By Keith Brookman
John Daniel Watling, always known as ‘Josser’, is, as far as we know, the club’s oldest living player.
Born on 11th May 1925, we are proud to say that the 93 year old is a member of the Bristol Rovers Former Players Association and a very sprightly one at that.
A regular at most home games, he is clearly more than just an ex player, he’s a fan as well and was a Gashead long before the term was used and adopted by Rovers supporters.
I’ve met ‘Josser’ on a few occasions but have to say that for the purpose of these notes I am relying heavily on the words of Mike Jay and Stephen Byrne used in their ‘Bristol Rovers Players Who’s Who.’
‘He 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.’
Rovers were ‘Josser’s’ only professional club and he turned professional in January 1947 but had to wait almost a year to make his debut which eventually came on Valentine’s Day 1948, against Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
Some game in which to make your debut! A crowd of 25,908 saw City win 5-2 that day but for ‘Josser’ it was the start of a run of 15 consecutive seasons in which he pulled on the blue and white quarters.
He was, according to Messrs Byrne and Jay; ‘A fast and effective raiding winger who had the crowd on their feet and supplied crosses for the potent strikeforce of Vic Lambden and a young Geoff Bradford. His shimmy deceived countless opponents both in third tier football and Division Two.
‘He made only five appearances in the 1952/53 promotion campaign not enough for him to receive a championship medal. A constructive left back at the tail end of his career, he captained the side for four years until his retirement in 1962.’
His Rovers career took in 323 league appearances and 19 goals and when he finally did hang up his boots he ran a fruit shop and then worked as a storeman at Glenside Hospital.
He’s one of two former players that we know of who has a road named after him in Bristol (George Petherbridge is the other).
The dressing room comedian/entertainer whilst he was at Eastville, not to mention musician; he played the piano and there are photos from the 1950’s showing him entertaining team mates.
He has a fund of stories to tell from those halcyon days at Eastville, including the fact that it was him who nicknamed Alfie Biggs ‘The Baron’; shame that no one has ever thought of writing a book about him!