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More anachronistic football fun with Roy Race and friends, this time the classic 1983 annual which is 127 pages long and features several strips, quizzes, some articles and numerous photographs from the world of football. You'd expect these books to be hard to find or collectibles by now but you can actually pick them up for a few pounds online and they are worth buying for anyone interested in British comics. As usual, the different strips each have their own distinctive style and art and are good fun. There aren't any real clunkers in this collection. First up is a great Roy of the Rovers strip. This is full colour and features classic art in line with the Titan Roy of the Rovers eighties compilation of a few years ago. Melchester Rovers are playing Castleford at home in the cup but Castleford's negative tactics are spoiling the game, which peters out in a 0-0 draw. 'Let them shout!' snarls Castleford's manager Harry Bampton on the bench, ignoring the boos and heckles from the Melchester fans. 'I'm in this business to get results not entertain the public!' I personally quite like Harry Bampton. I think he should replace Capello as the England manager.
Roy is worried when he hears that Albert Goodall, Melchester's oldest surviving player, left the game at half-time. He visits Albert (who seems to live in a flat above a grocers) to see if he is ok and discovers that old Albert is fine but left early because he thought the game was tedious. Over a cup of tea, Albert tells Roy there is too much tension and negativity in football now and that in his day they relied on flair and freedom to break teams down. Roy has much to think about and goes on Radio Melchester to make a shocking announcement. He tells the public (and we see them at bus stops and in factories listening as if Winston Churchill was making a wartime speech) that he has no tactical plans for the replay against Castleford and will tell his players to just go out and enjoy themselves. The stage is set for a mighty clash of football philosophies. Roy's beautiful football against Harry Bampton's Sam Allerdyce style hoofers. This strip is classic Roy of the Rovers with wonderful colourful art and makes a great start to the annual.
Next up is Mike's Mini Men. This is about the Subbuteo mad Mike Daily and his table football adventures. It's a black and white strip but the art is quite serviceable and has a slight Yaroslav Horak feel. This is by far the longest strip and split into two different parts. The story starts with Mike receiving his first ever table football set one Christmas and clearly children were a lot easier to please back then. 'Smashing! My own miniature football team complete with goals, opposition, everything!' Mike must deal with school bullies, playing a bit of real football and, most importantly of all, competing in the table league his friends have set up. This story is a decent read and is doggedly old-fashioned with Mike saying things like 'Super!' when he has good news. The fact that him and his friends take table football ridiculously seriously sometimes makes it unintentionally amusing too. I sometimes picture the adult Mike Daily as the leader of a Subbuteo obsessed cult group who all live in a compound in the desert somewhere.
Next up is The Hard Man with further adventures for Danefield stopper Johnny Dexter. The strip is quite effective and uses black and different shades of red. The Hard Man is generally a more humorous strip in tone and here Dexter is so taken by the Dracula costume he wears at Danefield's Christmas fancy dress party that he keeps putting the fangs back in and annoying the team with awful Dracula based puns ('How's that for a BITING tackle?') in the days that follow. They duly plot their revenge. Tommy Troubles is another likeable strip all about the ups and downs of Tommy Barnes attempting to run the local football team he formed. Here Tommy wins a couple of tickets to see a match in Amsterdam - but it falls on the same day as Barnes United have a match scheduled. There is a hilarious 'spotlight on Roy Race' after this with his likes and dislikes in the form of a profile/questionnaire. Roy is 6 feet and 12 stone. His favourite singers are Jack Jones, Cliff Richard (great photo of Cliff here in a huge pair of glasses and open-necked shirt) and Barbara Streisand and his favourite television shows are The Two Ronnies and Mike Yarwood.
The best strip in the annual apart from the Roy of the Rovers one is probably Durrells Palace. Durrells Palace are a lowly team in the 'Western League' (wherever that is) managed by Dan Wayne. The strip is about the frequent problems of Wayne as he tries to keep the club going despite having no money and amateur players. Lovely art too here. In this story, Wayne is struggling to find eleven players to field in an upcoming match and ends up persuading his milkman to turn out for them! A piece of football folklore will soon be born. The last strip of note here is Mighty Mouse. This is about Kevin Mouse who - in true Roy of the Rovers fashion - is a medical student who also plays part-time for first division Tottenford. This strip is very comic in tone and Mouse is a most unlikely footballer as he's short, rotund and has glasses and a pudding bowl haircut. I've never quite managed to really get into Mighty Mouse but the art is highly enjoyable nonetheless.
There are many features, photos and articles away from the strips and my favourite is a profile of the Melchester Rovers team with each player getting a capsule bio. This is the classic Melchester line-up of the early eighties (Carter, Baxter, McKay, Guthrie, Slade, Gray, Logan, Wallace, Race, Eliot, Diaz) and would surely wipe the floor with any team in Europe today! This book is great fun for comic and football enthusiasts and highly recommended from me.