Josser Watling

Jun 4, 2023 | News


11th May 1925 – 3rd June 2023

How sad it is to learn of the passing of former Bristol Rovers player John ‘Josser’ Watling, the last surviving link with the glorious Rovers side of the 1950’s.

Born in Bristol on 11th May 1925, ‘Josser’ served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and survived being on a boat sunk by Nazi warships off the Russian coast.

‘Josser’ who had been in hospital after suffering a broken hip in a fall at home before Christmas, signed for Rovers in October 1945 and joined the professional ranks in January 1947 and made his league debut for the club in a local derby, against Bristol City, on Valentine’s Day 1948.

Rovers lost 5-2 at Ashton Gate on that occasion, but it was the first of 323 league games he appeared in for Rovers, his only league club. There were also 19 league goals, the first of which was scored against City in a 3-0 win at Eastville in September 1948.

Initially a deceptively quick left winger, he was converted to left back during the latter part of his career and he skippered the side for four years until his retirement, in 1962.

Not just a talented footballer, ‘Josser’ was a real character among a team made up, predominantly, of local players who formed a close knit group in an era before the abolition of the maximum wage, before substitutes were even thought of and when players seldom moved to other clubs.

A natural comedian and entertainer, there are many photos of ‘Josser’ playing the piano with his team mates gathered around him. He admitted to naming Alfie Biggs ‘The Baron’ due to the striker’s dress sense, and he was proud to have represented the club in 15 consecutive seasons.

The 288th player to represent the club in the Football League, he ran a fruit shop for four years following his retirement, and then worked for many years as a storekeeper at Glenside Hospital. He also had a road named after him, Watling Way in Shirehampton.

He was a regular at Rovers home games when I first met him always accompanied by his great friend, and another former Rovers player, Bill Roost. He always had time for a chat and had a fund of stories from his navy days and his time as a Rovers player.

Although he appeared in only five games during the 1952/53 promotion season ‘Josser’ played in both FA Cup quarter finals for the club in the 1950’s, against Newcastle United in 1951 and against Fulham in 1958. He also played in the first ever League Cup tie, between Rovers and Fulham, in 1960

So many supporters will have had the pleasure of meeting him and they will be mourning his loss today, as will his close family and friends to whom we send our sincerer condolences.