what he would make of the present day 32 team tournament that still sometimes faces suggestions that it should be expanded.

Roy of the Rovers debates the 1982 World Cup Finals

Algeria are rather unkindly singled out in the picture as one of the "weak" countries heading to España '82. A little unfair since they actually beat eventual runners-up West Germany in their opening game, and only failed to reach the second round due to shameful stitch-up between West Germany and Austria in the final game of Group 2.

Roy Weak Algeria

But perhaps the most unlikely thing of all. England were about to appear in their first World Cup Finals since 1970, but incredibly Roy Of The Rovers lists five potential winners of the tournament, and doesn't include them. Nowadays there would surely be the compulsory hype about how England are world beaters who just need to perform on the biggest stage, and this time might just well win the damn thing...

Roy World Cup predictions

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