As part of a cross-blog series on Melchester Rovers, we decided to delve back 23 years to the beginning of the ill-fated relaunch of Roy Of The Rovers as a monthly comic.
Coincidentally, 1993 was also when the one-year-old Premier League decided to introduce squad numbers and the first issue of the monthly, with Roy Race coming to terms with the amputation of his left foot, references this new development as son Roy Jr (‘Rocky’) breaks into the squad.
Rocky would make his debut against Felixstowe Town (basically an avatar for Ipswich – Museum of Jerseys will cover this in the near future), though unfortunately wouldn’t manage to mark it with a goal, instead being booked and then substituted. While the squad numbers were in effect, the shirts had no names and the numbers themselves were white, for the only time in the lifespan of the new comic. Rocky’s replacement was a unnamed player wearing number 12, who wouldn’t be seen again.
Issue 2 would revolve around Melchester signing another striker, Paul Ntende, and he would wear the number 14 for the duration of the strip.
Come Christmas 1993 and those behind ROTR entered into an agreement with the makers of Shoot!, whereby the weekly magazine would run two pages of Roy in each edition. It was in this first instance of the collaboration that Johnny Dexter – a Melchester stalwart – first appeared in the new iteration, and not as likeable as he used to be.
It was also the first time that more information on the squad numbers was provided, by way of manager ‘Blackie’ Gray’s teamsheet for an upcoming FA Cup tie, where Rocky would make his comeback after a spell AWOL.
However, one of the problems of running a strip across two publications was that more than one artist was needed, and the near two-year run saw a multitude of people on the pencil. As a result, consistency of details was hard to ensure.
Even the teamsheet above wasn’t gospel, as Dexter would always be seen wearing 6 on the pitch despite being listed as 25 (Neil Ruddock reference, perhaps?). Some artists had names on shirts, while Karl Brucker, who generally wore 4 in the old weekly, now appeared most often in 5, but sometimes 7 or 8.
Other inconstencies were were Kevin Clark sometimes being 11 and occasionally 13 (when it was unheard of for an outfield in the PL to do so), while the changing hair-colour must have worried him too:
In the spring of 1994, another teamsheet appeared and a reader wrote in to the comic to ask why there were two number 16s, with the reply being that Blackie Gray was ‘tired and emotional’ after a long season. It must also be the explanation for the degeneration of his handwriting.
Wes Harper, one of the two 16s above, was listed as 18 in the other teamsheet, but on the pitch was always 16 (see below). The other 16, Steve Wooten, so central to the old weekly, was never actually seen in the monthly but would would re-appear in the late 90s when the strip was resurrected in Match Of The Day magazine. We would have to assume that, as the first-choice right-back, he was ‘really’ number 2.
A non-Melchester occurrence came in the final edition of the monthly, in March 1995. Melchester were playing Teesbrough (Middlesbrough) in the FA Cup. Leaving aside the fact that an away kit should have been worn, the opposition have number 1 playing outfield – as Charlton Athletic did in 1993-94 – but generally the reason for this would be alphabetical numbering.
We’ll give them the benefit here and assume that Toley joined in a swap-deal with a player called Anderson or Allen or somesuch after the season started.
That was it for ROTR for a few years, but in 1997 it came back as a two-pager in MOTD, running until that magazine stopped in 2001, when the BBC lost the rights to Premier League highlights.
This time round, the numbers were a bit more straightforward, though perhaps too boring and tidy – having gained promotion under the management of Roy Sr, the first team was the 1-11. The only deviation in the 5-3-2 was that, Wooten had kept 2 as he moved to centre-back, with Anton Gronvold wearing 4 at right wing-back (that’s something we enjoy).
In the summer of 1998, Blackie was on holidays in Ireland and a barman recommended a young local player to him, with he in turn suggesting to Roy that he sign him. That was Declan McKaffree (McCaffrey is far more common as a spelling in Ireland) and, really, as a teenager joining a top club from nowhere, he should have had a far higher number than 15.
Back-up goalkeeper Peter Marshall wore 12, with 13 left empty, presumably for superstitious reasons.