Roy of the Rovers and Modern Football

Roy of the Rovers and Modern Football

As one of English football’s most famous names is rebooted in a new comic series, Richard Benson has been exploring Roy Race’s journey from Melchester Rovers reserves to friend of Alf Ramsey and the Duke of Edinburgh. While Race is often used as a byword for success and heroics on the pitch, the story of his creation and career is more complex and troubled than many people realise, and it reveals much about the difficulties in the English game in the Seventies and Eighties.

The full text of the story can be found here.

One Response to Roy of the Rovers and Modern Football

  1. David P. Christopher says:

    Good overview and analysis of post-war comics by Richard Benson. It illuminates much about what they say about British society, and how like many art forms they reflect the context and concerns of their times in which they appeared.

    They article also raises some interesting points about American superheroes, and how the British variety never really took off. Across the pond heroes were often vigilantes, who combated the threats posed by science, crime and cold war Russians, and readily used violence to impose their morality. They were essentially about promoting and preserving American values and way of life. In contrast, the successful British variety tended to reflect those of the industrial working class and their proletarian readers.

    But, as Richard points out, demand for British comics declined in the 70s and throughout the 80s. In part, their demise was hastened by the arrival of other pastimes and leisure activities, but it’s no coincidence that the communities which spawned the heroes began to disappear at the same time. Let’s examine that more closely…

    Today, the British working class – however you define it – isn’t what it was. Look at its breeding ground. Heavy industry is largely automated or has gone from the heartlands which bore and bred heroes such as Roy and his rovers. Kids no longer follow on into their dads’ occupations – digging things, cleaning things, assembling things, loading and unloading things or serving a lengthy, low-paid apprenticeship. They mostly don’t want to, or the jobs aren’t there.

    Many collective organisations such as the nationalised industries, trade unions, working men’s clubs and sports teams, have also gone or are reduced in number. At the same time, traditional attitudes and values which these communities bred, such as collectivism and class solidarity, a strong work ethic, the acquisition of time-honoured skills, sporting prowess and even Roy’s ‘righteous manliness’ (not to mention his ‘conventional’ masculinity) have been weakened or lost.

    Other social forces such as immigration, multiculturalism, gender equality and the numbers of women in the workforce, have also combined to create communities which are more diverse and less class-ridden, but also more socially, geographically and economically fragmented.

    So now it’s a lot harder for white British kids to reach the top in football, because many don’t have or aren’t interested in developing the necessary personal characteristics such as the determination, dedication and self-discipline.

    Others don’t have the opportunities, because top clubs prefer to buy ready-made talent (usually from abroad), rather than cultivate and develop it in-house. Kids also have fewer footballing role models from their families, neighbourhoods and local teams. And it’s harder to develop the necessary skills, since facilities and coaches (deemed essential these days) are in relatively short supply.

    In fact, as a successful Premiership footballer, Roy is likely to be foreign or black. Research in 2017 by UEFA found 69% of Prem players were foreign, while TalkSport research the same year found that among the few Brits in the Premiership, 33% were from BAME backgrounds (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) compared with around 18% of the general population (2011 census). It seems that while many BAME kids can feel dissuaded from full participation in society through racism and low pay, sport still offers opportunities for those with talent and determination to break through, and it’s the perceived need to try harder which possibly makes some black players more determined to succeed.

    All this means that Roy as we know him is no longer “mainstream British culture”. He’s a product of the past, a 50s icon, a prisoner of his class and generation. He’s from a time when comic-book heroes displayed a cosy, idealised version of the attitudes and values of their readers and their communities. But, that time has gone, and so has Roy and his compatriots.

    Could Roy make a successful comeback? The social changes of recent decades have created a complex problem for the cultural industries, for media, sport and politics, which rely on accurate assessments of the attitudes, values, tastes and preferences of young, white, working class consumers. But, with the right recipe of popular themes – sex, celebrity, money and sport, flash cars, daft haircuts and tattoos, perhaps along the lines of the Sun newspaper’s ‘Striker’ comic strip, a 21st century Roy should find an audience among older readers.

    No more heroes any more? The Stranglers had it about right. Indeed, those of yore have been replaced by ephemeral, ‘classless’, carefully packaged idols and celebrities, whose real-life shenanigans have become the meat and drink of the tabloid dailies and glossy monthlies. Hello! anyone?

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