The First Gentleman of Bristol Soccer

The following is our article for the BRFC Official match day programme vs MK Dons – 28th October 2017

The official Bristol Rovers Former Players Association (BRFPA) doesn’t just promote the history and heritage of BRFC and foster the spirit of fellowship, sportsmanship and goodwill among former players and supporters.  We will also help ex-players and ex-team staff in practical and financial ways when necessary, and for that to be possible we need to fundraise.  Keep up to date with our efforts via our web site – http://www.brfpa.org.uk

At the Oxford United home game the BRFPA were joined by three sprightly Pirates from yesteryear, Joe Davis, Harold Jarman and John ‘Josser’ Watling, who were brought together for the launch of a new book entitled, ‘Harry Bamford – Bristol Rovers’ First Gentleman of Football’.  The Pirate trio share over 1,000 Rovers appearances between them, and if Harry was still here it would have made it over 1,500 in the room!

The book not only tells the life, and heartbreaking death, of Rovers’ quiet full back Harry, but also records the history of the Memorial Trophy which bears his name and was awarded yearly from 1959 to local football players who had shown a spirit of gentlemanly conduct and fair play.  When announcing his death the newspapers called him the “first gentleman of Bristol soccer”.

It was not a partisan award and was awarded to greats on both sides of the Avon, including John Atyeo and Ray Mabbutt.  It disappeared in 1973 and was assumed to have been lost forever in the Eastville fire in 1980, but it was remarkably found in a dusty box at the Memorial Stadium in 2014!

To make up for lost time 40 sportsmen were awarded the trophy in retrospect, all who, had it still been going, would have won it, with 13 nominations to Rovers (including Gary Mabbutt, Stuart Taylor, Geoff Twentyman and Steve Yates), 13 to City and the other 14 to local club players.

Joe Davis boasted 232 appearances and six goals for Rovers (1960-67), with only his final ever strike not coming from the penalty spot.  Later, Joe became a scout and youth coach for Rovers, helping find and develop the likes of Ian Holloway, Gary Penrice, Paul Randall and Steve White.

Harold Jarman hardly needs any introduction to Pirates who will remember the ghostly chant of ’Harold, Harold!’ reverberating around Eastville, but some younger Gasheads may not realise that Harold entertained packed crowds for 14 years (1959-73), scoring a staggering 143 goals during 515 matches; an incredible amount for a winger.  Overall he made the third highest amount of senior appearances in Rovers’ history and scored the third highest amount of goals, beaten only by Geoff Bradford and Alfie Biggs.

At 92 years of age, Josser Watling (1947-62), is believed to be the oldest surviving former Rovers player and has surely got to be one of the only local sportspeople to have a road named after him; Watling Way in Shirehampton.  Josser made 354 appearances, and decades before Ian ‘Jocky’ Alexander was a fine example of a winger converted to a full back; a poacher turned gamekeeper, well versed in the secret art of wing play and therefore knowing how to stop it!

And finally an important date for your diary – The Annual Former Players Dinner 2018 will be held at the Mem on Thursday 26th April.

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