THE Watford Observer is serialising the sixth Tales From The Vicarage book, titled Rocket Men, featuring interviews with Luther Blissett, Ian Bolton, Ross Jenkins and Steve Sherwood.

Here, Oliver Phillips looks back at Bolton’s spell as one of Watford’s most important - but perhaps underrated - stars of the glory years.

It could be argued that Ian Bolton is one of those slightly forgotten and underrated heroes of the most memorable era in the history of Watford.

Effortlessly we recall the likes of Luther Blissett and Ross Jenkins but there were several players from that halcyon era who were far more than just members of a supporting cast.

Most certainly Bolton was one of those. Yet, despite having all the qualities that go to make a legend, when Watford fans are asked to name their all-time best team, ‘Bolts’ is often eased aside.

“I would tend to agree that possibly John McClelland was a better defender,” Bolton conceded, but he does not need to remind me that he was one of the key elements in the most attack-minded of teams Watford ever produced. Without Bolton, the Graham Taylor narrative would have been quite different.

The Hornets’ achievements in 1977-87 cannot be diminished by the carping critiques from the self-appointed high priests of so-called cultured football.

Watford were labelled with blinkered simplicity as playing ‘kick and rush’ and ‘taking football back to the dark ages’. The more the critics grumbled and quibbled, the tighter became Taylor’s band of brothers.

And there was one player who was in reality the arch-villain in the minds of the purists: Ian Robert Bolton.

“In a way I am quite proud of that fact - being recognised as an integral part of the manner in which Graham Taylor wanted to play. If I am to have the label of the main protagonist, then so be it,” he said, a man who was able to change defence into attack in a couple of blinks of a jaundiced critic’s eye.

Having played with and against the best in the game, John Barnes – who launched his career on the left wing of Watford’s attack and gained England honours long before Liverpool ‘discovered’ him – was quoted as saying: “Ian Bolton was the best striker of a ball I ever came across.”

“No. I didn’t just hoof the ball up the pitch,” said Bolton, still slightly offended by the reminder of the age-old suggestion.

“Of course there were occasions when I was under pressure and I got rid of the ball upfield. Every defender has done that in his time. But I was naturally two-footed and I could hit the ball 40 yards with some accuracy. They weren’t clearances; they weren’t hit and hope; they were passes.”

Bolton’s trajectory was similarly uncanny: the ball winging its way like an arrow to Jenkins’ or Blissett’s chest, feet or head. Or into the space they were heading for.

“Sometimes Luther would come short and I could play it to him some 20 or 30 yards. It was a pass not a punt or a hoof,” said the attack-minded centre-half, who came to take all Watford’s free-kicks and penalties.

I saw all but one of Bolton’s Watford displays and can categorically say he hit long passes. It is 34 years since he last hammered a ball forward into the path of a sprinting forward at Vicarage Road but the fans still remember.

Among the prized possessions in the Bolton household is a Christmas card signed by ‘Graham and Rita’. Beneath the signature is a short message: ‘Still pound for pound my best-ever signing.’ Bolton was delighted when he first read of Taylor making such a claim: “When you think of all the signings he made, to call me the best was really incredible.”

Rocket Men can be ordered here