While attending the inaugural Capital Sci-Fi Con at Meadowbank earlier this year, I got to see James “Safest Hands in Soccer” McCulloch, the author of City of Lost Souls being ambushed by John “Ball of Fire” Ferguson of DiamondSteel Comics as John is the driving force behind the Scotland Comic Creators Football Club (and yes, that is a thing!) – and he is looking for players. So if you are Scottish and involved in comics, then you have been warned!
However, while we were chatting, John mentioned my passing resemblance to Kevin ‘Mighty’ Mouse, which got wondering about past British comic sporting heroes, many of them now faded into distant memory.
It’s a bit of a sad journey when you consider there were once so many – both for boys and girls. The Beano still publishes the humour strip “Ball Boy” of course, created by Malcolm Judge back in 1975 and drawn today by Chris McGhie (taking over from Alexander Matthews, who blogged about he arrived at his current look here in 2013). But in terms your actual sports strips, while there’s no reason Alan Grant and John Wagner’s recently-launched Rok of the Reds shouldn’t gain a popular following, Striker, created by Pete Nash, is the only ongoing commissioned strip still published in the UK. It could be argued that it’s the only strip still written and delivered with a tip of the hat to past greats such as Roy of the Rovers – and even The Sun now only publish it online, as we previously reported. (Despite some optimism from Pete back in February, the strip is still not – yet – back in print).
But let’s not dwell too much on this sad state of affairs or we’ll be here until full time. Which British sporting heroes are still celebrated to this day, and have such a following they have their own fan-created (or even official) web site?
In no particular order, let’s look at some of the characters that have inspired someone to the extent of creating a website.
First up is Melchester’s favourite son, Roy Race of Roy Of The Rovers – still much-loved and still very much an ongoing concern for publisher Egmont, who offer personalised books in which you can appear alongside the much-loved character. They’re quite protective of the ‘brand’ – Pink Key act as the Licensing Agent for the character along with all Egmont’s other comic characters – but the official websites rotr.co.uk and royofhterovers.com, the latter run by longtime Roy fan Mark Towers, are currently offline. Luckily for Roy fans, Cyril ‘Storky’ Knight is keeping the memory of Melchester’s finest alive with his Roy Of The Rovers blog.
Roy first appeared in 1954 in Issue One of Tiger as a schoolboy footballer and quickly rose to first team status. In 1976, he was successful enough to get his own weekly comic and so the weekly comic Roy of the Rovers was born.
Roy was unusual in that real life events happened to him and yes, that is his family and his kids that he has to deal with, and that’s a tradition continued by Striker to this day (albeit with a more adult leaning!).
Roy became a part of the national fabric of Britain and even now 15 years after the final regular story was published in the monthly Match of The Day, you can still hear the occasional football commentator or read a sports report referring to a particularly tense game or an especially skillful move as “real Roy Of The Rovers moment”.
Helping keep football comics alive in the UK, former Roy of the Rovers artist David Sque is currently working on a new graphic novel, Preston North End – The Rise Of The Invincibles, a project from Preston-based Invincible Books.
Next, we venture into the world of athletics with the runner that glamourised the idea of being a welder to this comic fan as I was growing up. The idea of being a sports star and having a trade was just mindblowing when I first encountered it, so as a result, there will always be a special place in my love of comics for Alf Tupper.
Originally created for Rover in 1949 by Bill Blaine and brought to life by Bill as he worked with the prolific writer Gilbert Dalton, Alf eventually migrated to The Victor in 1961 as a picture story and stayed until the end of the comic in 1992. Until 2014, I despaired of seeing any new Alf Tupper stories, but as announced by our 2014 Down The Tubes article, Athletics Weekly resurrected Alf and brought him to life for a new generation of readers for a season before once more retiring him.
And if you go onto the Alf Remembered link, you can hear yours truly and my better half participating in the Alf Tupper documentary that was first broadcast on Radio 4 back in the mid 2000s – and you can listen to the Tough of the Track theme song here, composed by Near Death Experience.
Another sporting hero that is still fondly remembered online is the almost immortal William Wilson. Born in 1785 in the Yorkshire village of Stayling. Living on a diet of fresh herbs, pure water and clean living, Wilson pushed the human body to its’ limits and beyond to prove that records old and new were still beatable. But even when compared to today’s athletes, Wilson is still impressive. The mile in three minutes 48 seconds, five miles in 30 minutes, putting the shot 91 feet. And when you consider only four people have broken the world record for the mile by running a time that was sub 3:48, that is pretty amazing and no-one has yet thrown more than 76 feet in the shot, you can see why Wilson would still have an enduring appeal.
Wilson is another character that was created in the 1940s and was first published in the Wizard as a text story. For those war-torn days, it’s not hard to imagine that a character like Wilson would have struck a chord with many children as they got by on their ration card. Wilson was converted into pictorial form for The Hornet and was illustrated by Juan Ripoll and F A Philpott while published in that comic. For those that want to check out more about William Wilson, then you can do worse than go to The Amazing Wilson website.
There are, of course, many more British comic sporting heroes – and heroines – who are mentioned in passing online, such as motoring ace Skid Solo and Hot-Shot Hamish – both largely written by Fred Baker – the latter revived by the Scottish Sunday Mail back in 2008. Not to mention wrestler Johnny Cougar, Gorgeous Gus, Mighty Mouse, Danny Boyd, Danny Deans, Wally Brand and Baldy Hogan and many others.
We’ll come back to these – some just one shot wonders – another day.
• If this article has whetted your appetite for some comic sporting heroes, then you could purchase Brendan Gallagher’s Sporting Supermen: The True Stories of Our Childhood Comic Heroes which goes into these more depth about these characters and others.
• Brendan Foster, the European and Commonwealth champion, was a fan and wrote the foreword for The Best of Alf Tupper collection published by Prion
• If your tastes are more football orientated, then you have Football’s Comic Book Heroes: Celebrating the Greatest British Football Comics of the Twentieth Century which was written by Adam Riches, Robert Frankland