During this period of enforced football inactivity, Linfieldfc.com will provide occasional programme articles on our former players.
The series commenced three weeks ago with an article on Jim Lemon and continued over the past two weeks with features on Tommy MacDonald and Stephen McKee.
In this week’s article Linfieldfc.com reproduces a programme article from earlier this season in which the spotlight was focused on former player, captain and manager Eric Bowyer ,who was awarded Life membership of this club, along with his former defensive team mate Peter Rafferty in February 2016.
CULT HEROES – ERIC BOWYER
by James Kennedy
He was the man who would ultimately have the unenviable task of following Roy Coyle in the Windsor Park hot seat, but for Eric Bowyer his Linfield adventure started in 1965 with Linfield Swifts.
“I had played for the 15th Belfast Scouts alongside Sammy Nelson of Arsenal and Northern Ireland, and for BroadwayThistle in The Amateur League, before establishing myself with Linfield”.
After making his 1st Team debut in a Co. Antrim Shield tie, Eric’s first major test was against Glentoran at The Oval. Quite a baptism! And he was to play under no less than 8 managers during his time at the club
“My first manager was Tommy Leishman, followed by Ewan Fenton, Billy Bingham, Jimmy Hill, Billy Sinclair, Tommy Hatton, Billy Campbell and, finally, Roy Coyle!”
And which of those named had the biggest influence on Eric?
“Each of them had different styles, but I’d say Billy Bingham. He only stayed for a short time but his influence on me was immense. And, of course, he was our manager for the famous Man City games in 1970”.
All told, Eric won 3 League titles with Linfield and 1 Irish Cup.
“We suffered a couple of defeats in the cup final. In 1973 we lost to Glentoran, and then there was Carrick Rangers in 1976”.
There was also success in the Blaxnit (All Ireland) Cup, winning 3-2 on aggregate against Cork Hibernians, a victory all the more remarkable, as the team was missing a number of regulars in the away leg.
“We were without Bryan Hamilton and Billy Sinclair, and the team included 3 or 4 Swifts players. Nobody expected us to win but we had other ideas”.
Big nights of European competition were also a regular event, and Eric played against Red Star Belgrade, Setubal of Portugal, PSV Eindhoven and Standard Liege, as well as Man City.
Eventually, he would struggle to get into a very good side, with Player-Manager Coyle tying down the spot previously filled by Eric.
“By 1978, I realised that I wasn’t likely to play too often, so I moved to Glenavon, Bangor, then Dungannon Swifts for a short time. At each of these clubs I had a Linfield connection around me, including Jim Emery, Billy Sinclair and Eric Magee respectively”.
Eventually, Eric would link up again with Sinclair, as Assistant Manager of Cliftonville.
“We had a good side which included the late Tommy Breslin and Peter Murray, and it was a bit of an eye-opener for me”.
This experience stood Eric in good stead when, in the summer of 1990, he was asked to become Linfield Manager, following the departure of Coyle.
“Linfield was in my blood, so when I was offered the chance to manage the team, I jumped at it. Having said that, there was a lot of change in my life at that stage, as I had just moved house and taken up a new job in the Newry & Mourne Hospitals Trust!”
Eric’s 2 years as boss were relatively unrewarding, and his Irish Cup final bad luck continued when Linfield lost to Glenavon in 1992.
He was also the manager who brought Chris Cullen to the club from Cliftonville - a signing that was to have a huge impact on the club going forward.
“I was determined to sign any player, regardless of their background, and I knew Chris well from our time at Solitude”.
And, just as there were some signs of The Blues turning things around, Eric was sacked and replaced by Trevor Anderson who, within a few months, had secured another League title, with players like Dessie Gorman in the side.
“I suppose you couldn’t consider my time as Linfield Manager a success, but I thought I did OK”.
These days Eric can often be found in The South Stand at Windsor Park with his football-mad son-in-law, and the Royal Blue blood still courses through his veins.