“I’ve been kidnapped nine times in my career, including seven times while on club tours abroad, which remains a record in top-flight football …”

Roy of the Rovers: The Official Autobiography is that rare thing on this blog, a book without any pictures. Even rarer, it is a comic novel that is actually very funny.

Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise given that its “ghost writer” is Giles Smith who managed to make Rod Stewart’s recent-ish autobiography a thing of joy and wonder.

In passing, though, it’s also a reminder of how rich and strange and ubiquitous the British football comic strip used to be. For boys growing up in post-war Britain comic strips offered two models of masculinity. On one hand there was the stiff upper lip and derring-do of the British Tommy in a variety of comics from The Hotspur to The Victor. But for those of us who were not martially inclined, there were comic strip footballers.

Roy of the Rovers was the most famous, but there was also Hot Shot Hamish, the gentle Hebridean giant with the most powerful shot in football who first turned up, appropriately enough, in Scorcher in the early 1970s and turned out for Princes Park, and Mighty Mouse, Tottenford Rovers’ finest (both strips the creations of writer Fred Baker with regular art by Julio Schiaffino).

Scorcher was also home to Billy’s Boots in which schoolboy clumper Billy Dane suddenly became deadly in front of goal when he started wearing the boots he found in his granddad’s attic. Turns out they once belonged to legendary striker Charles Dead Shot Keen. Were they haunted? We never found out.

Truth be told, Graphic Content was always a Marvel boy, but that didn’t mean the chance to read Tiger or Valiant was ever passed up. So, in honour of the paperback edition of Roy of the Rovers’ autobiography here are our top ten sporting comic heroes.

1 Roy of the Rovers

The sine non qua of the football strip. It’s not that Roy of the Rovers is the best of the breed (see number two for that). It’s just that it embodies the form more completely than any other. So much so that the phrase “Roy of the Rovers stuff” (which has two entries in the index of Roy Race’s autobiography) has transcended the comic strip and is still used by football commentators of a certain age in the real world (if Match of the Day and Football Focus qualify as being part of the real world rather than a consensual dream world men enter as an alternative to real life; but that’s possibly a discussion for another forum).

In fact comic strip artist Paul Trevillion who drew the strip back in the 1960s once reported that while at Tottenham’s training ground he watched Cliff Jones take on and beat three players and overheard Danny Blanchflower say to Bill Nicholson that Jones “thinks he’s Roy of the Rovers”.

First appearing in the pages of Tiger on September 11, 1954, and drawn in the early days by Joe Colquhoun, Roy Race was the complete footballer. Melchester Rovers were lucky to have him. So was Tiger, which sold 400,000 copies at its height.

Roy got his own comic in 1976 and as the years passed events became more and more surreal. Scan the autobiography’s index and you will find the following: “assassination attempt”; “Basran car bomb massacre, 1986”; “helicopter crash”; “kidnappings”; “killings of two players”; “earthquakes escaped” and “horse allergy (mild).”

There were also ten league titles, 11 FA Cup wins, three European Cups. Not bad going considering you had to wonder about Melchester’s scouting system from time to time. Signing an ageing Bob Wilson and Emlyn Hughes was bad enough, but Steve Norman and Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet? It sounds like the chief scout was hanging out at the Blitz Club rather than Hackney Marshes.

You do wonder why Roy Race never won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. A strange oversight, given that, as journalist Seb Patrick once suggested in the New Statesman, “Roy Race was our Superman”.

But perhaps the most celebrated (and later parodied: see number 7) aspect of the Roy of the Rovers strip was the attention it paid to football crowds.

It was the crowd that told us what was happening given that action replays weren’t really possible. You might say they were the comic book equivalent of the chorus in ancient Greek theatre. That’s the danger of a little learning, isn’t it?

2 Look Out For Lefty

Of course for some of us raised in the post-Best era of football mavericks (we had a particular fondness for Tony Currie in our house as it goes), Roy Race was always a bit, well, Alan Shearerish. An FA Blazers’ pet type (though Shearer could put it about a bit when required. Which begs a question for those of you who were regular Roy of the Rovers readers. Did Roy ever get booked?)

For those of us who wanted something different, Action Comic provided in the mid-seventies. Next to strips such as Hook Jaw and Kids Rule OK (“a sort of Day of the Triffids meets Grange Hill meets Pasolini’s Salo,” according to The Guardian), Tom Tully’s strip Looking for Lefty could be seen as rather mild fare.

But given that Lefty had a skinhead girlfriend and a couple of incidences of comic book hooliganism, the strip did manage to reflect some of the reality of the game at that time.

Indeed, it was the strip in which said girlfriend, it is implied, bottled an opposing player, that is said to be one of the reasons the comic came under sustained attack from the tabloid newspapers of the time. The comic - and Look Out For Lefty - was neutered as a result and soon disappeared.

3 Death Game 1999

From the same source, Death Game 1999 was Action’s answer to/rip-off of Hollywood sci-fi action film Rollerball (back in the seventies comics often took their cues from cinema; we now live in a time of reverse polarity). Spinball was a messy, murderous mix of ice hockey on motorbikes and gladiatorial combat, all aided by Massimo Belardinelli’s artwork. Was it any good? I can’t honestly remember. But it stuck in my head as an idea in a way that 2000AD’s Harlem Heroes never did (even with Dave Gibbons on artistic duties).

4 Tough of the Track

One final British entry before we cast our eyes wider. Alf Tupper, from the pages of Victor, was a proper working class hero, a welder by trade who was fond of fish suppers and beating the toffs in a race. More Steve Cram than Seb Coe, you might say.

5 Prince of Tennis

Until someone gives us a graphic autobiography of Andy Murray, we’ll have to settle for Takeshi Konomi’s manga Prince of Tennis. What’s curious is how Japan – not the most renowned country for tennis players – should be the place to go for tennis comic strips. And it begs the question: why don’t Marvel or DC do a sports line any more? Serena Williams would make a great superhero.

6 The Tour De France

Of course the greatest sporting cartoonist is France’s Sempe, a great lover of bicycles. His cartoon of a bicycle race winding through the streets of a rainy French city is possibly the greatest artistic recreation of sporting endeavour in the history of art. Honestly.

7 Billy the Fish

From the pages of Viz, Billy the Fish is the endpoint of the British football comic strip. Half-footballer, half-fish Billy is the creation of people (Simon Donald and Simon Thorp to be exact) clearly very familiar with all the clichés of Roy of the Rovers and its ilk and prepared to lovingly satirise their ridiculousness. As one Billy the Fish summary goes: During the season opener against Grimthorpe City, Tommy Brown and Syd Preston unearth a huge atom bomb on the pitch, and it is ticking…”

Billy got his own TV show too, which is more than Roy Race ever managed.

8 Superman v Muhammad Ali

In 1978 DC published a special in which their boy Superman took on the greatest boxer of all time in the ring. Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, it was a special treasury edition that never made it to any newsagents I frequented as a kid. But there was an ad for it in every DC comic I read and the cover was enough in itself to make me salivate.

Not just because Superman was in the ring with Ali but look who was in the crowd? Sinatra, Batman, the Jackson Five. Jimmy Carter and Lex Luthor. This was surely the greatest comic ever. The fact that I couldn’t read it made it all the more exciting.

A few years ago it was reprinted. I read it. It’s okay. Nothing special.

But the memory of those ads still excites. In my head back then this was surely the greatest sports comic ever. Turned out it wasn’t even the best boxing comic. That might be Baru’s The Road to America.

9 Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports No 1

Recently published by Nobrow, Bosman’s sweet comic strip contains a sequence in which a mummy and a trainee magician play a game of basketball. To the death!

10 Charlie Brown

Frankly, Graphic Content has little time for American sports (despite what we said in number 9). It has no truck with American football, basketball and baseball. But we must accept the importance of the latter in the greatest comic strip of all time.

Clearly Charles Schulz used baseball as a metaphor for life. But the question is what about Charlie Brown’s record in the sport itself?

Writing in Hardball Times earlier this year Patrick Dubuque looked at the round-headed kid’s record between 1953 and 2000. And while conceding that Brown was hindered by team selection (“the outfield is a disaster”) had to ask the question, “is Charlie Brown the worst manager ever?

 The answer? Maybe yes. Waaah! Then again, the round-headed kid kept coming back at the start of each season for more. And sometimes that’s all you can ask of any of our sporting heroes. A willingness to play the game.

Roy of the Rovers: The Official Autobiography is published by Arrow Books,priced £8,99