How Sir Bobby inspired Roy of the Rovers!

Wednesday 27 March 2024 06:00

Depending on your age, you may see a different image when you think of Roy Race – the eponymous hero of famous football comic Roy of the Rovers. But did you know that Bobby Charlton was arguably the key inspiration behind the character?

That’s according to renowned illustrator Paul Trevillion, who was called in by publishers in 1963 to give Roy a revamp.

Despite hailing from Tottenham – and being a keen fan of the Lilywhites – the acclaimed artist had only one player in his head when he was commissioned.
The likeness between Sir Bobby and Roy Race is clear to see in some of Paul's drafts.
“I was already working on Bobby’s own comic strip [for The Daily Express] when I got a phone call for Roy of the Rovers. I thought: I’ve got to pass, because I was so busy,” remembers Paul. “But they said: ‘Can you come in and help us? We’re in trouble.’
“So I did, and then they told me they couldn’t use the work – because it wasn’t funny enough! It wasn’t ‘comic’ enough! They admitted he looked good, but that was simply because I’d based him on Bobby Charlton! Though they phoned back and said: ‘Well, we’ve got to use them [the drawings] but we’ll only run it for 18 weeks.’

To the surprise of the publishers, the more lifelike style Trevillion adopted – what he calls ‘comic art realism’ – soon captured the public’s imagination. “Kids were writing in for his autograph, they thought he was real!” laughs Paul. 

“At Tottenham, I remember hearing Danny Blanchflower say to Bill Nicholson, as Cliff Jones went past two players: ‘He thinks he’s Roy of the Rovers, he thinks he’s Roy Race!’ So it was catching on.”
Sir Bobby’s links to the fictional player run even deeper. Three years earlier, it was rumoured that Charlton had taken over as the comic strip’s writer, though this was reportedly something of a publicity gambit.

But Bobby’s style and grace – and his breathtaking shooting power – were his real contribution to the development of Roy Race.
“Everyone used to call him Bobby Dazzler, and that’s who he was to me,” says Trevillion, who celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this month.
“I’ve never ever been knocked over by anybody like I was by Bobby Charlton. He was the man, the main man. And this was in ’63 – he didn’t have a World Cup winner’s medal then. Though he had a lot more hair...
“I talked to [Franz] Beckenbauer about him when I was in America for the World Cup. He said Bobby had the best body swerve of any player he’d played against. He’d dip his shoulder, left or right, and all instinctively. He had the perfect balance. He was like a ballerina. Tom Finney told me: ‘There will never be anyone like Bobby
Charlton ever again’. He was an original. A one-off.”
Illustrative genius Paul, who turned 90 on 11 March, has drawn countless legends of the game during a decades-long career.
And Charlton isn’t the only United legend Paul has great affection for.

He went on to work with George Best and Denis Law, and has recently gifted some of his original Roy of the Rovers artwork to the Duncan Edwards Peace Field Project in Dudley.
A limited-edition 60th Anniversary ‘Melchester United’ shirt has already been created from the pieces, and a special Bobby Charlton tribute shirt is also planned to raise funds.
Sir Bobby's close friend Duncan (back row, far left) was one of many United greats that Trevillion admired.
“Duncan was unstoppable,” he remembers. “I went up to Old Trafford to watch Spurs in 1957. I thought: ‘I’ve got to see the Busby Babes.’ Bobby Smith scored a hat-trick and Spurs were 4-1 up, but, in the second half, Duncan came through. 
“Players bounced off him. I’d never seen anybody so powerful; he could pass the ball, he could bang shots. They got it to 4-3 and Edwards was through on goal and [defensive midfielder] Danny Blanchflower dived full length and knocked the ball off his foot with his hand! I was a great fan of Blanchflower and saw him a million times, and he never did that kind of thing. But he had to do it that day.
“Have I got a soft spot for Manchester United? I love Manchester United, and the reason is because they’ve always had the greatest players. They had [Cristiano] Ronaldo when he could really play; they had Paddy Crerand, who could pass the ball through the eye of a needle. I loved him to death.
“But Bobby Charlton was the man. No-one has ever hit a ball harder. I gave Roy Race a little bit more hair and squeezed his chin up a bit but, other than that, he was Bobby Charlton!”

For more information on Paul’s work with the Duncan Edwards Peace Field Project, visit