Duncan Welbourne who died on Monday at the age of 78, was unquestionably a top Watford legend but, if he had his way, he would have become a Vicarage Road fixture.

Such was his all-consuming love for the club, he would have “shaken their hands off” if, after they gave him a free transfer, Watford had offered him a job as groundsman Les Simmons’ assistant.

He gave everything to the Watford cause as a wing half and full-back; a true 100 per cent, all-action, committed player – the only one in the club’s history to make more than 400 league starts for the club.

His records include the longest unbroken sequence in the club’s history - 280 successive league games, which was a remarkable achievement considering his fiercely committed, tough-tackling style: “It’s the only way I know how to play,” he argued.

An ever-present in the Third Division championship side of 1968-69, similarly in the club’s first-ever run to the FA Cup Semi-Finals the following season; he overtook Tommy Barnett’s 35-year-old appearance record and now lies equal second with Nigel Gibbs behind Luther Blissett as the Hornets’ most selected player in league football.

But statistics infer, they cannot relate the colour and character of Duncan’s Watford contributions from the day he signed in November 1963 to being “pushed out” by former manager, the late Mike Keen,in May 1974.

Even in his latter years, living in Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, he would put on his Watford shirt and watch the Hornets on television. His love for Watford ran that deep.

It could be argued that Duncan was so grateful to be brought to Vicarage Road, he demonstrated that gratitude in energy, blood and sweat and the occasional tear of disappointment.

His gratitude stemmed in part from the fact he was toiling in Grimsby Town Reserves when Watford boss Bill McGarry paid £1,300 to make him part of Watford’s strongest push for promotion to Division Two up to that date.

That promotion bid only just failed, despite the club garnering a record number of points, but perhaps the pointer to failure was the fact Duncan missed the last seven games through injury.

There was another reason Duncan was grateful to Watford and McGarry. They did not inquire too closely as to the player’s medical record. Two years earlier he had been told by a specialist: “Of course you will never play football again.”

Duncan had felt particularly tired after games and one night, he found himself coughing up blood. Rushed to hospital he was diagnosed the TB. “The guy in the next bed died of it and I was moved to his bed, as if I was next,” he recalled.

Faced with a “life sentence” he decided: “This is when you start to dig in.”

Discharged from hospital, he reported back to Grimsby, overweight and having lost all his muscle tone. He gave it his all, as usual, and never looked back. “I never had any trouble after that and it was not until former Grimsby player, Graham Taylor, mentioned it to me at the Centenary Dinner, the subject was never raised.”

He took to Watford from the outset. The day he signed he popped into the Watford Odeon cinema and was there when the theatre manager interrupted the programme to announce President Kennedy’s assassination.

He won a Division Three championship medal; a fourth-place FA Cup medal but his most treasured possession was a testimonial present of a gold disc awarded for the song Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, presented by then director Elton John with the inscription: “To Duncan: something to keep you close to Watford and myself.”

What memories: you could see Duncan lose it on the field. Angered by a tackle or ‘verbals’ from an opponent, you would see his hands would come up but manager Ken Furphy asked him in future, instead of just raising his hands, “please hit the opponent”.

Duncan was shocked but Furphy explained: “That way you will get sent off and I won’t have to pick you for a month. The penny dropped and he became a better player for it.”

Successfully converted to right-back he became minder for the mercurial Stewart Scullion, his favourite player. “I didn’t overlap him because he tended to overlap himself but if the full-back was giving him crude stick, I told Scully to let the full-back push the ball beyond him and then I would sort the player out.”

Even in the pitifully poor season of 1971-72, when Watford plummeted out of the second tier, manager George Kirby contended he could have done with 11 Duncans for he was the only outfield player in his squad who could hold his head up.

“They said the heads went down that season but I won’t bow my head to anyone,” he said and he carried that attitude into his later life.

After working for Southport as player-coach, caretaker manager, secretary, trainer and commercial manager, he took the extremely dangerous work of digging six-foot, half-a-mile tunnels by hand 200 yards down below the Albert Dock.

Part of a four-man shift, working without machines for they would only cause a cave in, he was well paid for a life-threatening situation. His three co-workers tried to break him and spent three weeks in the attempt.

Like many others, they found they had to reassess Duncan. He was made of sterner stuff.