Centre half Gerry Bowler joined the Tigers in August 1949 as City manager Raich Carter assembled a squad ready to compete in the Second Division following promotion the previous season. Carter had been pursuing England international centre half Neil Franklin all summer, but his parent club Stoke City refused to sell (Franklin joined City two years later after an ill-fated spell in Colombia) so Bowler, signed from Portsmouth’s reserves, was seen as second choice. If that was the received wisdom then it didn’t affect Gerry’s form, who at 30 years of age relished his first chance to showcase his talents week in week out in the English game. He missed only four matches all season as City initially challenged at the top of the Second Division, even reaching second spot in November 1949 after seven wins in eight League games, before a collapse in form after Christmas saw the Tigers finish 7th. Gerry remained an impressive presence at the centre of City’s defence and earned international honours, but by the end of the season he expressed a wish to head to the south of England for family reasons. Consequently he left the club in June 1950 after just one season.
Gerard Columba “Gerry” Bowler was born in Londonderry, a city now on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland but part of a fracturing single Irish state under British control when he was born in 1919. He was a capable school student who went on the study at Londonderry Municipal Training College, an institution that he also represented at football. When he left college in 1939 he joined local Irish League side Derry City and served the Candystripes for four years until Belfast-based side Distillery paid £1,000 for his services in May 1943 – at that time a record fee paid for a player transferred between Irish clubs. During this time Bowler, a semi-professional footballer, worked as a sports reporter for the local Derry newspaper.
Bowler continued to impress during three years playing for Distillery, he racked up over 120 appearances and earned a runners-up medal in the 1946 Irish Cup final as Distillery lost out to city rivals Linfield. In August 1946 English First Division side Portsmouth paid £3,500 to prise Bowler away from Belfast and join the English professional game. Despite his strong reputation in Irish circles Bowler was made to wait for his Pompey first team debut, which came in May 1947 as the fixture backlog created by the harsh winter of February 1947 was unwound. Bowler was similarly underused over the next two seasons as Portsmouth, under the leadership of future City manager Bob Jackson, lifted the First Division title and reached the FA Cup semi final in 1949 – Bowler made only two first team starts in that successful 1948/49 season. He was therefore ready for a new challenge when Hull City manager Raich Carter enquired of his availability during the 1949 close season.
Bowler joined Division Three South side Millwall in June 1950, a handsome £11,000 fee being paid to Hull City for the transfer. For the next three seasons he was practically ever-present as the Lions challenged at the upper end of the Division Three South table, peaking in 1953 when they finished second in the table and were pipped to promotion by Bristol Rovers. Bowler started the 1953/54 season as first choice centre half but played less regularly in the closing months of the season. Retained for the 1954/55 season, Bowler made only seven starts and left the Lions in the 1955 close season having made 180 senior appearances.
In September 1955 Gerry accepted a job at APV, a chemicals firm based in Crawley new town in Sussex – the job also involved Bowler becoming player-manager of the firm’s works football team APV Athletic, which competed in the Sussex County League and sported a handful of former professional footballers employed on similar terms. In May 1958 Bowler’s application to become manager of Sussex coast side Lewes was rejected but three months later he was appointed first team coach at Horsham FC, who competed in the Corinthian League. Gerry piloted Horsham for three seasons before leaving the club in November 1961 and returning to coach APV Athletic. He remained living in the Sussex and Surrey area for the rest of his life, dying in Redhill, Surrey in March 2006.
During his year at Hull City Gerry Bowler won international honours for the Belfast-based Irish FA XI – the Irish FA had jurisdiction over the game across all of the island before Irish independence, when the Irish Free State FA was created in Dublin and had a second all-Ireland international team – they eventually became the Northern Ireland FA and Republic of Ireland FA respectively. The Irish FA XI was competing in the four-team 1949/50 British Home Championship, which uniquely also decided qualification for two places in the 1950 World Cup finals (although Scotland, who finished second in the table, declined to take up their place in the finals tournament in Brazil). Gerry started all three Home Championship matches for Ireland, a bruising 2-8 defeat to Scotland at Windsor Park in Belfast, a similarly problematic 2-9 defeat to England at the Maine Road ground in Manchester (future City striker Stan Mortensen netting twice for England) and a calmer 0-0 draw against Wales at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground that saw the last all-Ireland team fielded by the IFA for many years. Gerry also toured North America with an Irish FA squad in the summer of 1953, but did not win further senior international caps.
Date/Place of Birth: 8 June 1919, Londonderry
Hull City First Game: 20 August 1949, Bury H (Division Two), 30 years, 73 days old
Hull City Final Game: 6 May 1950, Cardiff City H (Division Two), 30 years, 332 days old
Derry City (1939-1943), Distillery (1943-1946), Portsmouth (1946-1949), Hull City (1949-1950), Millwall (1950-1955), APV Athletic (1955-1958)
Hull City Record
Career: 42 apps, 0 goalsGerry Bowler