Roy of the Rovers: World Cup Special presents a collection of football-based strips from decades past, themed around the World Cup. Given that weíre still in the middle of the latest World Cup, itís a timely release--even if the English and US teams (fans of which presumably comprise the main target audience of this collection) have now been knocked out of the competition.
Even though Iím a British reader, Iíd never read a Roy of the Rovers comic before picking up this book. Iíve never been a huge football fan, and Iíve not read any of the publications in which the strip has appeared. I always assumed the strip consisted (more or less exclusively) of action sequences taken from football matches--but thereís actually more to these Roy of the Rovers stories than I expected.
Each of the stories collected here (some of which go as far back as 1966, the year in which England won the World Cup for the first--and so far, only--time) features Royís team competing in a football competition, and usually climaxes in an all-important make-or-break match. However, the stories also provide a number of different soap-opera storylines to keep things interesting off the pitch, too.
Sometimes these subplots are grounded and realistic elements that are closely tied to the world of football--such as Roy being offered a managerial position with England that would mean him having to leave his beloved Melchester Rovers. However, there are also several less realistic subplots that I found amusing due to their absurdity.
In Australia, a group of would-be saboteurs deploys a kangaroo in boxing gloves to beat up the team before a match. In South America, one of the team is targeted for an assassination attempt after being mistaken for the king of an obscure local country (who happens to look identical to him). In the US, the team is bugged by American secret agents who are eager to learn about their football tactics.
Whilst these plots occasionally fall back on lazy national stereotypes, they never become too crude and offensive (although an encounter with a group of Australian Aborigines comes close). Instead, they add a little colour to a collection that would otherwise consist of repetitive football scenes that could otherwise quickly become dull.
That said, the football scenes in this collection are actually pretty well handled. They arenít too drawn-out, and theyíre dynamic enough that even non-fans like me can appreciate the energy and the drama of the game. The art is of a fairly high standard throughout--and considering the age of many of these strips, the quality of the reproduction is pretty good, too.
Itís also interesting to trace the development of comics artwork through these stories, from the black-and-white simplicity of the 1960s and 1970s, through to the more colourful strips of more recent decades.
If I have any real criticism of the book, itís that it might have been nice to have been given some historical context for each of the stories. Thereís not even any obvious transition between different eras save for the obvious changes in style, and the different characters and plotlines.
The stories are interspersed with all manner of extra material, presumably also taken from the Roy of the Rovers magazine. There are articles on specific footballers or important moments in football history, football-related advertisements from various eras, World Cup wall charts, and photograph pin-ups of prominent footballers from throughout the decades (itís particularly amusing to note the changing nature of their hairstyles over the years--which is reflected in the strips, too).
Additionally, thereís an introduction by Gary Lineker that does a good job of conveying the importance that most football-loving kids attribute to the World Cup when it rolls around every four years--although I get the feeling that, like me, Lineker had possibly never set eyes on a Roy of the Rovers comic before reading this collection.
As a set of comics stories in its own right, this book is a pretty average collection thatís probably only going to be of interest to Roy of the Rovers fans. However, the extra material helps to make this as much of a nostalgia trip through the last 44 years of football as anything else. As such, it might appeal to football fans in general, too.
What did you think of this book?
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