For the benefit of our many overseas supporters here is the interview with Eric Bowyer which appeared in Saturday's Look at Linfield. The interview was completed by Roy McGivern
Eric Bowyer will be remembered by many Linfield fans as a stylish central defender and a great sportsman who came through the ranks to eventually captain the club. He enjoyed a very successful playing career at Linfield, spanning some 13 years, and returned to manage the club in the early 1990’s. Look at Linfield spoke to Eric this week about his career and the highlights of his time at Windsor Park.
“I played with Broadway Thistle in the Amateur League and with 15th Scouts, based on the Ormeau Road. Sammy Nelson played in the same team, he was outside left and I was left back. I had a choice of clubs at the time. I had gone on trial to Torquay and Frank O’Farrell who later moved to Manchester United was the manager. They wanted me to stay there but I didn’t fancy it as I was too young. I came home and both Linfield and Glenavon were interested in signing me. I thought if I was going to make it then I may as well make it with the Blues.”
After making his mark with the Swifts, Bowyer made his first team debut in the 1967/68 season and soon became a regular. “I think my first game was against Carrick Rangers in one of the cup tournaments. I played a bit at left back before Ewan Fenton moved me into a ball winning midfield role.”
At the age of just 22 Eric succeeded Sammy Hatton as Linfield captain, one of the youngest ever captains of the club. He went on to enjoy considerable success at Windsor Park, picking up three league winners medals and one Irish Cup success. That solitary Irish Cup win in 1970 was a particularly significant one for Bowyer as he was to later suffer the heartbreak of playing on the losing side in five finals, three of these with Linfield. Eric recalls “We beat Ballymena 2-1 at Solitude in my first Irish Cup Final and it was a great thrill. Though if I had known what was going to happen later I probably would have appreciated it even more. It all passed in a bit of a blur although I remember that Denis Violett won the first cup medal of his career in that game. We went behind in front of a big crowd at Solitude but Phil Scott scored twice to clinch it for us.”
Eric reflected on a number of other highlights during his Linfield career, on both a team and personal level. “I remember us beating Glentoran 3-0 at the Oval on the last day of the 1970/71 season to capture the league title. That was a big occasion for us and it gave Billy Bingham the league title in his only full season as manager. The Cup Winners Cup games against Manchester City were also massive nights and we were so close to pulling it off. It was 0-0 over there when Isaac Andrews got injured with about 10 minutes to go and they scored a late winner. We won the home leg 2-1 but went out on away goals. On a personal level I was privileged to win the Ulster Footballer of the Year Award in 1975 and the Linfield Player of the Year Award, organised by the 1st Newtownabbey Club, on a record four occasions. “
During his career at Linfield, Eric served under seven different managers and he reflected on the range of skills that they brought to the club. “Ewan Fenton gave me my chance and was very good to me at Linfield. Billy Bingham had a short but very successful tenure at the club and he left a huge impression. Jimmy Hill was perhaps unlucky to come after a team that had won everything. Sinky did well when he came in for a year and Billy Campbell had a big impact in a short spell as manager. Fenton and Bingham were the ones that probably left the biggest impression on me. “
The curtain fell on Bowyer’s playing career at Linfield in August 1978 after he became frustrated at a lack of first team opportunities. He had suffered a double leg break horror but felt he still had plenty to offer the game. Eric recalls “I played seven or eight seasons without serious injury so I can’t really complain and the leg injury didn’t really threaten my career. It was a wrench to leave Linfield after such a long time but after the second leg break I wasn’t getting onto the team. They were very successful at the time but I was competitive and wanted regular football. “
Eric had spells with a number of other local clubs including Bangor, Glenavon, Brantwood, Dungannon Swifts and Carrick Rangers. He made two further Irish Cup Final appearances with Glenavon and Carrick Rangers but his Linfield cup curse was to follow him to both clubs. He was later, of course, to return to Windsor Park as manager of the club after the departure of Roy Coyle. Eric reflected on his spell in the managerial hot seat, an opportunity he could not turn down.
“It was always something that I wanted to do and I was privileged to get the opportunity. It was a difficult time as Coyler had just gone and the team was running into the sand at that stage. There wasn’t a lot of money available but I knew that when I took the job. What I found frustrating was that we reached four finals in my last six months in charge. Then in the year I got the sack we went on to win the league. I just felt that we were very close to becoming a good team but time ran out for me.”
Despite this setback, Eric is still held in high regard by Linfield fans and he has many fond memories of his career with the club.
“I felt very privileged to play and manage Linfield and had a great sense of pride when I pulled on that royal blue jersey. It was a great thrill to run out at Windsor Park and to play at away grounds with so many Bluemen in attendance. The fans were usually very good to me and I felt a great affinity with them.”