Football crazy, football mad: how the legendary Ken Reid played a ‘Scorcher’ for soccer comics

Collecting silly scores and chucklesome kick-offs for the first time, the Ken Reid’s Football Funnies hardcover brings together football-themed stories from the imagination of one of Britain’s greatest cartoonists.

In the first of his regular looks at classic British comics and the Treasury archive, the self-confessed non-sporty editor and publisher David McDonald takes a look at Ken Reid’s legacy on groundbreaking football comic, Scorcher, and speaks to a former editor about his experience of working with the legendary cartoonist.

I was never a big fan of football. 

That didn’t stop me from reading football comics though! Roy of the Rovers and Tiger were firmly on the comic reading schedule.  The boardroom drama soap opera and the Club v Country strife was more than enough to keep me engrossed every week. 

Football comics employed a style of storytelling more akin to Girl’s comics with a continuous open narrative rather than the mega epics of Dredd and story arcs of Charley’s War. Hot Shot Hamish and of course Roy were great, but my favourite was Billy’s Boot’s, the idea of being a bit rubbish at football (i.e. me!) and being able to put on a pair of boots and play like a pro was very appealing! 

From my experience, football comics were far more acceptable in the classroom in the eighties than other comics, which were often seen as childish. Football had a cross generational appeal and acceptance that trickled down to Roy of the Rovers and Tiger. When the opportunity to acquire a complete collection of Scorcher comics from the early seventies came up a few years ago, I snapped them up, and I was glad I did.

The popularity of football in Britain was at an all-time high in the late sixties.  England winning the World Cup in 1966, Celtic winning the European cup in 1967 and Manchester United doing the same in 1968 prompted IPC to launch Shoot! magazine. It proved to be a huge success.

Spurred on by this success, IPC management wanted to replicate Shoot! but be aimed at a younger reader. Editor David Hunt was promoted from the ranks of Tiger comic to prepare the new launch. Hunt, being a huge football fan, was an obvious advantage in developing this new title.  He was assisted with creating new stories by Valiant’s Editor Sid Bicknell and Script Editor Ken Mennell,  and soon after Scorcher comic was born. 

Scorcher was a brand-new type of comic, with its focus firmly on football.  Comics like Lion, Valiant and Knock-Out were all mixed adventure titles, they had genres as diverse as Westerns and Sci-Fi – it was a ‘catch all’ strategy.  Most of the comics’ contents should, in theory, be of interest to most kids. 

Scorcher went firmly after fans of football, mixing football stories with features on players and clubs, and it worked.  Scorcher had a respectable 5 year run between 1970 and 1975. It could be argued that Scorcher paved the way for the launch of Battle and 2000 AD later in the decade, proving that single genre comics worked. 

Scorcher introduced the long-running and hugely successful Billy’s Boots and Hot Shot Hamish, both of which survived the mergers with Tiger and Roy of the Rovers. Billy’s Boots also appeared in Eagle, before getting a free transfer to Roy of the Rovers. Other popular strips include Bobby of the Blues, Nipper and Lags Eleven. 

While all these were memorable and enjoyable yarns, the big surprise reading the aforementioned collection that was now in my possession, was finding the single page Ken Reid drawn strip, Sub. Going through the rest of the comics and realising it wasn’t the only strip that Reid drew for Scorcher was a revelation!  The strips he drew include Football Forum, Manager Matt, Hugh Fowler, The Soccer-Noughts, The Soccer Spooks, Jimmy Jinks and the The Triptoe Tryer’s

Ken Reid is one of the most unique and celebrated British comic artists. His slick inking and ability to draw grotesque characters gave him an instantly recognisable style.  Readers of Buster in the seventies and eighties grew up with Ricky Rubberneck’s  AKA Faceache misadventures, as well as Martha’s Marvellous Makeup and Tom Horror’s World. 

However, it is his sixties material from Odhams comics that is probably considered his best. Characters like Frankie Stein, Queen of the Seas, Jasper the Grasper, Dave-A-Day-Davy were drawn by Reid at his creative peak in the sixties.  Before working for Odhams he worked for Scottish publisher, DC Thomson creating, among others, Roger the Dodger and Jonah. 

Reid worked on eight different strips in Scorcher over a five-year period. Relatively unknown, these strips are a treasure trove of Reid artwork and serve as a ‘missing link’ between his wild work on Odhams titles and his later (relatively!) restrained work on IPC titles like Buster. Editor David Hunt recalls working with Reid on the football strips:

“Ken Reid was a marvellous contributor to have on board. I think he would admit that he was sometimes as ‘mad’ as some of the characters he created, and he was always great to talk with whenever I phoned him because he could certainly make me laugh. He wasn’t a football man at heart, but he was so talented that no one subject ever phased him. The Sub story he created for Scorcher was a masterpiece.

“I like to think that we also gelled as friends whilst he was working for me on the Scorcher title.  Ken was such a talent and his work so enjoyed by my readers, it was important that we kept on coming up with fresh ideas and characters for him to develop and keep him interested in the football related themes. I’m certain that Ken himself used his own genius with the majority of the ideas for new storylines, but at the time I hope there was a little bit of input from me as well. Whatever, my editorial and art team loved him to bits and he truly was a delight to work with.”

The Treasury of British Comic’s new book “Ken Reid’s Football Funnies: The First half” does exactly that, collecting half of Reid’s work on Scorcher, 144 pages of farcical football fiction from the brush of the inimitable Ken Reid.

So, don’t score an own goal, put on your scarf and rosette, dig out that old rattle clacker and order Football Funnies today!

With thanks to David Hunt.

David McDonald is the publisher of Hibernia Comics and editor of Hibernia’s collections of classic British comics, titles include The Tower King, Doomlord, The Angry Planet and The Indestructible Man. He is also the author of the Comic Archive series exploring British comics through interviews and articles. Hibernia’s titles can be bought here Follow him on Twitter @hiberniabooks and Facebook @HiberniaComics

Ken Reid’s Football Funnies is available now from all good book and comic book stores and online retailers, the Treasury of British Comics webshop in hardcover, and digital, and in digital from the 2000 AD app.

All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rebellion, its owners, or its employees.