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Players: Tributes:
Ian Bolton
By Colin Wiggins

The BSaD All Time Team is a collection of great individuals, who have been voted as the best ever players in their positions. Ian Bolton is not in the All Time Team. He was though, much more than an individual. He was the perfect team player and functioned superbly as part of a unit, with an almost telepathic understanding with his fellow players. There can be no quibbles with the line-up of the All Time Team but those immortals like Barnes, Callaghan, Blissett and Jenkins could not have achieved quite what they did at Watford, were it not for Ian Bolton. His play brought out the very best in his more individually skilled colleagues. If we are really talking of the All Time TEAM, then Ian Bolton has to be there.

Steve Sims and John McClelland automatically take the two centre-back berths in the All Time Team. But should an emergency arise, forcing one of them to withdraw at the last moment, then the inclusion of Ian Bolton would not weaken the side. It could be argued that it would actually be strengthened by his presence, as he could bring further options that neither of the first choice centre-backs could provide. Most memorably perhaps, there was his rocket-like shot, that would make younger supporters think of the much missed Richard Johnson and us older supporters (speak up!) think of Tom Walley. It warms my heart to think that in those days we had two players who could hit a shot like a cannonball, because Nigel Callaghan could do it as well.

More importantly though, Ian Bolton had a simply astonishing ability to hit a pass. Nigel Callaghan and John Barnes are, without question, automatic first choices in the BSaD All Time Team, in the roles of what we would now call wide midfielders. In those days we simply called them wingers... and boy could they fly! It is no use being a flying winger without the ball, though. This pair of thrilling players could not have done what they did without the unsung assistance of Ian Bolton. Having cleared up an opposition attack he could arrow a pass fully thirty or forty yards, into the space behind the full-back, to where Barnes or Callaghan were already flying.

That trademark diagonal pass, hit at pace and with a low trajectory, was not appreciated by those critics who had collectively written Watford off as a long ball kick-and-rush outfit. The key, of course, was teamwork. If Ian Bolton did not look up before hitting one of those remarkable balls, it's because there was no need to. He knew exactly where Barnes or Callaghan would be and he knew that they both had a first touch that meant they could not only control the ball instantly but take it beyond any defender who might have read the situation. Conversely, both Barnes and Callaghan knew, without having to look back or check their runs, exactly when and where that pass would be delivered. It was Ian Bolton's speed of thought and accuracy of aim that gained them that crucial fraction of a second's advantage over their markers, allowing them to exploit their extraordinary skills to the full. Without Bolton's contributions, they would have found it harder. A lot harder.

Graham Taylor has often stated that the best signing he ever made was Ian Bolton. He came from Notts County, for a ludicrously trivial fee in the region of 12.99, arriving with Sam Ellis right at the very beginning of the GT era. Consequently he was there when it started in the Fourth Division on that August day at Stockport in 1977. He was still there when Watford marched into Europe six years later, and featured heroically in the epic victory against Kaiserslautern. That is is one hell of a track record.

Ian Bolton started his Watford career in midfield but it was his displays alongside the two Steves, Terry and Sims, in the heart of defence, that made him such a key figure. Terry and Sims were old fashioned centre-halves, colossal and rock-like, whose job was to be first to the ball. The sleek Bolton functioned more as a sweeper and his alertness and speed made him a vital part of those unforgettable days.

Of course, the mists of twenty years or more make it easy to view the past through a rosy veil of nostalgia. So I will frankly admit that he didn't always hit those balls perfectly. I'm not pretending that he never suffered an off-day. In one match against Rotherham, in the season Watford finally achieved the dream and won promotion to the top flight, he tried to hit one of his 'specials'. He gained possession deep in his own half and moved forwards. Barnes and Callaghan were already anticipating the pass. He launched the ball from the edge of the centre circle, still in his own half, but his aim failed. The two wingers halted their runs, knowing that even they could not reach that one. The ball bounced once...curled high over the keeper....and gently floated into the net, just under the crossbar.