About Play Till You Drop!
“Play Till You Drop!” was a football story with a slight twist, not fully in the style of Action, but not exactly straight from the pages of Scorcher. Alec Shaw was a first Division footballer being blackmailed by a crooked journalist called Grice, who had photographs showing Shaw’s late father Tom accepting a bribe to lose an important match. Not believing what he saw, Shaw sold his integrity to keep his father’s name clean, and to keep up blackmail payments despite challenging circumstances. In the end the photos are discredited as being part of a police sting operation, and Grice gets locked up.
“Play Till You Drop!” was too traditional to be a fan favourite, and just a little dull. Although there were a few story devices that were outside the normal on-pitch action of a footie story, there wasn’t enough to maintain interest. The football action was dull and unbelievable, and the premise of the blackmail seemed both contrived and poorly executed. Surely Tom Shaw might have made some mention of his helping the police to his son, and it seemed highly unlikely that this would not have made the newspapers at some stage. Any sane man, when threatened with blackmail, would have made at least some effort to find out the background to the photographs.
Writer Ron Carpenter and artist Barrie Mitchell were both DC Thomson men and the staid, boy’s own comic style of Carpenter’s writing shows in both “The Coffin Sub” and “Play Till You Drop!”
Mitchell went on to illustrate the first four episodes of “Look Out For Lefty!” but that was the sum total of his work on Action. Both writer and artist continued to work for DC Thomson and on several of IPC’s sports titles.
A few issues of “Play Till You Drop!” appear to be drawn by Tony Harding but it is difficult to distinguish the two styles as both artists trained at the same school. Alec Shaw featured in the 1977 Annual, and “Play Till You Drop!” was reprinted in 1987′s All-Action Monthly.
Alec Shaw is First Division Rampton City’s top striker (there was no Premiership then). Alec isn’t bothered about the trappings of his status, and would prefer to play good honest football rather than prostituting himself for television and sponsorship money. Unfortunately Alec’s life, and his sporting values, are about to change. As the new season starts, Shaw is injured mid-match.
In the treatment room he is approached by Vernon Grice, sports reporter for the Daily Comet. Grice shows Alec some photographs of his father, Tom Shaw, himself a professional player for Rampton City during the 1950s, accepting a bribe from a bookmaker to lose an important match. Shaw Senior has now departed, but his reputation with City fans is still good, having once scored the goal that clinched a cup final. Grice blackmails Alec, threatening that if he doesn’t receive £500, he will publish the photographs in the Comet. Alec cannot believe that his late father was a cheat, and decides that the photos must be fake. He decides to pay Grice off until he can prove his father’s innocence.
Grice, like all stereotypical blackmailers, isn’t satisfied with a single payment and demands more and more money from Shaw. Alec is backed into a corner, he cannot let his father’s legacy be tainted, but cannot pay Grice the increasing amounts without betraying his own integrity. He accepts a sponsorship deal to promote Slika Sportswear and begins to appear at functions and on television. His face is seen on billboards and Alec does promotional demonstrations.
All the money goes towards buying Grice’s silence, but within the team, Alec is in trouble. The injury sustained at the start of the season will not heal properly, and Alec shows a run of poor form that gets him dropped from the first team. Mick Raynor is brought in to replace him, and buys a new car with his newfound riches. Grice, keen not to lose his cash cow, sabotages the brakes on Raynor’s car, causing him to crash and be hospitalised by his injuries. Alec regains his place in the team, but when details of the sabotage are disclosed by the police, his team-mates suspect him. Alec is given short shrift during training, and played out of matches. Grice intervenes once more to protect his investment, and Alec decides that if he plays for the £5,000 given to the highest scorer of the season, he will have enough to take the photos from Grice. Even in this, Alec puts the team first, and ends up falling behind as he gifts goals to his team-mates.
Grice applies pressure, telling Shaw that he must lose a game deliberately, as Grice has bet heavily on the opposition. Alec goes on to score four goals, proving that his integrity is not for sale, but Grice swears revenge, and runs a teaser for the story in the next issue of the Comet. At the Rampton ground, Alec rescues Grice from a beating at the hands of the gambler’s debt collectors. This happens in public, in front of cameras which film the whole thing. To publish the story now would look bad, and Alec believes he has beaten Grice, but his nemesis then tries to publish anonymously. Eventually, Alec enlists the aid of another newsman.
Grice is set up, and Alec has proof that he is being blackmailed. In desperation, Grice brings a gun atothe last match of the season, shoots at Alec, but hits the post instead. Grice is arrested and charged. The police then inform Alec that his father took a bribe after all, as part of a sting operation to bring down a crooked bookie. The photographs were taken by the police to use as evidence. Relieved, Alec returns to the match in progress, wraps up a neat hat-trick, wins the match, the league championship for Rampton City, and the £5000 for the top goal scorer.
Alec Shaw was Rampton City’s star forward, but he wasn’t interested in money. He played for the love of the game, avoiding public appearances, sponsorship and all the other money making schemes used by his rival players. All that changed after he was blackmailed by Vernon Grice. Shaw’s love of the game and his strong values were brushed aside as he desperately sought more funds to pay off the man who was ‘bleeding him dry’. Finally the truth came out and Alec was able to resume playing the game he loved for more altruistic reasons.
Grice was a sports journalist for the Daily Comet who possessed pictures that implicated Tom Shaw in a betting scandal. The photos showed Shaw senior taking a bribe to lose a match. Grice used the pictures to extort money from Alec Shaw, but whenever ‘his’ player’s position within the first team was under threat, Grice ruthlessly ensured Shaw’s continuation on the pitch. Thinking nothing of sabotaging the brakes on a team mate’s car, Grice shot at Shaw when his luck ran out and he was finally uncovered.
Alec’s father, the man seen to be taking a bribe in the photos Grice used for the blackmail. Tom Shaw did take a bribe, but it was really just a police sting designed to trap a crooked bookmaker. His reputation was safe the whole time, but surprisingly Alec never bothered to check this. Nor indeed did Tom Grice ever bother to tell Alec about the incident. Just a quick word would have made the whole story redundant.
The Rampton City players were stereotypical 1970s footballers with big hair and short shorts. Their mood towards Alec changed with the tone of the story that week, so they either hated or loved Shaw depending on what he’d been accused of. Lots of nice ball skills though.
Text © Moose Harris
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