Like everybody else I was shocked and distressed to hear the sad news over the weekend that Stan Bowles has unfortunately developed a form of Alzheimer’s disease. There was a picture of Stan on his Facebook site celebrating Fathers’ Day and thankfully he looked to be in good spirits. It was good to see him with a smile on his face as he gave such pleasure to untold millions of football fans with his skill, joie de vivre and overall approach to life.
The term genius is thrown around with gay abandon and often applied to merely the very good rather than the rare one-offs and special ones, but nobody could ever quibble or complain at Stan being so described. He had a wonderful career that spanned the best part of twenty years and he played nearly six hundred games, testimony to the fact that he was not a luxury player who picked his games but he loved to play and was a tough competitor.
Immaturity, massive competition for places and some dodgy off-field connections cost Stan the opportunity of early stardom at Manchester City but he rehabilitated himself in the nether regions of the Football League at Crewe and Carlisle and whilst other teams dithered, Gordon Jago took the gamble and signed him for Queens Park Rangers in September 1972 for what turned out to be a bargain fee of £110,000. Rodney Marsh had long been the idol of all QPR fans who had bemoaned his transfer, ironically to Manchester City, of all places, but Stan proved to be the perfect replacement and became an instant hero at Loftus Road and the hallowed number ten shirt soon had a worthy new owner.
Stan stayed seven years at QPR and was in his pomp during that period, but despite his ability and consistency and excellent goalscoring record he failed to convince successive England managers of his temperament and played only five times for his country – a terrible waste of talent and an indictment of the cautious and puritanical establishment running the game at the time who could not cope with free spirits like Stan. He joined fellow mavericks such as Frank Worthington, Alan Hudson, Charlie George, Peter Osgood and Tony Currie who were treated with suspicion and never fulfilled their undoubted ability at international level.
Stan was not the first footballer to fall out with the mercurial Tommy Docherty and was sold to Nottingham Forest – out of the frying pan, into the fire, where he also fell foul of Brian Clough, ruling himself out of playing in the 1980 European Cup Final. His career looked like it was drifting towards its conclusion when his next move to Leyton Orient left him treading water but he was revitalised and enjoyed one last hurrah when Fred Callaghan and Martin Lange persuaded him to join Brentford in October 1981 for what proved to be a giveaway £25,000 fee.
It was an inspirational move for the club as Stan re-found his enthusiasm for the game and revitalised players and supporters alike with his sparking presence and twinkling feet. Despite his advancing years, he provided marvellous value for money and played nearly one hundred games for the Bees, scoring seventeen times in all and assisting on countless others. He has also gone down in Brentford legend by forming the final leg in what became perhaps our finest midfield trio since the Second World War.
Terry Hurlock was passionate and aggressive and took no prisoners, Chris Kamara was a marvellous box-to-box runner who also provided goals and heading ability and Stan was just Stan. He didn’t do a lot of running, confining himself to the left side of midfield, but he didn’t really need to as the other players did it for him. He simply conserved his energy and sprayed the ball around and cut helpless opposition defences wide open with his rapier-like passes.
The fans adored him and a season’s best attendance of nearly seven thousand crammed in to see him make his debut at home to Burnley. Three days later he pulled all the strings as the Bees destroyed Swindon with a convincing win at The County Ground and he maintained his consistency for the next eighteen months. He also scored regularly, six times in 1981/82 and he managed a remarkable eleven goals the following season when he played over fifty times and laid on goals aplenty for the rampaging forward line of Tony Mahoney, Francis Joseph and Gary Roberts although sometimes he was too clever for them and they could not read his intentions.
Stan could seemingly do anything on the pitch, he was the complete master of the football and his left foot was like a wand. He scored eleven out of twelve times from the penalty spot, languidly strolling up and sending the goalkeeper and the crowd behind the goal one way before stroking the ball effortlessly into the other corner of the net. I still cannot believe that he actually missed one kick and remain sceptical, as no photograph seems to exist of that rare happening one Friday night at Wrexham. Would that he could provide some expert tuition in the long lost art of penalty taking to the hapless Brentford players of today who seem to find the task of scoring consistently from the spot totally beyond them.
Not content with that, Stan also produced his party piece of scoring direct from a corner kick against Swindon and he was naturally deadly from long-range free kicks as Wimbledon’s Dave Beasant could attest. Stan was a star and you simply could not take your eyes off him, but he also mucked in and was just one of the lads and was universally popular with everyone at the club. There were no airs and graces, he always played to win and gave everything that he had rather than merely going through the motions and playing only when the mood took him.
Stan provided full value and lit up Griffin Park with his wonderful ability and ever-present smile and the fact that he had been a hero at our massive rivals QPR was soon forgiven and forgotten as he so obviously gave everything to the cause throughout his spell at Brentford. He is fondly remembered by everyone associated with the club and we all salute him and send him and his family our best wishes today.
Ahead Of The Game
For anyone interested in reading my take on everything that happened both on and off the pitch last season, as well as the odd diversion into nostalgia, nonsense, player profiles and club history, leavened with some (hopefully) pertinent and amusing comments, my new book Ahead Of The Game is available now.
Here are the Links to where the book can be purchased:
Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99