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Memories of a 60s Spireites apprentice: Chesterfield’s Night of the Long Knives, marking internationals and being knocked out by a karate chop

Chesterfield FC team that won the Northern Intermediate Cup beating Sheffield Wednesday in the final, including Jim Magugan, Reg Wright, Roger Bowler, Martin Wright, Alan Stevenson,Tim Meadows, Ken Tyler, Ernie Moss, Gerry Clarke, Harold Roberts, Gary Dean, Peter Carline, Steve Walker, John Moyse, Steve Walker, Ray Mchale, ? Allison, John Slater
Chesterfield FC team that won the Northern Intermediate Cup beating Sheffield Wednesday in the final, including Jim Magugan, Reg Wright, Roger Bowler, Martin Wright, Alan Stevenson,Tim Meadows, Ken Tyler, Ernie Moss, Gerry Clarke, Harold Roberts, Gary Dean, Peter Carline, Steve Walker, John Moyse, Steve Walker, Ray Mchale, ? Allison, John Slater

A local man who achieved his dream of signing for Chesterfield FC in the 1960s still wonders what might have been.

Roger Bowler was just 15 when he was picked up by Spireites, having shown promise for Clay Cross Secondary Modern.

Clay Coss Junior school 1960/01 team, incoluding Stan Martin, Dave Bartram, Jim Simms, Dave Knowles, Mr Cutts, Roger Bowler, Ian Vickers, George Beastall, Steve Collins, Dave Housley

Clay Coss Junior school 1960/01 team, incoluding Stan Martin, Dave Bartram, Jim Simms, Dave Knowles, Mr Cutts, Roger Bowler, Ian Vickers, George Beastall, Steve Collins, Dave Housley

A serious injury curtailed his stint with the club, but Bowler still cherishes his memories of being a Spireite.

“I got picked up through the usual channels, my school team were all good enough to be professionals, and I became a professional at Chesterfield,” he said.

“I was just 15, but I couldn’t sign until I was 16, so I went to work as an apprentice welder for a year.

“Signing for Chesterfield was my dream, I had been told for years it could happen and of course it did, it was fantastic to sign, awesome.”

Clay Cross Sec Modern season 1962/3, including teachers Mr Towndrow, Mr Turner,  Mick Clake, Barry Rowan, Steve Collins, Dennis Cooke, Derek Bull,  Roger Bowler, John Martin, George Beastall, Graham Beastall, Albert Lewis, Geoff Marshall, Alan Mitchell

Clay Cross Sec Modern season 1962/3, including teachers Mr Towndrow, Mr Turner, Mick Clake, Barry Rowan, Steve Collins, Dennis Cooke, Derek Bull, Roger Bowler, John Martin, George Beastall, Graham Beastall, Albert Lewis, Geoff Marshall, Alan Mitchell

The Danesmoor man’s first wage with the club was £5-7-6d as an apprentice professional.

And his first experiences of senior football, with the club’s reserve team, were a ‘baptism of fire.’

“I remember that season well,” the former left-back said.

“My first game was for the reserves in a pre-season friendly against Blackburn Rovers, marking England international and World Cup winger Bryan Douglas, I has a very good game that day, he never got a kick.

“Our next game was against Notts County, I was marking former Scottish international Stewart Imlach and got no where near him.

“Even as an old pro he was too quick for me.”

Bowler came up against good player at Oakwell in his next outing.

“We played Barnsley and I was marking a young lad destined to go far – Stewart Barrowclough who went for a big fee to Newcastle United – it was fairly even that day.”

And his fourth appearance was a memorable one, for all the wrong reasons.

“We went to Rothertham who were managed by Tommy Docherty, and I was told to mark John Galley, who to my memory was 6ft 2ins tall.

“I was 5ft 8ins so I kept fouling him in the air.

“He warned me twice, and then I woke up in the dressing room – he gave me the old karate chop. But to be fair he came to see how I was doing.”

Young Bowler also witnessed Chesterfield’s own version of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ off the pitch.

He explained: “Myself and a couple of the other apprentices saw a group of the older pros gathering together to try and get the manager, Jimmy McGuigan, fired.

“There was a team meeting behind closed doors and there was no hair dryer, he just kicked the door clean off the hinges, he was quite a forceful man when he was riled.

“He invited anyone with an issue to come and speak to him in his office – no one did.”

A full year with the reserves was followed by two with the Northern Intermediates, but a cruciate injury saw Bowler leave Spireites before he could break into the first team.

Football remained the dream however, the defender joining Boston in the Midland League and impressed Birmingham on trial – before the Blues promptly sacked their manager and scuppered any potential move.

A long career with the police followed, and the 64-year-old is now a grandfather with high hopes for another footballer in the family.

“My youngest son was a professional at Forest and then Chesterfield, and he got shin splints in both legs and had to finish,” he said.

“Three members of our family were also professionals at Derby and Forest.

“And now my youngest grandson is really good, he shows some fantastic skill and has already been looked at by clubs, at the age of seven.

“I just hope he’s the lucky one who makes it through.”

Spireites results are the first Bowler looks for these days, and his days with the club are never far from his mind, even if the memories are full of what ifs.

“I have great memories of that period I had down there, it was really, really good and I do wonder what might have been, but aside from the knee injury I have no regrets.”

Bowler is hoping that some of his old Clay Cross team-mates will be interested in a reunion.

He can be contacted via rogerabowler@gmail.com