Lee Fowler – The not so typical football journeyman on jumping between leagues and the art of non-league management

Lee Fowler is a name that will be known by most fans around the Football League and Non-League scene.

On paper he is your archetypal football journeyman who has had more clubs than Tiger Woods, as the old saying goes.

But for anyone who has seen him play, and seen him play at his best, he is far from your average journeyman.

Fowler began at the top and floated down the leagues, but was quite unique in the fact that he could bounce between non-league and League One with relative ease.

His off field problems with alcohol have been well documented, and in this candid interview the former midfielder believes without his issues he could have retained a career at the top level.

“I think without the problems I had off the field I could have continued to play in the Premier League, or the Championship for most of my career,” admitted Fowler.

“But what has happened has happened. I was in rehab at 27, and they are supposed to be the best days of your career.”

Fowler began his career at Coventry City when the Sky Blues were in the Premier League.

There he made his way into the first team and was alongside the likes of John Hartson and Gary McAlister, before going on to play for Huddersfield, Burton Albion, Newport County and Forest Green Rovers.

It was at the latter club where Fowler announced he was an alcoholic and had gone into rehabilitation.

But his career was far from over.

“If I didn’t have the problems I did, I wouldn’t have left Coventry,” insisted the 37-year-old.

“I probably would have gone to another club at that level.”

Your typical Football League player knows that once they drop into non-league it is very unlikely that they will rise again.

They may gain a promotion back to the Football League, but it is very rarely a player drops down to the non-league pyramid and his brought back up.

But Fowler isn’t your typical player.

After Forest Green he went to Kettering, Cirencester, Halesowen, before rising to Wrexham and then on to Fleetwood.

He then jumped back to League One with Doncaster Rovers.

It was something that Fowler admits himself, he found easy to come by because of the player he was.

Fowler added: “I went between part and full time a bit, but I found it easier because of the type of player I was.

“My game was on ability rather than fitness and that allowed me to drop in at most levels, and go between non league and the Football League.

“I wasn’t a box to box midfielder. If I was it would have been harder, but I was a technical player and that helped.”

Fowler has also admitted that he found moving clubs simple because if he wasn’t playing at one club, he just wanted to go and play.

But his move from Wrexham to Fleetwood was one that didn’t sit 100 per cent right with the playmaker.

Wrexham were pushing Fleetwood at the top of the National League in 2012, when Fowler made the switch to the club that went on to gain promotion.

He came in for a fair bit of criticism for the switch, but revealed a few years ago it was nothing to do with money and it was the club who accepted a higher bid for him.

“ Wrexham to Fleetwood was tough. I had some personal issues with family at the time,” said Fowler.

“I was doing well and Doncaster and Fleetwood both came in. I was happy but Wrexham accepted a higher bid that came from Fleetwood.

“You’d think, why do they want to sell to a rival but they did and it was disappointing how it all went, I got a lot of abuse.

“There were even some death threats and it wasn’t nice.”

The rest of Fowler’s CV really does make for interesting reading, and again shows his ability to jump between the leagues.

After a loan spell at Burton Albion he moved to Kidderminister Harriers, before signing for the Welsh Premier League side The New Saints.

He played a handful of games there, before signing at Cefn Druids.

Fowler failed to make an appearance and he moved on to Nuneaton.

Lee Fowler in action – Mike Sheridan/Ultrapress

Then, in typical Fowler fashion, he was loaned out to League One Crawley Town, playing 18 games for the club in 2015.

He eventually returned to Wrexham followed by spells at Tamworth, AFC Telford United and Holywell Town.

“I went to the Welsh Prem, and again was able to rise up the leagues because of the player I was,” added Fowler.

“I was a journeyman but it was because if I wasn’t playing, I just wanted to move to somewhere where I was going to get a game.

“So I don’t regret that, because I made the moves for a reason.”

Despite only playing in the league for a short period, Fowler is a keen observer of the JD Cymru Premier, as it is known now.

He believes the league was a bit too boring for a player like himself, but admits the gaps are shorter than they were.

But another observation from the former midfielder is how predictable some of the managers and clubs have become in recent years.

“How I was, I found the league very boring, but it is getting better,” added Fowler.

“You’ve got good sides at the top who have done well, Jock (Andy Morrison) at Connah’s Quay, TNS and Bala are up there.

“But for me it is very predictable and everyone plays the same way, apart from a couple, because they all come through the same coaching courses with the Welsh FA.

“The gaps are closer now and things have improved, you can see that with the way Connell Rawlinson and Scott Quigley have gone on to play in the Football League.”

Fowler wasted no time in getting into the dugout and channelling his talents into managing.

He served as assistant at Nuneaton before making the switch to manager, and scooped a trophy while in charge at Ilkestin Town.

Last year he was assistant at National League North side Bradford Park Avenue, before taking the reigns at Radcliffe earlier this year.

Former top level professionals can find it difficult down the leagues in management, when they can’t understand why players can’t do what they did.

But Fowler comes from a different school of thought, having been someone who has played at semi-professional and professional level.

“Some managers who played at a good level do struggle, maybe their egos get in the way and they can’t understand players at this level,” insisted Fowler.

“But you have to understand these lads have worked all week, they train twice and play on a Saturday.

“So if you maybe are getting a little bit less from one lad, who has worked hard all week, they you have to understand that.

“And you have to understand that you can’t give all the information you give a pro to a part time player.

“You have to give little bits and keep things basic sometimes.”

Friends of Fowler have dropped into coaching and management at a higher level due to connections in the game.

For Fowler, he has started at the bottom and is prepared to work his way up, although he was linked with a big Football League job recently.

He added: “There was a little link to the Tranmere job a few weeks ago before that went.

“I want to go as far as I can, but I’m enjoying it at the moment.

“I think I’ve had to start at the bottom and keep going that way, whereas others have had connections higher up and gone in that way.

“But I wanted to do it this way, and I’m enjoying it this way.”

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