If you hear a modern-day footballer complaining that life in big-time football is a bit harsh, just point him in the direction of Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff, the new book which presents the behind-the-scenes story of Britain’s much-loved football hero Roy Race. Not only did Roy have to put up with relegation, loss of form, missing the birth of his twins and having his wife leave him, he also had to put up with being shot! Just how it happened, who did it and who came to the rescue of Roy’s team, Melchester Rovers, is revealed in this extract from the book, which is written by Barrie Tomlinson, who was Roy’s editor and best friend…
The biggest drama in Roy’s life was about to take place. On 19 December 1981 he was shot! The front cover showed a dramatic picture of Roy falling to the ground as the gun was fired. We couldn’t see who was pulling the trigger. This was all happening at Roy’s office at the Melchester ground. Roy had been working late when he was gunned down. The media jumped on the story. Roy was again making the headlines:
ROY OF THE ROVERS STOPS A SHOT! – Daily Telegraph
PLAY ON ROVERS! AT 29, ROY’S TOO YOUNG TO DIE… London Evening Standard
FOUL! ROY OF THE ROVERS IS SHOT! – The Sun
NOW IT’S WHO SHOT RR? – Herts Advertiser
ROY OF THE ROVERS IS FOULED BY A GUNMAN! – South African paper
WILL ROY OF THE ROVERS SURVIVE? – Post-Echo
Capital Radio did a ‘live’ outside broadcast from the Melchester ground. It was dramatic stuff and the ground was actually the 23rd floor of King’s Reach Tower, which contained the Roy of the Rovers editorial offices. ATV’s Sport Today programme ran a competition to see who could replace Roy in the team, if he was unable to play again. The nation waited for developments!
After the shooting, Roy was rushed to hospital and it was soon announced he was in a coma. Who had done the foul deed? Author Tom Tully and myself had written in to the story a whole list of people who had fallen out with Roy so there were lots of suspects. Meanwhile the Rovers players had decided to keep on playing and Roy’s best footballing pal, Blackie Gray, was made acting player-manager.
Rovers won their first game after the shooting then drew the next. The team needed a boost and I knew just what to do. I made contact with Sir Alf Ramsey! England’s most successful manager didn’t hesitate. He agreed to take over as manager of Melchester Rovers. It was a sensational signing and one the media appreciated:
RAMSEY OF THE ROVERS – Daily Express
SIR ALF TAKES OVER FROM ROY OF THE ROVERS – Daily Telegraph
A COMIC RETURN FOR ALF! – The Observer
SIR ALF STANDS IN FOR THE ROVERS – The Sun
NOW IT’S SIR ALF OF THE ROVERS – Herts Advertiser
Tom suddenly found himself writing a script that starred Sir Alf. Fortunately, artist David Sque was brilliant at capturing likenesses and soon Sir Alf was making regular appearances in the picture-strip. I always showed Sir Alf the script before it was illustrated but he never asked for any changes in the script or the artwork. Getting Sir Alf to star was, I think, one of the biggest scoops of my career. What particularly pleased me was that he seemed to really enjoy being part of the story.
Meanwhile, hundreds of get well messages were arriving, not only from readers but also from celebrities:
DEAR ROY, GET WELL SOON – Ernie Wise
THE GAME NEEDS YOU. COME ON, ROY…GET WELL SOON! – Eric Morecambe
TO ROY, GET WELL SOON, BEST WISHES – Trevor Francis
THEY’LL REALISE HOW MUCH THEY MISS YOU – Malcolm Macdonald
GET WELL SOON. BEST WISHES – Terry O’Neill
HERE’S TO A RACEY RECOVERY – Mike Read
EVERYONE AT THE DELL HOPES YOU GET WELL SOON – Lawrie McMenemy
ROVERS WILL MISS YOU. BEST WISHES FOR A SPEEDY RECOVERY – Sir Alf Ramsey
GET WELL SOON TO EXCITE US ALL AGAIN! – Paul Mariner
Melchester began to get some good results under Sir Alf. In one incredible game, the crowd noise, as they chanted Roy’s name, was relayed to the hospital and played to Roy. After a few attempts, it worked. Roy regained consciousness. The news was given to the crowd and the players and the match became something of a celebration. Sir Alf had introduced a style of play which was all-attack. The Melchester goals started to rocket home. It was a record as Rovers ended up winning 14-0.
After the game, Sir Alf was asked, ‘Would you say that the Rovers are beginning to settle into your style of play?’ Sir Alf replied, ‘Oh yes! Although they missed a few chances, I’m quite pleased with today’s performance!’ Laying in his hospital bed, Roy thought that he might have a job to get back in the team!
Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff is published by Pitch Publishing, and is available here