Saturday, 12 July 2014

England's OTHER World Cup Glory

Remember when England won the World Cup. No, not 1966. And not 1982 when Roy of the Rovers won it.

This was 1986 and our national hero was Ball Boy.
Created in 1975 by Malcolm Judge (also creator of Billy Whizz) and drawn by him until his death in 1989, Ball Boy is the captain of a five-a-side football team, usually noted for being the underdogs. Several other artists have taken on the strip since, currently it's Alexander Matthews.

The team itself was meant to consist of various character types but they all sort-of become background cyphers, reacting to the star. It is worth pointing out that one of the team members, Benjy, was black, which was a rare thing to see in comics of the time. Or indeed now.

In 1986 Ball Boy starred in an extended adventure in the bi-monthly spin-off Beano Comic Library, a small-format digest spotlighting particular characters. Now, because these were 66-page stories being produced at the same time as the regular Beano (there was also Dandy Comic Libraries running concurrently) they tended to be written and drawn by artist b-teams or the semi-retired. I do not know who is responsible for Comic Library no. 101 but it mostly seems to have been done in a hurry.
So let's crack on with "Ball-Boy: Junior World Cup". I'll be honest, that hyphen in his name already bothers me. He is not Spider-Man.
The story kicks off (ha!) at the semi-final of the titular cup. We do not know how they got here.
We do not know whom they are playing.
But an arse-based rebound puts them in the final!
Huh?! OFF to Mexico? Yes, it seems the semi-finals of the JUNIOR World Cup 1986 was held in the UK but for the final the have to travel to Mexico. Now, as I've said before, I'm no expert on football but I don't think that's how international tournaments are played. I don't even understand how Ball Boy's team ended up representing their country.

Anyhow, BB's so excited he's put his hand through the border!
They travel BY BOAT to Mexico, theoretically to give them time to practice while they travel. Instead of, y'know, getting there quicker and practicing on land.

This tactic is not without its problems.

The Captain gets so fed up with the disruptions that he calls for a helicopter.
And the team are removed, getting a free flight to Mexico. Doesn't look so stupid now, huh?

On arrival they see the stadium in which they will play the final.
Now, usually, I enjoy crowbarring in a reference to Doctor Who somewhere in this blog. Sometimes it's (ahem) an open goal.
And then, 25 pages in, we meet a new character.
He's the wise old man archetype of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. There to give advice and encouragement, maybe he'll die a significant death protecting Ball Boy. Maybe he'll return as Gerry the White or some blue ghost. Maybe I'm over-thinking.
Actually looks very good for a ninety-nine-year-old.
Montage! Gerry trains them up, as they have apparently got all the way to the final with no coach. But then...
34 pages in and we are introduced to the antagonist. Somewhere, Robert McKee shakes his head. Yes, it's the manager of "their opposing team", who appears to be... Mexican, I guess? So they have home turf advantage?

Also, yes, his name is basically "Greasy Dago". Clarkson would be proud.
Diego seems so sure of his team's failure that he full-on tries to murder BB's team. First by runaway steamroller....
Then by lion! He seems very well connected and creative.

Gerry saves them from both those threats, cos he's actually pretty awesome by this point.

Then after two amazing death traps, they end up in a booby-trapped revolving door, from which, again, Gerry saves them.
Interathletico! That's their name! We're on page 44 but eventually we were told against whom they were playing! We still don't know Ball Boy's team, mind.

Anyway, their confidence shattered (especially after seeing Interathletico practicing), it's time for something special.
Gerry has contacts. He brings out the best players in the world to coach them.

What follows is six full-page caricatures of footballers of the day. Presented in full for those fans of 1980s football:

 It's worth pointing out here that 1986 saw the "hand of God" incident at the "real" World Cup.

These legends then give our boys all the advice they could need.

So cometh the hour, the boys are ready.
However the two teams are too evenly matched...
We need inspiration.
Use the force! Don't disappoint an old man!
Hoorah! Again! Let's see that cup in English hands!
That's right! He was lying! He's been dead all along! He was actually a figment of Ball Boy's imagination, brought upon by a brain tumour! Oh how we laughed!

Okay, what is it really?
Ha ha ha ha h.... Wait, what? That's the "joke" you're choosing to end on?

Well, it's an ending. I guess.

(Plays Police Squad theme)


  1. <openmouthed astonishment>greasy dago</openmouthed astonishment>

  2. No it is greasy Diego. Diego is a Latin name. No drama.