GARY Bowyer was six years old when he accosted Brian Clough at a Christmas party and demanded to know why his dad, Ian, wasn’t in the Forest first-team.
Fourteen years later, he would sign for Old Big ’Ead – a move he believed would be the culmination of a boyhood dream. It was, alas, the beginning of the end.
As a kid, Bowyer was rarely away from the City Ground, watching with his mum, sister and brother as Forest romped to a First Division title and two European Cups.
Indeed, it was Bowyer Snr, a legendary midfielder who made more than 200 appearances in his eight years with Forest, who scored the goal away to Cologne that sent Clough’s men to their first final against Malmo.
Yet while his early memories are of trophies and ticker tape, his own days at the City Ground bring only visions of toil and treatment tables.
A full-back, Bowyer spent his youth career at non-league Westfields before being signed by Hereford. The Bulls were managed by his father who, in a strange twist of fate, had narrowly missed out on the Blackburn job.
In 1990 they even played in the same side, becoming the first father and son to play a League match together since David and Alec Herd for Scunthorpe United in 1951.
Though he played just 18 times for Hereford, it was enough to persuade Clough, who invited him to sign for Forest in 1990.
“It was a dream for me,” he says. “They were the club I’d supported as a boy. The club that I always wanted to play for.”
Then came the disappointments. Chosen to tag along with the 1991 FA Cup squad to gain some experience, the 19-year-old was injured the day before they left for London and replaced on the coach by Steve Stone.
It would be the first of many. In 1992, a simple appendix operation turned nasty and eventually required further surgery, putting the young defender out of action for over a year.
In the meantime, Forest’s barnstorming run under Frank Clark meant Bowyer got nowhere near the first team. And when a serious back problem required another operation in 1995, it signalled the end of the road at the City Ground.
Bowyer left in 1995 having failed to play a single game in five years. And though he would make 38 appearances for Rotherham the following year, the return of back problems forced him to retire in 1997, aged just 25.
“I went to see a specialist and he said it might not be the best idea to carry on playing,” said Bowyer. “It is hard when you get told that. I tried to play on, taking painkillers and managing it myself. But I knew I had to stop.”
But like so many managers, Bowyer used the premature end of his playing days to get the jump on his peers in coaching.
After several years spent gaining badges and learning his trade, Bowyer joined Blackburn as a youth coach in 2003 and over the next decade he helped nurture stars like Phil Jones, Anthony Pilkington and Jonathan Walters.
“Gaz gave all the young players a great grounding,” said Jones, now an England international. “He’s such a great manager and a great person as well. But what’s great for players is his passion – he’s just so passionate about the game.”
His first caretaker spell came after the dismissal of Henning Berg, in December 2012. Though Bowyer took ten points from a possible 12, he was overlooked in favour of Michael Appleton. When he then kept Rovers up, after Appleton himself was sacked, the board didn’t make the same mistake again, appointing him on a permanent basis this summer.
According to Danny Murphy, who was at Rovers last season, it was the correct decision.
“Gary deserves great credit,” he said. “It was difficult for him to come in the first time and take over the reins but he did it quietly and efficiently. The performances we put were largely down to him, for getting it right tactically. He deserves a longer run.”
And Murphy’s thoughts were echoed by Robbie Savage, who got to know Bowyer during his days at Blackburn.
“It’s a great chance for Gary, who’s a terrific guy,” he said. “At Blackburn, I always used to go and see him and I think he’s earned the right to have a crack at management.
“He did great with the youth set-up and he’s got Blackburn’s best interests at heart. He’s also from a footballing family so I think he’s the right guy now to take the club forward.”
GARY BOWYER FACT FILE
Born: Manchester, 1971 (Age 42)
Playing career: A full-back and talented amateur cricketer, Bowyer started out at Non-League Westfields as a youngster before being signed as a teenager by Hereford.
Playing under father Ian, the former Nottingham Forest midfielder, Bowyer made his debut aged 18 and made 14 appearances in the 1989-90 campaign.
Signed for Forest at the end of the season, but a succession of injuries hampered his progress and Boywer left in 1995 without making a first team appearance at the City Ground.
Joined Rotherham and scored two goals in 38 games during his two seasons at Millmoor, but the recurrence of a back injury forced him to retire in 1997, aged 25.
Managerial career: Joined Blackburn as a youth coach in 2003, working under Mark Hughes, Paul Ince, Sam Allardyce, Steve Kean and Henning Berg.
Became reserve team manager in 2009 and helped to develop future England and Manchester United star Phil Jones.
Named caretaker manager after Berg’s departure in December 2012, Bowyer won three and drew one of his four games in charge before Michael Appleton was recruited from Blackpool.
But when Appleton was then shown the door in March, Bowyer was reappointed caretaker manager.
His impact was immediate and he was given the job full-time after winning three of his nine games in charge to keep Rovers in the Championship.