Growing up I was always a big comics fan, and although I mainly enjoyed the adventures of Superman and Spider-Man, there were times when I ventured into other pastures, taking in such comics as Tiger and Roy of the Rovers. Which is why Brendan Gallagher’s Sporting Superman book appealed to me.
Gallagher, a British newspaper journalist, is a lifelong fan of the sports comics that were published for decades in Britain, so it seemed natural for him to write a book looking at the careers of the men whose exploits he would read every week.
Although he takes a look at numerous characters that have appeared over the years, Gallagher focuses on three characters. The first of which is William Wilson, one of the few characters whose story had a slightly super-natural slant on them. Wilson was born in Yorkshire in 1795, and with the help of a elixir, the recipe of which was given to him by a two hundred year old hermit. Wilson trained himself to the peak of physical fitness. This, along with the elixir, slowed down his ageing process. Wilson became the perfect sportsman, able to compete in any event, from athletics to boxing to cricket, holding many world records, as well as competing in several Olympics, the last of which was in Athens in 1952. A year later, Wilson was winning the Ashes for England against Australia. He also served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.
The second character is one Alf Tupper, “The Tough of the Track”. Tupper couldn’t be more different to Wilson. A runner himself, Tupper had a tough life, even having to sleep in the welder’s shop where he worked. However, he did have some joys in his life, such as his regular meals of fish and chips. But despite the hardships that Tupper had to go through, he became a world class runner, able to compete with the best on the national and international stage, but it’s Tupper’s down-to-earth attitude which is probably the character’s most endearing quality, and why he was so popular at the time.
The third character is probably the most well-known and popular sporting character in British comic’s history - Roy Race from Roy of the Rovers. Race was the ultimate football superstar, the striker for his beloved Melchester Rovers who became the team’s captain before becoming the player-manager. To say that Race led an interesting life would be an understatement - terrorist attacks, getting shot by a disgruntled player, his team’s stadium suffering an earthquake during a game, and much more. Also add in the appearances of a few 1980’s pop stars, and football legends Bob Wilson, Alf Ramsay and Emlyn Hughes, then Roy of the Rovers certainly made for interesting reading, and it was certainly one of my favourite comic strips while I was growing up.
Gallagher also takes a look at some of the other sporting heroes, characters such as American Indian wrestler Johnny Cougar, race driver Skid Solo, and Billy Dane, a very average school footballer who accidentally found a pair of magic football boots once owned by the Dead Shot Keen, and when worn, they allowed him to play in the style of the legendary striker.
Sporting Supermen is an extremely well put together piece of work. Brendan Gallagher’s research into his chosen subject has certainly paid dividends, and the end product is a joy to read. It certainly brought back some fond memories, and if you grew up with comics such as Tiger and Roy of the Rovers as well, you’ll certainly enjoy this trip down memory lane.
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And don’t forget to keep an eye on my website, www.twoshedsreview.com, where you can the entire Two Sheds Review archive, including articles on other sports such as boxing and football, and in the new and re-designed News and Entertainment section.