When you mention the name of Lee Bowyer to your average football supporter, unfortunately only one image springs to mind.
Whilst playing for Newcastle United in 2005, the midfield enforcer came to blows (quite literally) with fellow teammate Kieron Dyer during a Premier League clash with Aston Villa which resulted in both players being sent off and then-manager Graeme Souness looking on in disbelief at St James’ Park.
However, during an eight-year spell at Leeds United, Bowyer delivered a number of sensational performances which eventually saw him achieve cult hero status at Elland Road. After experiencing a bright start to his career at Charlton Athletic, he decided to make the switch to West Yorkshire in 1996, signing for a fee reported to be in the region of £2.8m (via the BBC) which at the time was a record payment for a teenager from Britain.
Learning from the guidance of then-Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson, Bowyer continued his development as a player yet he was made to wait two years before he finally locked down a regular position in the starting eleven. With David O’Leary now in charge of the Whites, the midfielder began to demonstrate his fantastic talents on more of a consistent basis and played an instrumental role in helping his side secure qualification for the Champions League in 2000.
The following year saw Leeds enjoy one of their best European campaigns in their history with Bowyer taking centre-stage for his club. Goals against the likes of Besiktas, Barcelona, Lazio and Anderlecht propelled the O’Leary’s side to the quarter-finals of the competition where they defeated Deportivo La Coruna 3-2 on aggregate to set up a clash with fellow Spanish side Valencia. After a goalless first-leg at Elland Road between the two sides, Bowyer looked set to feature at the Mestalla yet instead he was handed a one-match ban by Uefa after being found guilty of stamping on Juan Sanchez.
In what was arguably the club’s biggest game in a generation, Leeds ultimately fell short of reaching the Champions League final as they were defeated 3-0 by Hector Cuper’s side, bringing their extraordinary run to an end. Despite the disappointment of missing the Valencia clash, Bowyer’s performances during the 2000-01 campaign were recognised by his club as he went on to win the Player of the Year award (via the Observer) at Leeds for the second time in two years.
After contract talks broke down in 2002, the midfielder decided that it was time to move away from Yorkshire and return to London and so joined West Ham United. Although he showed glimpses of his talent at Upton Park, it can be argued that his best years as a footballer were during his spell at Leeds as he scored an impressive total of 55 goals in 265 appearances for the club, playing an instrumental role in allowing their supporters to dream of European glory.
Now the manager of Charlton Athletic, Bowyer is aiming to secure promotion to the Championship with the club in what is his first full season in charge at The Valley. The Addicks, who are currently fifth in League One, could still finish in the top-two in May if results elsewhere go their way over the coming weeks.