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The Quarantine Selection – Full Backs 14/05/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Episode Two in a series of Some, doing the fashionable retrospective thing in the absence of foootball now to talk about.  Commemorating 40 years watching the ‘orns, here my ten favourite full-backs over that period.  Not best, necessarily, though maybe that too, but Favourite.

As soon as you move away from goalkeepers of course you start having to classify players as being predominantly one position or another.  This I’ve made executive decisions on;  any quibbles can be addressed to my co-editor.  Once again, there’s a quiz at the end.

10- James Chambers

9- Marco Cassetti

8- Daniel Pudil

7- Daryl Janmaat

6- Jose Holebas

Chambers.  Did A Job wherever we put him;  honest, quick, likeable.  A trooper.  Cassetti… suave, classy, humble.  Compare and contrast with Patrick Blondeau, say, a full-back of similar pedigree who doesn’t make the list.  Pudil… did tend to get caught behind, did pick up a few bookings…. one of the first “mercenaries” was anything but.  A sound guy.  Janmaat…  a single-minded full-back, perhaps one of few whose form held up in the early weeks of this season before his injury. His rhino-goals, particularly against Chelsea for some reason, have been fun but always come when the chips are down.  A leader.  Holebas.  Cult hero… always on the edge of losing his rag, terrifyingly aggressive, huge fun.

5- Wilf Rostron

I went on holiday with a load of Villa fans in the early nineties.  I didn’t know half of them beforehand, but as soon as my loyalties were none one guy was waxing lyrical about Wilf.  Not for reason of any memorable goal against the Blues.  Just because Wilf was great. Thinking about it this would only have been four years after Wilf left Watford, but then time did move more slowly in those days.

Rostron joined the Hornets as a midfielder, but was famously tried out as a left back as John Barnes’ emergence made it clear that left wing chances were going to be limited.  He was tremendous, dogged at the back and a threat up front.  I remember Rochdale’s manager being quoted after a League Cup game about how they’d had to “try to sort out their Wilf Rostron problem”.  Which sums it up.  He must have been a pain in the arse for opponents at both ends of the pitch for the best part of a decade.

4- Paul Robinson

Robbo was also a pain in the arse for opponents, but in a more literal sense.  The foremost of the fearless booterers of the period (TM: Look at the Stars) he was a kid who’d always dreamt of being a left back, never wanted to be anything else than a left back, may have been genetically engineered to be a left back. His emergence coincided with my little sister’s most concerted and focused period of supporting the ‘orns, and he was always a favourite.  “He’s just so passionate….”.  Him scoring with a tackle against Wimbledon was one highlight, his charge upfield to try out being a poacher for a few minutes against Charlton was another.  When he left I was absolutely gutted.  Goalscorers, even talented midfielders, perhaps even goalkeepers you accept will one day move on to better things.  They are eye-catching.  Robbo should have stayed at Watford for ever.

3- David Bardsley

Yes, I know there’s a prevalence of mid-eighties players in here.  Sue me.  David Bardsley was bloody great.  He never smiled.  He was stupid quick. He had long hair which made him look even quicker.  He played right-back in the Cup Final aged 19 having been signed from Blackpool that season…  this is us, Watford, now a top flight club and seemingly invincible signing right backs from Blackpool.  He had to be good.  He was good.  He played elsewhere too… occasionally in midfield, often on the wing.  Ask Kenny Sansom. When Bassett came in and took a hatchet to the side… this was the one that hurt most.  Barnes was always going, Hill was a disappointment having had such a build up, Richardson was criminally stupid, dropping Coton bizarre.  But selling David Bardsley was unforgivable.  He later played for England under GT.  Still not smiling.  Probably.  And he earned his Watford debut in the same week as the next man up, which is just ludicrous.

2- Nigel Gibbs

It wasn’t half a difficult choice between the top two.  I made a call in the end, almost on the toss of a coin.  But both were magnificent, spanning well over 32 years of Watford history between them.

Gibbo was remarkable.  He debuted in the UEFA Cup in 1983, was a first team regular eighteen months later whilst still a teenager and was a major part of both the first golden spell in the top flight and the insane charge up the divisions in the late nineties.  For almost 20 years from his debut he was just there, a solid, unflappable, reliable presence at right-back.  Sometimes he played badly but he never played stupid, and the odd goal, once every hundred games or so, was lamped in from about 25 yards, an essential full-back trope that the likes of Robbo and Bardsley never quite mastered.

There’s other stuff, too.  The years spent as a coach and assistant to the excellent Ray Lewington.  The spells out of the game injured when it really looked as if his Watford career was up but after which he fought back, unfussily, unflashily.  Doing his job.

When he signed for the club, Peter Davison was Doctor Who.  When he left, criminally discarded in the vanity of the Boothroyd administration, David Tennant was manning the tardis.  Gibbo regenerated a few times in the interim too, but remains a bona fide Watford legend.

1- Lloyd Doyley

Lloydy edges it.  He wasn’t as good a footballer as Gibbo.  He didn’t play as many games, play for us for as long.  Never won the FA Youth Cup, never played for the England U21s.

But he made the most of everything he had, and then some.  He was rejected many, many times.  Written off.  But came back fighting… not angry, not sulky.  Just putting a shift in.  There were criticisms of his attacking capabilities, of his distribution… but none of his defending.  He was an absolute limpet, and when circumstances meant that he was asked to do a man-marking job he’d just throw a blanket over the guy and quietly, politely, apologetically, club him out of consideration.  Jason Roberts, that’s you that is.

And the goal.  Obviously the goal.  Never has there been a more popular goal at Vicarage Road.  Significant yes, obviously.  Popular, no.  Never one greeted with so many wide grins.  Grins, rather than exaltation, even if it was QPR.

His Watford career ended as it began.  As a bit part player, now in an increasingly talented squad.  Still doing his bit.  Still digging in.  Still setting an example.  Still a top man.  Legend.


That’s that, then. Once more…  here’s a little quiz.  Every full back to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80…  to reiterate, I get to decide who’s a full back and who isn’t .  Full backs to have appeared in friendlies only are hidden bonus answers – can’t promise that this is exhaustive unfortunately.

Full Backs Quiz


1. John Ford - 14/05/2020

THAT Doyley goal…
Met up with QPR friends afterwards, totally bemused at the wild celebrations. Some things just can’t be explained to the inhabitants of another universe…

2. Anders - 14/05/2020

No love for Dom Ludden? (Excellent album title)

Matt Rowson - 15/05/2020

Ha. No.

3. Tadcaster Hornet - 16/05/2020

Alan Cozzi’s photo of Lloyd and a Mr C Ronaldo on the club website this week demonstrates why we all love him.

4. John - 16/05/2020

Matt, thanks as always! Second only to actual games that I miss most during lockdown are your match reports, so these are manna from heaven!

5. James - 17/05/2020

Steve Palmer’s in the goalkeeping quiz but not in the fullback one!

Matt Rowson - 05/06/2020

Ha. Top pedantry, good work. Though did he ever play at full back? Or merely wear the no 2 / no 3?

6. Old Git - 17/05/2020

Great to have you back Matt! And thanks for providing us with your usual thoughtful and enjoyable words to fill these bemusing weeks.

As you are something of a Johnny-come-lately to Vicarage Road, you won’t have witnessed the great Duncan ‘Chopper’ Welbourne in action. He made Robbo look like a bit of a softy and us geriatrics were saddened at news of his death last year. And indeed, his full-back partner in the great Furphy side of the late 60s and early70s, Johnny Williams will also be recalled with much fondness by those of us who lived through those times and whose memories are still vaguely functioning.

As for keepers, Bert Slater might be best remembered for a horrific own goal at home to Liverpool in the League Cup that gifted Bill Shankly’s team a 2-1 win but his career before joining Watford was quite amazing and shows how football has changed so much. It is well told on the Dundee website so do check it out.

Looking forwards to the centre-halves!

Matt Rowson - 17/05/2020

Thanks OG. You’re right, of course, I never saw Chopper but know of his legend from my Dad…

7. Stephen Hoffman - 19/05/2020

Great piece. Does Anya count as a full back?

Matt Rowson - 19/05/2020

No I don’t think so. He was wing back more plausibly but like Peter Kennedy he was a midfielder rather than a defender

8. Peter R - 25/05/2020

Great read as always

9. Harefield Hornet - 28/05/2020

Was a bit surprised Lloydy ended up as top dog before you reminded us of that goal! I also sat near a bloke for years who slaughtered him all the time for some reason. You’re right – there’s probably been better technically gifted but none that can match his application.

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