Elite Football in the 1970s: A tribute to Stanley Bowles – Genius in decline

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’I must say that Stanley’s all-round game was sensational… Stan’s first touch was the key. He had a left foot like a hand, and could put the ball anywhere he wanted it to be. It wasn’t a case of controlling the ball first, because he knew he could do that, it was what he was going to do after that. He was like one of those highly technical foreign players; he just had that type of ability.’

(Terry Venables)

During the 1970s, as a young man of twenty-one both living and working in North West London, I adopted Queens Park Rangers as my Saturday afternoon entertainment and a distraction from the world of psychiatry. I quickly became a fan of a thrilling team that had recently been promoted from the then second division and under their manager, Gordon Jago, played exciting football.

Although Rodney Marsh, their star player and darling of the fans, had left the club for Manchester City there was still much to enjoy. Terry Venables, previously of Spurs, possessed a remarkable intellect both in and outside of the game. Home grown, Gerry Francis complemented him perfectly. I can still recall a free kick orchestrated by Venables– the ball was lifted over the heads of the opposition while Gerry Francis ran behind the defence to score a goal – sublime football!

Queens Park Rangers (QPR) had a team of players, which would take the first division (now Premiership) by surprise and go on to achieve both domestically and in Europe. Phil Parkes was an outstanding goalkeeper, while Dave Thomas, Dave Clement, Don Masson and Don Givens could all be relied upon to make significant contributions to a well organised football team.

`Stan the Man`

However, one player stood out for his own particular brand of genius, Stanley Bowles. Stanley or ‘Stan the man’ as he was, and still is, referred to affectionately – had just arrived at QPR from Carlisle United following spells with Manchester City and Crewe Alexander. Stanley Bowles was the embodiment of everything a rebellious twenty something young man (as I once was) aspired to be- charismatic, gifted and unorthodox. He delighted both on and of the pitch. For Stanley, football was effortless and he viewed each game as an event to be enjoyed.

Don Shanks, a friend and team mate of Stanley Bowles, said:

‘Stan was like players who come from Europe now, before their time: Costa, Agüero. A star, but unselfish; he was a team player … amazing rapport. We knew what Stan would try to do – the amazing thing is that he did it. Round the back of the defence, with pace and magic.’ (The Guardian, 2017)

Winning five caps for England yet scoring a single goal, it could be argued that Stanley Bowles did not fulfil his considerable potential as a football maestro. Stanley once famously commented that he spent all of his football earnings on vodka and tonic, cigarettes and gambling – for which he was also notorious. He said, typical of his humour, `looking back, I may have overdone the tonic! ` Gambling however, probably contributed the most to his demise as an enigmatic and imaginative footballer. Nonetheless, Stanley Bowles was admired throughout football and adored by all QPR fans – myself especially.

Alzheimer’s illness

In recent years, Stanley Bowles has not enjoyed good health. He has been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s. This is a type of dementia – an illness, which robs an individual of both memory and personality. It is, although controversial, a condition that is widespread in ex-football players from the 60s and 70s and is linked to the football repeatedly striking a player’s head.

Stanley’s daughter recalls that he avoided making contact with the ball in this way as a part of his game but offers no explanation as to why. Stanley is currently living in his home city, Manchester in the UK, and is cared for by his daughter Andrea along with his family. Sadly, he has only fleeting moments when he remembers his past-even family members or that he was once a famous and gifted footballer.

It is hard to reconcile the Stanley Bowles of my youth with his situation today and causes me think back to an old adage – as you are, I once was. As I am, you will be! Not necessarily referring to dementia, the maxim points out that we will all grow older and less able and that were all once young. While obviously true, this is perhaps difficult to relate to when in your teens and twenties.

There have been various events intended to honour Stanley but importantly also raise money for his inevitable future health care. I have not located any documented evidence of Stanley Bowles ever suffering emotional ill-health – although, unlike today, such things were not discussed back then. It may be that his personality and upbringing gave him a protective resilience – though his daughter notes that his tendency for self-centredness was sometimes problematic for the family.

Conclusion    

Advancing age and progressive illness have both contributed to Stanley Bowles’ unhappy deterioration. Were he playing today, it isn’t difficult to imagine that his genius would shine as just as brightly earning him a sizeable income and so making current financial struggles and worries about future health care inconceivable.

Irrespective of current circumstances, Stanley Bowles is still held in high regard and with much affection within the hearts and minds of QPR supporters, as well as being respected by others in and outside of the game. Why? Because of his winning personality and captivating football abilities. At the peak of his career during the mid and late 1970s, Stan was, indisputably, the man.

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