Andy Robinson looks back with fondness to a comic strip about a boy and his magical boots that ran for nearly forty years.
One of the things in Life I am most grateful for is to be born exactly when I was – 1961. Think about it. I was 15 going on 16 when the first singles by “The Clash” and “The Damned” came out. A bit later on at 19 I was still able to get a free University Education, or in my case a Poly –remember them? But all that pales into insignificance to the boyhood I had at the tail end of the Sixties and the early Seventies. The first colour televisions, cubs and scouts, Subbuteo and I also had the privilege of being part of the last generation that grew up by playing football in the street. No “Championship Manager” or “FIFA” whatever it’s called back then. What we had was far more special. We lived with an orange “Wembley special” at our feet and revelled in the Golden Age of the comic. Believe me, I have just had a wander around WH Smiths and seen the garbage that they try and fob off on the young these days as part of my research.
The best of all these comics was “Scorcher” and the best story in it was “Billy’s Boots”.
Billy Dane lived with his Gran. None of the readers knew the reason for this as no mention was ever made in the story about what happened to his parents. Billy lived for football but wasn’t any good at it until one day when Gran was clearing out the loft she came across a pair of old boots that had belonged to famous ex-international Jimmy “Dead Shot” Keen. As soon as Billy started to play in Dead Shot’s Boots he was magically transformed into a wonderfully talented player. Not only did he become the sort of striker that Andy Carroll can only dream of becoming, the boots would also mystically and magically lead him into being in the right place at the right time without Billy realising what was actually going on.
The story ran in various magazines for 36 years and first appeared on 10 January 1970. In the same way that soaps work for women it used to run around on a loop in a similar fashion. You know , where Peter will sleep with Leanne but want to sleep with Carla and where Steve stroke Dev stroke Kevin find their business on the verge of bankruptcy. Our loops though were cool, especially at the age of 10. School bullies – normally the centre-half in the team – picked on someone whom Billy had befriended or a sick aunt needed help from Gran meaning a change of school was necessitated and we would find Billy once again having to look for another team to play for. The best and most common of the loops though and for what the story came to be best remembered for was the losing of the magical boots.
Usually at Christmas time or around his birthday, for arguments sake we shall call that 20th September, Gran would nip into “Wards” or “Whites” – sports shops had proper names in those days and weren’t the branded mega monstrosities we have today – and buy Billy a brand spanking new, shiny, kick-arse pair of Adidas or Puma and throw the aforementioned magical boots into the Bin. This of course always happened on a Monday when the bin men came and always with Billy about to appear in a trial for the town district side or possibly even Southern Schoolboys. In his shop bought Adidas Samba Billy of course goes out and performs like Fernando Torres after a £50M transfer and the week after we find him desolate and back to begging the vicar for a game with the Church Youth Club Second Eleven.
Billy could lose his boots in a variety of ways. A good back up to the bin man story was the jumble sale one. This was where Gran would take them in and Billy would race down to the church hall faster than Theo Walcott. Invariably though nobody with any sense of style would touch them and a grateful and thankful Billy – magic boots safely tucked into his kit bag – would return home to a peaceful night’s sleep without having to worry about ever wearing the dreaded Samba’s again.
Another one of the great storylines was the visit to the cobblers. Billy had to visit these relics from the past often for much needed repair to the boots–hardly surprisingly seeing as they were 40 years old that from time to time Billy’s boots would split and require tender, loving care from a specialist. What was unusual though was for the cobbler to have a widely known collection of Sovereigns and just for one night only keep them (with the boots) in Billy’s kit bag. After the inevitable “break in” and the ensuing chaos and terror for an episode or two a kindly policeman would step in, catch the thieves and help Billy go and find the boots usually in a little stream on the edge of town. Backtracking a little bit, remember “T***ty” the school bully/centre-half? Well he too could nick the boots and showing off to his mates he would then proceed to launch them off a bridge into water and we always seemed to get a lot of stray dogs that would come to the rescue and fish them out.
The story was written by Fred Baker and artist John Gillatt and later continued by Mike Western and in 1974 my lovely “Scorcher” merged with “Tiger” where they had racing drivers and a wrestler. It then merged with “Eagle” and later Billy went on a “Bosman” to “Roy of the Rovers” with short cameos at “Total Football” and “Striker” magazine. In the Dutch version, Billy grows up and eventually turns professional and I’m happy with that. Not as good though as one of the best days in my young life when Billy finally gets to play for England Schoolboys.
Maybe being just nine when it all began and Billy being a permanent 13 or 14 year old, I had someone to look up to. The older brother I never had. When I very rarely and unjustly didn’t make the school team (and it was unjust: I played until the age of 33 and only one out of that useless bunch did) I found solace in him. It wasn’t just the football though. With no siblings of his own or permenancy in his real life – even parade ground kids didn’t change Schools as much as Billy – he would often be drawn to the weaker kids at whichever school he turned up in and the kid had a grace and a style about him and a genuine kindness.
As you go through life you meet people at every turn who influence your behavior and taste and personal and professional development and interests and lifestyle. Then suddenly one day you find, like I have, that it’s now me doing the influencing. The last couple of days though doing this piece have convinced me that Billy Dane, real or not, was my first lifestyle coach and this love of the underdog and love of football are two things that certainly go a long way to defining me.