Ian Bowling – a truly great Stags keeper

Profile of his career at Field Mill

By Martin Shaw, for Follow the Yellow Brick fanzine, September 2000

In September 2000, after 5 years at Mansfield Town, goalkeeper Ian Bowling was released. Bowling had only played in 4 full seasons of the 5 seasons at the club due to injury, and remarkably he had received the CHAD and Supporters Club Player of the Season awards in 3 of those 4 seasons. He was a very popular player and below is a profile of his career at Field Mill.

Ian Bowling first joined the Stags on a pre-season tour of Cyprus in July 1995, immediately following the controversial departure of Darren Ward to Notts County. Bowling made his Stags debut at Ethnikos in a 0-0 draw. After the game he said "it was a strange place to make a debut; it could just have easily been Hucknall Town!"

The 29 year-old Bowling had already made about 300 league appearances for his previous clubs Lincoln and Bradford as well playing for Sheffield Wed in the Inter-Toto cup. Bowling had been brought up as a Sheffield Wednesday fan and jumped at the chance to play for them in the Inter-Toto cup. He said "Everybody knocked the tournament but to play for the club you’ve always supported is every player’s dream."

Bowling made his league debut for Mansfield in a 4-2 defeat at Fulham in August 1995 yet he made some magnificent saves to prevent an embarrassing scoreline and deservedly won the man of the match award in the CHAD and Evening Post. He was then man of the match again in the second league game: a 0-0 draw at home to Leyton Orient though after the game he modestly said "I’ve only made 3 saves and got the man of the match award." A few weeks later Bowling made a costly error in injury time at home to Scunthorpe failing to catch a simple cross and gifting an equaliser to the visitors, after Stags themselves had only just taken the lead in the 89th minute through Simon Ireland. Bowling was crucified by manager Andy King, who pointed out that Bowling had been faultless in the previous 8 league games. Surprisingly Bowling was immediately dropped, but replacement Jason Trinder got himself injured and Bowling found himself back in the team. Consistent performances followed, though Bowling was sent off along with Warren Hackett for a foul outside the box in a 2-1 defeat at home to Lincoln. Bowling’s replacement while suspended was again Jason Trinder, but after a couple of mistakes he was hounded out by home fans, much in the same way as Jason Pearcey had been before him, and Trinder left the club in upsetting circumstances. With no understudy at the club, Bowling then had to play through the pain barrier with a broken finger for several weeks. After doing this for several weeks, Bowling was quoted as saying "You just have to get on with it. It’s painful but not unbearable. In fact despite injury, Bowling continued playing for the remainder of the season missing just one game when Nicky Weaver played his only game for Mansfield in a 2-0 win at Cambridge. Bowling’s form towards the end of the season was sensational and it was no surprise that he ended up sweeping the board of Player of the Season awards. He ended up playing in 49 of Stags 52 league and cup games.

Steady performances continued during the 1996/97 season, either side of the departure of Andy King and replacement by Steve Parkin. It was not until midway through the season that Bowling agreed to sign a contract having played on a week-to-week basis for several months. Andy King played tribute to Bowling saying "He’s one of the best shot stoppers in the division and we’d have been in a mess without him." Amazingly Bowling had been playing with a disfigured knuckle for a full 12 months and said in an interview in the Football Post that "I simply straps my fingers up and play on week in week out." Perhaps his finest moment of the season was a penalty save at home to Northampton that preserved a 1-0 victory, with a goal by Scott Eustace. It was his second penalty save against Northampton of the season. Bowling’s great form continued and again he swept the board of Player of the Season awards (apart from the SOS award that went to Brian Kilcline). Bowling didn’t miss a single game all season. At the end of the season, understudy Nicky Weaver was sold to Manchester City for a fee that eventually rose to £200,000, having never had a chance to break in to the first team such was the quality of Bowling’s performances.

During the 1997/98 season, Bowling played in every game until October. He had minor surgery on his elbow, but the arm swelled to almost twice its size after infection set into a wound and he had to be re-admitted into hospital. Manchester United keeper Paul Gibson was drafted in on loan. Gibson played in the side until mid-November when Stags played Oldham in the FA Cup. Gibson was not allowed to play so Bowling had to return despite still not being fully recovered. Bowling played with his arm heavily strapped and said afterward "I was in a lot of pain every time I dived but I wanted to play and was determined not to let the lads down." Gibson then returned to the side for league games before Bowling played in the cup replay against Oldham. However Bowling’s injury persisted and Gibson again returned to the side in the league until Gibson himself suffered a nasty injury in early January at home to Rochdale. Bowling returned to the side and immediately played a man of the match role in an Auto Windscreen Shield victory over Wrexham. Bowling continued in the side in good form right through to the end of the season. In the final game of the season, at home to Swansea, Bowling was playing his 250th league and cup game, but was sent off for a handball outside the box 20 minutes from time. Stags still won the game 1-0 and finished the season in mid-table, just 5 points beneath the play-offs. Despite injury, Bowling still played in 40 of Stags 53 league and cup games during the season.

At the start of the 1998/99 season, Bowling signed a 2-year contract. In the first game of the season at Brentford, Steve Cherry played in goal as Bowling was suspended. However, Bowling immediately returned to the side and was straight away turning in consistent performances again. However, he soon picked up a niggling groin injury but was forced to continue playing in the side despite not training properly. Speaking at the end of October, Bowling said "I’ve only been training one day a month over the last month or so, and working on my injury in-between. As it stands, I find it hard to kick a ball and though I’ve been having ultrasound treatment, the main cure is resting up. I’m supposed to have complete rest for six weeks, but there is not much chance of that. I’m getting used to the situation. It’s been some time since we’ve had a second keeper." Bowling vowed to battle on through the discomfort and pain. He said "You always know that if you get injured, there isn’t anyone else to turn to. I end up feeling guilty when I have to go in to the gaffer and tell him I’ve got a knock or I’m struggling with something." Bowling continued in the side until mid-December when he simply could not carry on due to his injured groin. Stuart Naylor was brought in on loan but he got injured after only two games and Bowling was forced to return to the side on Boxing Day despite not being fit. Bowling continued to play through the pain barrier until the end of January when Naylor was fit enough to replace him. The return of Naylor enabled Bowling to have an operation. But once recovered, Bowling returned to the side in late February in a Man of the Match display in a 0-0 draw at Carlisle. Further inspired displays continued as he let in just three goals in five games including two Man of the Match performances. Stags had until now been hovering around the top of the table but a bad run starting with a 7-2 defeat at Cambridge saw Stags drop out of the play-off zone, though Bowling could not be blamed. With three games left, Stags had returned to the top seven thanks to a 2-0 win over Hartlepool. Three days later, prior to a home game with Exeter, Bowling was presented with the Supporters Club Player of the Season award. But, during the game, disaster was to strike as Bowling’s arm was broken in an incident that led to Exeter scoring the only goal of the game. Chris Adamson was brought in on loan but defeat in the next game at Shrewsbury saw Stags miss out on the play-offs. Bowling was released from hospital just in time to also collect the Chad Player of the Season award prior to the final game of the season at home to Cardiff. He had played 43 of the 52 league and cup games and was third in Match magazine’s Division III Goalkeeper of the Season.

It wasn’t until 30 October 1999 that Bowling returned from the broken arm, playing in an FA Cup defeat at Bristol City. Upon returning to the side, Bowling told the press that he had had a spell of depression during the summer and had been told by a surgeon that he would be lucky to play at all during the coming season. He had had to have a series of plates and pins inserted, and then a skin graft to close the wound up. Bowling continued in the side until a knee cartilage injury in January when Stags were forced to draft in Glyn Thompson on loan. Bowling had to have yet another operation that kept him out for the rest of the season. Bowling had played just 13 games out of 51 during the season.

At the end of the season, Bowling had just had a metal plate out of his broken arm and another knee operation and was told by manager Billy Dearden that he would have to return the following season and prove his fitness before being given a contract.

Bobby Mimms had been brought in at the end of the previous season but it was Ian Bowling who started the 2000/2001 season in goal for the first match at Cheltenham. But the game was to end in disappointment when, 3 minutes from time, he was fouled as he went up for a cross, and he dropped the ball. The ball was put in the net and Cheltenham’s equaliser was allowed to stand as the game finished 2-2. Bowling retained his place in the side but in the first game at the newly redeveloped Field Mill against Macclesfield, he dropped a cross to concede an equaliser just 5 minutes from time in a 4-4 draw. Bobby Mimms was immediately re-instated to the side and soon afterwards, Bowling was axed by the club. Manager Billy Dearden said "In my opinion and that of my medical staff, Ian is not what he was before he had the injuries. It’s a hard decision to make and it did hurt me. I would like to wish him all the best for the future. He has been a great servant to the club."

And so ended the career of a great Stags keeper. Remarkably Bowling had played in 4 full seasons for the club, and had received the CHAD and Supporters Club Player of the Season awards in 3 of those 4 seasons. All fans at Mansfield Town wish Ian all the very best for his future and thank him for a truly great career at Field Mill.