Connect in the back of the net

The face of football has changed so dramatically over the last 20 years, it is hard to imagine any of the new breed of top flight players learning the art of management in the perceived “doldrums” of League 2 (or Division 4 as I still like to call it).

When you are taking home pay cheques of anywhere between £10,000 and £250,000 a week it is not hard to see why a job training the playing staff of the likes of Morecambe or Dagenham does not hold any allure to the newly retired Premier League star.

However, before the advent of Murdoch’s Premier League (let’s not forget who truly runs the game), the chance of continuing your career in football in the lower leagues, as either a player or manager, was all that stood between you and the nine to five.

My Dad tells me how sad it was to see an ageing Bobby Charlton turning out as player-manager for Preston in the mid 1970s. Gone were all the attributes that had made him so adored at Old Trafford and beyond. But, Bobby had bills to pay and a young family to support.

Few players today can point to a career including a League title, two European Cups and a brace of League Cups. Certainly, anyone who had this on their C.V. in the modern game would have a substantial amount of cash behind them, raised by lucrative playing and sponsorship contracts.

The subject of my anecdote (it’s not long enough to class as a story) enjoyed this success in the late 70s and early 80s, playing over 400 games for one of the era’s pre-eminent forces, Nottingham Forest. Come 1987 however, he was installed as Player-Coach at perennial basement strugglers, Hereford United. His name is Ian Bowyer.

Three months after being brought in to work under experienced manager John Newman, Newman was axed and Bowyer given his first (and as it turned out, his last,) shot at league management. Progress over his time in the role was limited, but his teams played some decent football and I for one think he could have made it at other league clubs.

My anecdote dates from May 1989.  Always looking at ways of stretching our tight household budget, my mum came up with the idea of me writing a letter to Hereford United, asking them if they needed any more ball boys.

As we expected, they never replied to my letter, any idea of me running about the perimeter of the Edgar Street pitch was forgotten about, and Mum prepared to save the £2 entrance fees for me. Then, on the opening day of the 1989/90 season, our phone rang. It was a man for me.

“Alright son, I understand you want to be a ball boy?”


“Well, it’s Ian Bowyer here. I’ll pick you up at one o’clock.”


As good as his word, the doorbell went at one o’clock and standing there was Ian Bowyer. I got in to his nice, but not ostentatious, car and away we went.

The fact that the manager seemed to be in charge of ball boy recruitment tells its own story. But, the fact that a two-time European Cup winner would ring my house and pick me up, would be incredible in this day and age.

I cannot see Steven Gerrard becoming manager of York City and picking up a young fanatic and giving him a lift to Bootham Crescent.


Written by Peter Corbett

Follow Peter on Twitter @ToePuntKing

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