As arses go, Willis was a rather big one. First though, let's go back a few
years. I went to school in Friern Barnet, North London (Mrs T. was the MP
for the area!) so as you can imagine, most of the my mates were Spurs or
Stuck in the middle was me and my best mate Paul, who was a Forest fan.
We used to go and watch a match most weeks (it was when even Spurs
was affordable) and I even managed to see Spurs put four past Luton! Paul
always felt a bit left out - his fault for supporting a northern team!
One season, the local non-leage club, Barnet, decided to go and get
promotion to the league. With the ever-lovable Barry Fry as manager they were actually quite
good so we decided to check them out. In goal was the erratic Gary Phillips
(if I remember rightly, replaced by Andy Pape bought from deadly rivals
Enfield). Midfield included Derek Payne (yes, that one!), Carl Hoddle
(brother of Glenn, but not as good) and Mark Carter. The front two were Gary
Bull (cousin of Steve) and Roger 'Harry' Willis.
At this level, Willis shone. Calm and collected on the ball, he could play
in attack and also in midfield. He got his fair share of goals and always
looked like a useful player. His partnership with Bull was strong and they almost
won promotion during their first league season (their second season was the
one where Fry and chairman Stan Flashman went to war).
So, when it was announced that Steve Perryman had signed Willis, I was very
pleased. Here was a player who had proved himself in the lower leagues and
I was sure he would work well with Furlong, Charlery or Nogan.
However, I think he was doomed from the start. I remember Fry being interviewed on the TV and
saying that the fee for Willis would rise depending on appearances, goals,
etc.... This probably didn't help as the expectation was there for him to perform.
Also he never seemed to be able to gel with any of our forward players. He
tried harder than Charlery, but the game always seemed to pass him by. There was
also the cruel reality that he just didn't have the skill level to fit into Division One.
Even the bad WFC players over the years have had one game that they made a
telling contribution in. I don't think Harry ever managed this. In Trefor Jones's
book, it says that he got two goals for us. Thing is, I can't remeber who they were against or anything about them!
I think that sums him up. He was there (for thirty games) but I don't think
he ever did anything. After we sold him, he followed Fry to Brum and
Southend and he scored against us when we beat Birmingham 5-2. I also remember him
scoring against us for Chesterfield (flukey back header), but I still can't
remember his goals for us....
Saturday 3rd April 1993. Watford v Luton Town, the Hatters' first visit to the Vic
since their drop from the top flight.
It's 0-0 and it's been a truly dreadful game. We're into the last five minutes,
no prospect of a winner. Then, from nowhere, Watford break down the right wing. The
cross comes in, Harry Willis is unmarked. He must score.
A wibbly-wobbly televisual effect announces the suspension of reality as Willis looks
into the future. He has a choice. He can score, stealing the derby day glory for the Hornets
and banishing the memories of a mud-caked defeat at Kenilworth Road a few months earlier. Or he can miss, condemning those fans standing on the Vic Road terrace to another four and a half years
of Luton-inflicted misery.
He remembers the marketing department and that he owes them one after disappointing sales of his "Harry Willis: I'm A Footballer, Not A Movie Star" autobiography. This tips the balance. Somehow, "Five And A Half Years And It Wasn't Particularly
Worth The Wait To Be Quite Frank" doesn't have that sparkle about it. He
thinks of all the commemorative t-shirts and videos and tattoos the club won't be able to sell if
they beat Luton too soon.
And so he misses, heading the ball at the keeper. The Watford fans wail in pain, unaware
that it'll get worse before it gets better. Harry Willis' chance of stardom is gone, sacrificed for a greater cause. Up
in the stand, the marketing men nod solemnly, turn and walk away....