Continuing our series of looking at our Rovers heroes, Glenn Entwistle discusses his choice of Gary Bowyer.
In Part One of my submissions to the ‘My Hero’ series, I looked at how my footballing hero on the pitch was Tugay.
For this second part, I’m looking at who my hero is off the pitch. Like the playing side, picking a hero off the pitch is so difficult, with Kenny Dalglish, Tony Parkes, Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes and Tony Mowbray all having significant and viable claims for the crown, whether that be for getting us promoted and winning the title, stepping up when the club needed them (on more than one occasion, or more than five occasions for that matter), getting us promoted and winning a cup, making us competitive in Europe and almost breaking the top four in the Premier League, or turning our fortunes around when we were at our lowest point for decades.
But, I’ve chosen a manager that didn’t win anything or get us promoted and will likely be forgotten by many as the decades pass, but without him, we might not still be here today – that man is Gary Bowyer.
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Bowyer joined Rovers as Under 18s coach in 2004, becoming the Reserve Team Manager in 2008, and then he stepped in to the Caretaker Manager role for the first time for the first team in December 2012 after Henning Berg was sacked; doing the same again a few months later in March following the sacking of Michael Appleton; and finally being given the job on a permanent basis at the end of the 2012-13 season.
His record as Rovers Manager between 2012 and 2015 (including his stints as Caretaker) reads: Played 131, Won 47, Drawn 47 and Lost 37 – giving him a win percentage of almost 36%. However, it isn’t his win percentage that stands him out as a hero, it’s what he did to keep the club firstly in the Championship during those first caretaker spells in 2012-13 and then to keep us competitive for the following years (missing out on the play-offs by just two points in 2013-14) – all at a time when the club was very much a circus and a laughing stock, as well as a financial time-bomb.
When Bowyer took over for the second time during the 2012-13 season, Rovers sat 18th in the table, and a second successive relegation was very much a possibility. The impacts of relegation would have devastating, maybe even fatal. Rovers had broken the transfer record in the Championship by signing Jordan Rhodes for £8m in the summer and had players still on Premiership wages and had brought in new signings with the aim of bouncing straight back, with wages to match that ambition. If you look at the financial situation Rovers currently find themselves in, you can probably multiply that by at least ten to get some idea of how bad it could have been had we been relegated then (see “Sunderland ‘Tll I Die”; and thank your lucky stars Netflix wasn’t around when 2012-13 happened at Ewood).
During his time in charge, Rovers sold or released 51 players for around £16m (not including undisclosed fees where the fee is not known) and signed just 22 players for just over £2m – that’s a net spend of -£13.65m, and Bowyer still kept us competitive.
At the end of the 2012-13 season, it was obvious how much of a mess the club was in and just how far away from a promotion push we were. In many ways, Bowyer had to manage with his hands tied behind his back as finances were cut, reducing the money available for transfers and for wages, and the big earners were slowly moved on from the club. Despite these restrictions, Bowyer was still able to achieve 8th and 9th placed finishes in his two full seasons in charge – lofty heights we have yet to return to. This was largely down to the goals of Jordan Rhodes (20+ goals in 3 successive Championship seasons was an eye-watering achievement looking back), and had we been able to add some quality or consistency at the back, who knows. We probably weren’t ready for promotion, but the money would have helped.
After two nearly seasons with regards to the play-offs, during the 2015-16 season, some sections of the supporters had grown restless with us unable to capitalise on the fire-power of Rhodes and Rudi Gestede and it looked as though the owners saw this season as an opportunity to change direction at the mid-season point and bring in Paul Lambert for a shot at promotion. The gamble didn’t work as Rovers finished 15th, Lambert left and we ended up with Owen Coyle and were ultimately relegated to League One at the end of the following season. The performance of his two immediate successors probably highlights best how good a job he did with a limited budget and problematic owners.
Bowyer may not have been everyone’s cup of tea and he may have underachieved in a lot of peoples’ eyes, but he was a “Rovers Man” who stepped up when the club needed somebody who knew the ramifications of the financial situation and who also knew the club inside out. Yes, with somebody else at the helm we maybe could have got promoted during that period, but we could so easily have caused irreparable financial damage.
Thanks for reading.