Roy Of The Rovers: celebrating its letters page of July 1988

A salute to the humble magazine letters page - with the help of a quite brilliant collection of correspondence from 1988...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

One of my assorted nerdisms, of which there are plenty, is I like to buy old magazines and comics. And then I like to read the letters page of said publications.

We don’t talk too much sport on this site, which is utterly unrelated to the fact that when we do, we get asked not to. But I grew up schooled not in the comics of Batman and Spider-Man, rather the likes of Whizzer & Chips, The Beano, The Dandy and Nutty.

As I got older, too, I tried a few football comics. Champ, for my money, remains a sorely underrated chapter in British comics history. But Roy Of The Rovers was my other mainstay, getting me through the mid-80s through to the early 90s, finally giving it up just before – spoiler – Roy Of The Rovers had his foot amputated in a freak helicopter crash. Thank the lord his son – also called Roy – turned out to be a great player too. What were the odds?

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Anyway. I’ve been browsing through old issues of Roy Of The Rovers over the past week or two, and I came to appreciate what I never really did when I was younger: that its letters page was great. Letters pages feel a bit of a endangered species right now, with extracts of Tweets and edited down mumblings from Tunbridge Wells about all we get. But two pages a week of proper reader interaction was part and parcel of Roy Of The Rovers, and there was no shortage of entertaining correspondence.

The 21st May 1988 issue of Roy Of The Rovers proved to be something of a goldmine, and I confess to laughing my red and yellow Melchester Rovers socks off at it. You might not get much out of this, but I really quite loved it. Here are some of the highlights…

The Prescient Prediction

Chris O’Connor of London N17 – clearly this was an era when giving relatively specific details of how to track children down was acceptable – likely has many skills, but predicting the future was not one of them. Within two years, Alex Ferguson has secured the F.A. Cup for Manchester United, and within five years, he’d have won the first of 13 league titles he enjoyed with the club. Manchester United eventually named a stand after him. Steve Bruce, as Racey suggested, was indeed an England-class defender, and pivotal to United’s resurgence. He never actually played for England in the end, though.

How Much?!

As for Stuart Reid of Hamilton, I feel his pain. I went to watch Birmingham City play earlier this season, and the cup of sludge that substituted for coffee – along with a bar of chocolate – barely left change from a fiver. I believe Stuart should be elected to Parliament, to sort shit like this out. As the mighty Roy Race concedes in his reply, “the Government should take a long, hard look at the situation”. If it ever did take Racey’s advice, it just concluded to add zeroes to the end of the prices.

Don’t Sell Your Players, City!

Hmmm. Karl Bradshaw was clearly having whatever Chris O’Connor of N17 had been drinking. Cariba, or Panda Cola. Or that blue pop from the greengrocers you could get in the 80s.

Within two years, Manchester City had sold Andy Hinchcliffe to Everton, whilst three weeks after this particular issue of Roy Of The Rovers went on sale, Paul Stewart left for Tottenham Hotspur, eventually moving – as Roy Race predicted – to Liverpool.

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As for Paul Lake, he nearly died on the pitch in an infamous incident in March 1989, in a game against Leicester City. He would remain with City for the rest of his career, but would be blighted by serious injuries, eventually having to retire in January 1996. Lake was regarded as one of the best prospects in British football before injuries took hold, and he released a really excellent memoir, I’m Not Really Here, in 2011, that detailed the physical and mental battles he fought. I can’t recommend that book enough.

As for Manchester City? It would take a billionaire, rather than youth talent, to bring the glory days back. At the time of writing, they sit atop the English Premier League table.

Vinny Is A Villain

In most letters pages, I’ve found a piece of correspondence that’s best described as ‘you wouldn’t say that to their face’. In this particular issue of Roy Of The Rovers, that prize goes to Ron Newton of Tyne & Wear.

He nominated notoroious softy Vinny ‘knacker grabber’ Jones as not just the comic’s villain of the week, but villain of any week. And this was some 17 years before X-Men: The Last Stand. “I’ve been disgusted by the behaviour of Wimbledon’s Vinny Jones”, Ron raged. “It can’t do the Football League’s image much good when he’s allowed to get away with such conduct”.

Vinny Jones won the F.A. Cup with Wimbledon in the time between Ron sending his letter, and Roy Of The Rovers printing it. Mr Jones now lives in Los Angeles, and has over 60 movies to his name.

Draw A Star

Finally, this.

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I need to caveat this a little, by saying I can’t draw, and never could. But: poor Malcolm. The eyes!

One of my favourite rediscoveries of the Roy Of The Rovers letters page has been the bit where children of the UK were invited to draw a picture of their favourite footballer, with a £5 prize offered as bait. I think what really makes this is the accompanying text, though. That, presented with a hand drawn picture of a mutant, the person on letters page duties that week must have had tears in their eyes as they tried to suggest that Spencer Leat of Littlehampton had nailed the look of former Huddersfield Town and Oxford United defender Malcolm Shotton. That said, I’d reserve the prize biscuit for the person with the temerity to headline it ‘Spot On Shotton’. Again, poor Malcolm.

Just for contrast too, here’s a side by side comparison of the real Malcolm, with the drawn version. See if you can spot which is which…

Well, it amused the life out of me.

Um, let us know in the comments if you want more highlights of letters pages of old. In the meantime, I’m just off to find out if Andy Maclaren turns out to be a good signing for the Reds…