There’s not many kits that stand out as being truly individual and iconic; there’s Liverpool’s all red, the red and blue of Barcelona and the all white of Real Madrid. But in my view one of the classic strips of all time is that of Melchester Rovers – the team that gave the world Roy Race or Roy of the Rovers as he’s better known. The seldom seen combination of red and yellow gives the Rovers a distinctive position in the football world – making a Rovers’ kit instantly recognisable.
OK, so the club is not real and Roy of the Rovers is ‘only’ a comic strip but for me and thousands of other football fans Melchester Rovers was always our favourite ‘other’ club. I learnt all about the workings of football through its dilution in weekly editions of Roy of the Rovers albeit in a fantasy and rather far-fetched form. I was an avid reader in the late 70s and early 80s and only lost interest when Melchester signed those two blokes from Spandau Ballet. I remember being thrilled when I saw Race lead the team out at the start of the 81-82 (with the club facing life in the 2nd Division) with a brand new kit! Gone was the classic asymmetrical 70s look and in was a classy hooped look. And it featured a proper manufacturer and sponsor name in Gola!! So began my love affair of Melchester Rovers’ kits. Looking back through their kit history its funny how the writers never seemed to get it quite right. Club badges were seldom and erratically worn, shirt sponsor and kit manufacturers (even fake ones) took a while to become established (although as part 2 reveals the club have had some BIG corporate names behind them in their lifetime) and away kits were a rarity as virtually no other club in the Roy of the Rovers universe wore red. Still, none of this matters and to this day I regret never asking my Mum to buy me the official Melchester Gola strip…
When we first encounter Melchester Rovers in the 55–56 season they are sporting a typical button up heavyweight jersey in a unique colour combination of red shirt with yellow sleeves, blue shorts and red socks with yellow turnover. It was in this kit that a young Roy Race made his debut. By the 56–57 season though the side ditched the long sleeved shorts and instead opted for a short sleeved shirt coupled strangely with a ‘futuristic’ 70s style wing collar – quite unlike anything else knocking around at the time. In 1958 a more regular shirt appeared with a plunging continental V-neck and a club shield. The yellow turnover also now gained a single red band. It was a classic kit without a doubt.
Bit of a change in the Mel Park kitbag occured in 1959 when the yellow sleeves and club badge were scrapped and instead an all-red shirt (with yellow V-neck and cuffs though of course) was favoured. Another great looking design it only lasted for two seasons before the yellow sleeves returned although the badge was still mysteriously missing – perhaps it was too fiddly to draw? The ever-fashionable Rovers updated their kit in 1964 with an authentic 60s long-sleeved shirt accompanied by a round crew-neck and new yellow socks. This kit was worn right up until 1973, interrupted only by a one-season wonder badged version that emerged in 1967.
Replica versions of several of these kits are sold by the excellent TOFFS, although several of their designs also feature badges.
In 1973 a new kit emerged that for the casual supporter is recognised as the definitive Rovers kit. Crew neck, long sleeved with a vertical yellow band running down the left hand side of the shirt and continued on the opposite leg of the shorts it was certainly stylish. A nice touch was the addition of numbers on each sleeve. The socks were a curious affair with no discernable turnover and a ‘T’ shaped yellow trim. The first Melchester away kit I’ve found evidence for was this yellow reversal of the home outfit which ran until 1977 when to the glorious fanfare of a Roy of the Rovers front page a new blue shirt was launched featuring a shield badge device not used on any other Rovers kit of the time.
The vertical banded shirt actually went through three incarnations in its eight year history. As well as the original design it also appeared with a standard 70s wing collar and for one season only at the start of the 80s with a V-neck. Both strips now sadly ditched the sleeve numbers. This period also saw Rovers wear a white shirt/shorts away strip, followed by a return to blue – this time without shield but with the addition of a single white stripe down each sleeve. This design lasted for just one season before being replaced by an all-yellow away kit.
Commercialism arrived at Mel Park courtesy of Gola in 1981 with this superb kit. A new style Rovers badges was also introduced and Gola’s support of the side was emphatically made as shirt sponsors. The away kit saw more imagination than some previous Rovers efforts with its non-contrasting V-neck and cuffs and colour combination of white red and blue. Replica versions of the home kit were also sold at this time through the comic. Just one season later though the authenticity of the Gola kit disappeared as the deal ended and Rovers took the field in plain old shirts once again.
After five years the Rovers kit was updated again with a new design featuring yellow panels on each side of the red shirt. The yellow v-neck remained but the cuffs changed to red. Although the shirt did not appear to be manufactured by a specific company it did feature the second sponsor in Melchester’s history: American sportswear giants Nike. Back in the 80s Nike had only dipped their toe into the football kit world with Sunderland and had not yet achieved the worldwide football fame they enjoy today. A new badge was also introduced in 1986. The Nike deal only lasted for one season and it wasn’t until 1989 that another sponsor arrived in the form of football sticker (and publishing) giants Panini followed a year later by Roy of the Rovers publisher Fleetway.
A competition amongst Roy of the Rovers readers resulted in a new strip for Melchester in 1991. It saw the introduction of a fairly traditional arrangement of stripes in the famous red and yellow. In line with the times a button-up collar was present. The shorts featured an unusual asymmetrical trim. Another big name became the club’s new sponsor; Sega whose logo brought the colour blue back to the Rovers’ strip. The same kit was used the following season with TSB as sponsors but by 1996 the shirt’s stripes and collar were slightly altered, the old badge returned and plainer shorts and socks were introduced. A kit manufacturer was indicated on the shirt whose logo looked remarkably like the Umbro diamond! Football game legends Subbuteo became the new shirt sponsor. In 1993 another competition was launched to design the club’s new away kit. This brilliant design with horizontal red and yellow bands was the winner. The shirt featured a lace-up collar design clearly based on Manchester United’s iconic kit of the time. With typical Melchester inconsitency the kit featured no badge or manufacturer’s logo and was worn with white, red or blue shorts and also featured three different collar renderings in its brief lifespan.
After a two year hiatus Melchester Rovers returned to the newstands in 1997 sporting probably their most outrageous strip to date. Predominantly yellow the badgeless shirt featured a huge star with natty red trim on the sleeves. The shorts were yellow and the socks a classy hooped affair. As Roy’s adventures were now incorporated into Match of the Day magazine it was perhaps no surprise that the MOTD logo appeared on the shirts. For the 2007–2008 season a new classic Rovers kit was introduced along with arguably the club’s most high-profile sponsor yet – fast food giants McDonalds. It was also the first time a shirt sponsor’s corporate colours matched those of the Rovers perfectly. The shirt, which also incorporated a new badge, featured a dashing V design and the socks utilised an interesting zig-zag trim. The away was a stylish white and red incarnation. Another curious Roy of the Rovers moment in 1999 saw Roy introduce a special European kit in an attempt to raise transfer funds. This all white kit was a great design with horizontal red and yellow bands and Umbro-like diamonds on the sleeve and socks.
Readers last saw the famous Melchester Rovers in 2001 wearing the ‘V’ kit. Roy of the Rovers seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival so hopefully a relaunch may not be far away and if it does happen it will be interesting to see what combination of red and yellow kit accompanies it…