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Hall of Fame: Josser Watling

Article features some information sourced by the Bristol Rovers History Group

30 April 2021

Josser Watling becomes the tenth and final initial inductee to the Bristol Rovers Hall of Fame in partnership with the Retro Rovers Podcast!

Any player who makes their debut amidst the heat of a Bristol derby, and then notches his first Rovers goal against the Gas' neighbours will always be well-regarded by the Rovers faithful.

Watling, a fast and effective, raiding winger brightened the atmosphere of Rovers’ predominantly Bristol-born changing-room during the immediate post-war era, while lighting up the pitch with his trickery and misdirection.

Popular and enigmatic on and off the field, he played for Rovers in fifteen consecutive League campaigns, proving an essential ingredient in the club’s success through his exciting wing play, his staunch defending when employed as a left-back, and his hilarious antics off the field. As we moved into the twenty-first century, he became the oldest former Rovers footballer alive.

The third of four children, Watling survived being on a boat sunk by Nazi warships off the Russian coast during the Second World War and joined Rovers on the strength of his performances for the Gloucestershire county side.

Watling's style of play had the crowd on their feet as he supplied crosses for the potent strike force of Vic Lambden and a young Geoff Bradford. He only scored a brace on one occasion in a League fixture, as Rovers defeated Port Vale 4-1 on Easter Saturday 1949. His shimmy deceived countless opponents both in third-tier football and in Division Two. Watling’s five appearances during the 1952-53 promotion campaign were sadly insufficient to warrant the receipt of a championship medal.

A constructive left-back at the tail end of his career, he captained the side for four years up to his retirement in 1962 and was credited with giving Alfie Biggs the pseudonym 'The Baron'.

After running a fruit shop for four years, Watling worked from 1966 as a storekeeper at Glenside Hospital and continues to live in Bristol, where he had the honour of having a road named after him, Watling Way in Shirehampton.

In January 2014, by then the sole survivor of Rovers’ 1952-53 side, he won £716 on Rovers’ Supporters’ Club 50/50 half-time draw, receiving his winnings on the Memorial Stadium pitch to applause from the Gas faithful.

As part of the Hall of Fame project, we are looking to hear from the fortunate Gashead's who witnessed Watling's playing days, or those who had stories passed on of his quality. In these difficult lockdown times, we encourage supporters to pick up the phone, or zoom call family members to discuss his legacy.

Please screen record these chats and send them on to alexslater@bristolrovers.co.uk, these will form part of videos to be used on social media and the big screen when Josser and his family can attend a game after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

As mentioned in the initial Hall of Fame announcement, artist 'Tonz' will be creating unique artwork for each of the 10 initial inductees which will decorate the Thatchers Bar as a permanent reminder of the Hall of Famer's legacy.

Finally, we would like to remind supporters this selection is initial, those not selected stand plenty of chance to be included in the future, please respect the carefully considered selections from the Retro Rovers Podcast panel. 

As the 10th inductee, Watling serves as a superb conclusion to the initial 10 inductees to the Hall of Fame, from here on, three inductees will be named at the conclusion of each season, these will come from a variety of generations, scattered across the Gas' rich history.

On selecting Watling as the 10th inductee, the Retro Rovers Podcast said, "Yet another stalwart of the club’s Golden Era. Josser was the ultimate team-mate. Over 18 consecutive seasons he represented his club, and his city, with boundless enthusiasm. The RetroRovers Podcast Team are delighted to have unanimously selected him to The Bristol Rovers Hall Of Fame."


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