"Leading by example"
By Tim Tweddell
A man condemned to be remembered because he missed out on a Cup Final
thanks to an appalling referee's decision at Kenilworth Road, so bad
that even the Luton players demanded to a deaf Roger Milford that he
re-consider his decision? Not a bit of it!
Wilf was an integral part of the best Watford team ever assembled, one
which was later torn asunder by the worst manager ever to be allowed
to set foot in Vicarage Road. Looking at the programme in those days,
you skipped over the number three position because you knew it would
be filled by "Rostron. W." And filled it was.
Wilf wasn't a tall man, although he once played centre-back against
Liverpool (and we won 2-0, so he can't have been bad), but he was fast,
skilful and determined. A man who led by example.
Defensively, he was the perfect foil for the "dour" Kenny Jackett, who
was a fixture on the left side of the midfield. They could almost read
one another's minds. Wilf would force the winger out wide, trying to
time the tackle with his trusty left leg - the right was for standing on -
while Kenny dropped back inside to pick up the pieces, or should I say
"crumbs". In other situations, when the attack was emanating from
elsewhere, he has an uncanny knack of appearing in the centre of the
defence at the crucial moment to make a telling tackle, or clearance.
At the other end of the pitch, he was frequently to be found playing one-twos down the left-hand touch-line with John Barnes, and whoever finished up nearer the goal-line would put the cross in, harking back to his days
as a winger. He was also noted for his surging runs into the opposing penalty area, putting the willies up opposing defenders, before finishing with a rasping shot which was always delivered with the outside of his left boot. Meanwhile, Kenny Jackett acted the minder, taking on the
defensive responsibilities while Wilf was enjoying himself up front.
If the attack broke down there would follow a sixty or seventy yard sprint back down the pitch to resume his defensive duties, arms pumping, head back.
What a great sight.
He is also remembered as the player bundled over the advertising hoardings
in an infamous cup-match at Birmingham by the crude Robert Hopkins. The
referee had given up by then, apparently agreeing with Ron Saunders that
the only way Birmingham could win was to kick Watford off the park.
Wilf picked himself up, dusted himself down, I think he even straightened
the hoarding, and just got on with it.
Finally Wilf was elevated to the position of captain. I have an absurd, but possibly correct, conception of Wilf in that role. He seemed so quiet and unassuming, I am persuaded to think that the only thing he ever said during the match was "heads" or "tails", but for the most part, that was enough.