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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Barry Cowdrill looks back on his hair-raising Bolton Wanderers career

Barry Cowdrill looks back on his hair-raising Bolton Wanderers career

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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Flying down the wing with Normid plastered across his chest - there was nothing more ‘nineties’ at Bolton than Barry Cowdrill, MARC ILES catches up with ‘Crazy Legs’.

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The mental image of Barry Cowdrill’s lockdown haircut could be enough to make Wanderers fans of a certain vintage wallow in joyous nostalgia for hours.

Sadly, the bouffant style, which stood out a mile tearing up and down the touchline at Burnden Park in the early years of the nineties had recently – and somewhat cruelly – been curbed.

“Sorry to disappoint,” laughed the former Bolton defender. “My son has shaved it all off and there wasn’t much – it’s definitely gone a lot greyer since I was playing up there!”

Not to worry, he didn’t mention the moustache, for the purposes of this story, we’ll just assume that is still there. And besides, we will always have the videos of Dave Higson commentating over fuzzy VHS images of a Wanderers team forged in pre-Premier League football before the crass commercialisation, the glossy graphics, social media and wall-to-wall TV cameras. In short, a time when Bolton had players called Barry Cowdrill, and male perms were still all the rage.

Wanderers had some momentum when the Birmingham-born full-back pitched up from West Brom, the club having secured promotion from Division Four on the final day of the previous season at Wrexham.

“I’d been at West Brom for nine years and Ron Atkinson was manager at the time,” he explained. “He didn’t want to hang me on, I wasn’t in the team and he said if anyone came in for me that I could leave.

“Mick Brown had been down there when I was first at the club in 1979 and was working as Phil Neal’s assistant, so he asked if I fancied it.

“I knew Bolton. Nobody liked playing there because Burnden was a strange little ground and the crowd – I think it was about 6,000 at the time – was fierce.

“I thought ‘why not?’ And I ended up staying there for four years.”

Nowadays the man they dubbed “Crazy Legs” for his lolloping running style helps to run a golf club in Bournemouth. He needs little coercing to tell the tale of his first season, which ended in glorious victory at Wembley against Torquay United in the Sherpa Vans Trophy, complete with sunshine, Norpigs and Elton John.

“We’d gone on a long unbeaten run that season – it ended up being 20 games,” he told The Bolton News.

“Towards the end of that year we were flying. I’ve still got the game against Torquay on DVD, transferred it from VHS, and I’ll occasionally dig it out and have a watch, see how young we all look.

“And I tell you, it was hot that day. I remember going down there a few days before, might have been the Wednesday, and the manager got us to have a tour of the stadium, walk up the steps, just so we knew what it would feel like.

“It was a wonderful day – me and Browny loved getting up and down the flanks and it’s the way we wanted to play. Wasn’t easy in that heat, either.

“They say attacking full-back started when the Premier League came in but we were doing it years before that.”

Neal’s side went on some long unbeaten runs and equalled a club record 27 home games without defeat on a night which remains synonymous with Cowdrill to this day, thanks to the miracle of YouTube.

It took seven-and-a-half hours of football to separate Wanderers and Swindon Town in the Littlewoods Cup – four marathon matches that were among the most exciting of the departing decade.

The first match at the County Ground marked one of the great Bolton comebacks. Ossie Ardilles' side were 3-2 up with just a couple of minutes to go after Alan McLoughlin, Duncan Shearer and Ross McClaren had cancelled out goals from Gary Henshaw and Philliskirk. But a replay was rescued when Mark Came arrived off the bench to blast an equaliser made all the more poignant by the fact it was his first game since breaking his leg 14 months earlier.

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Back to the North West the tie went. Phil Brown and Duncan Shearer had swapped goals in extra time in the second game, played in front of Wanderers’ best home gate in three years. But that benchmark was improved to more than 14,000 for the second tie – staged at Burnden on the toss of a coin - where after Tony Philliskirk had put Bolton ahead, Dave Felgate saved a penalty from Ross McClaren and Steve White levelled the score again.

Enter converted winger Cowdrill and a 30-yard blockbusting volley that might just be the best goal Wanderers never scored.

“I remember the ref was called Mr Peck,” said Cowdrill, leaping on mention of the disallowed goal. “A bald chap who, let’s just say, he lived up to his name.

“I’ve seen it several times on video and whenever anyone realises I used to play football and put my name in YouTube they all think I’ve scored a really good goal because I just ran back to the half way line. They don’t realise he didn’t give it.

“I don’t know whether it was Philly (Tony Philliskirk) or Reevesy (David Reeves) who had drifted just offside but there is no way on earth they were interfering with play. How he disallowed it is a mystery to me even now.”

Unfortunately, a Wanderers side ravaged by injury and missing goal threats Philliskirk and Reeves - affectionately known as 'Bros' - were beaten 2-1 in the fourth encounter, their goal coming from auxiliary front man Came.

Cowdrill’s next two seasons would end in play-off defeat, first in the semi-final defeat against Notts County in 1990, then the final itself against Tranmere Rovers in 1991.

His last hurrah would be in a difficult 1991/92 campaign for club and manager. As Wanderers struggled to find the consistency needed to mount a third charge for promotion the mood within the home supporters changed and Neal was living on borrowed time.

“I always found him a little bit weird,” Cowdrill says of the former Liverpool and England man. “By the end of that season I’d been loaned out to Rochdale and ended up playing a few games for them and then retiring but at when Bolton got rid of him and the league started to change, I remember thinking ‘bugger, I could have still been there.’ “That’s football, I suppose, but I will always be grateful for the chance I got to come back.”

That opportunity would come in 1992, when a Bolton team then managed by Bruce Rioch welcomed Cowdrill and his hometown team of Sutton Coldfield to Burnden for an FA Cup first round match.

“It had all changed with Bolton, Rioch being there, new players, new broom, but it was wonderful to come back and get such a warm reception,” he said. “I’ll never forget that.

“We had to play the game at Burnden because there was no chance they could stage a game like that. I didn’t think I’d get another chance and it was a great day, I really enjoyed it.”

The game was tight, Bolton squeezing through 2-1 with goals from Reeves and Andy Walker – and little did they know at the time but the result was a first step on the road to beating Liverpool at Anfield, a victory which would effectively launch a new era.

After the game, Cowdrill also remembers catching up with a Burnden legend – and perhaps the most Boltonian man on the planet – Dave Higson.

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“It was always a pleasure to speak with Dave,” he recalled. “I mean, you weren’t going to miss that accent, were you?

“He absolutely loved what he did, following the team around and getting his videos. He’d always come and speak to the players before games, after games.

“I remember him telling us a story about going to Wembley in the Sherpa Van and basically they told him he couldn’t come in.

“So Dave being Dave found somewhere else to wander in. He set his camera up and filmed the game – but that’s why the footage was all at a weird angle. He probably wasn’t with the rest of them.”

Cowdrill still keeping in touch with many of his West Brom team-mates in the eighties but has not met up with his Bolton pals in nearly 30 years.

"I speak to a couple like John Thomas and a few years ago I was meant to come up but there was some bad snow which stopped me travelling," he said. "But it would be nice to catch up."

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Loved Crazy legs, he was great and i am the proud owner of Barry Cowdrill t-shirt Very Happy 

I remember the disallowed goal as well, it was a screamer, best goal never given that i've seen.

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