- Former England midfielder Lee Bowyer played his last game in 2012
- The 38-year-old represented clubs including Leeds, West Ham and Newcastle
- Bowyer now runs a carp fishing lake named ‘Etang de Bows’ in France
- Bowyer was involved in several controversial incidents during his career including being cleared of GBH and an on-pitch fight with Kieron Dyer
Joe Bernstein for the Daily Mail Published: 17:43 EST, 28 July 2015
Posing serenely in front of a fishing lake in France’s Champagne region, Lee Bowyer can reflect that he hasn’t done badly for a boy from Canning Town once rejected by Arsenal for being too small.
The one-time Leeds United and England midfielder is a gentleman fisherman these days. The water packed with 200 carp and its tree-lined banks are his, all 12 acres.
Bowyer last kicked a ball three years ago and didn’t want to rush into coaching or the media. So he turned to the pastime that kept him sane throughout a tumultuous 18-year career, and turned it into a business.
Former England midfielder has opened a carp fishing lake in France following his retirement from football
The 38-year-old has named his fishing lake ‘Etang de Bows’, which translates as Bow’s Lake
Bowyer decided on a life away from football after he hung up his boots in 2012
The former box-to-box midfielder is best remembered for his time at Leeds between 1996-2003
‘When I was playing, I used to go on fishing holidays in France for a week every June with my mates,’ says Bowyer. ‘There was this place I loved near a village called Orconte. In November, I called the owner and he was looking to sell because of health issues. So I bought it.’
The lake’s old name was La Fritterie, but Bowyer has renamed it Etang de Bows, which translates as Bows’ Lake —his nickname.
Anglers pay to pitch their tents lakeside and spend the week catching mirror carp, common carp and the occasional catfish. There is a two-year waiting list so Bowyer can only use his own lake in winter when the resort is closed.
‘You either love or hate fishing. I love it — I used it as my getaway as a player. It allowed me to switch off because I was a nightmare otherwise,’ he says. ‘I was one of those who couldn’t unwind or sleep after games. I’d be up until three in the morning watching replays of the game, seeing what I’d done wrong. The fishing helped me unwind.’
The former Leeds midfielder believes people have a preconception of him from how he acts on the pitch
Bowyer’s time at Elland Road came to an end shortly after he was cleared of GBH charges following an incident outside a Leeds nightclub in 2006 – pictured here outside of court after being found not guilty
He used to bump into David Seaman on the riverbank and still fishes when he’s back home in England with Mark Noble of West Ham and Bobby Zamora, who was at QPR last season. His record catch is a 74lb carp.
‘I got the bug as a kid, catching roach in my local canal. Now I could be a professional I think,’ he says.
Bowyer divides his time between his new venture and his family home in Essex where he’s a proud dad to six-year-old twins. He cuts an affable figure, content with his new life, a long way from the midfielder who helped Leeds reach the Champions League semi-final and played for England, but also collected a record number of bookings and was involved in a high-profile court case.
‘Everyone has got this pre-conception of me, that the way I played is the person I am. I suppose it’s understandable, but I am the complete opposite,’ he says.
‘I didn’t get into my county side as a kid and Arsenal rejected me after three years because I was too small. Being the type of person I am, it drove me to where I was. I probably over-achieved.
‘Every team that signed me knew I’d work hard and chip in with goals. And I got on with everyone I played with.’
Bowyer started his professional career at Charlton before ending it with Ipswich Town in 2012
Bowyer’s best spell came at Leeds in a team featuring the likes of Alan Smith and Harry Kewell (right)
Bowyer twice joined West Ham – in 2003 and 2006 – the club he supported as a boy
The best spell came between 1996 and 2003 at Leeds as part of a vibrant side that included Harry Kewell and Alan Smith.
‘We were a proper team. We weren’t scared of anyone and would attack like you couldn’t imagine. People said we were dirty but we were competitive,’ he recalls.
‘We played a mad formation, three men in the middle, two strikers and Harry Kewell who could do what he wanted. David O’Leary got the best out of Mark Viduka, who was a complex character. When Peter Reid got there, Viduka downed tools.’
With neat symmetry, Bowyer scored 99 goals from midfield in his career and was booked 99 times in the Premier League — a record until Gareth Barry passed it last season.
Bowyer regrets the lack of modern-day box-to-box midfielders, saying players are either pigeon-holed as Claude Makeleles or as creative No 10s.
‘There are only a few around now but it’s not the players’ fault,’ he says. ‘Jordan Henderson at Liverpool could do it if he had licence but when I see him he’s sitting, which isn’t his game.
‘Tom Cleverley should get more goals, he is that type of player. But it’s difficult with formations today.
‘I’d always have a box-to-box player. A No 10 is easy to mark. But coming from deep against someone who doesn’t like to track back, you can run off them. You’re harder to pick up.
‘George Graham taught me at Leeds. I turned up from Charlton and he dropped me because I’d leave it to other people to defend.
‘With George, you had to do the dirty side of the game. He only picked me when he thought I was ready to do what he wanted. I was 19 and it was a tough lesson, not to leave your team-mates in the lurch. I owe him a lot.’
Bowyer scored 99 times from midfield during his Premier League career… and was also booked 99 times
Ex-Leeds manager George Graham, who ‘liked the dirty side of the game’, was influential to Bowyer’s career
The tough tackling midfielder only earned a single England cap, although insists he should have had more
The glory days at Leeds didn’t last for ever. In 2001, Bowyer was found not guilty of grievous bodily harm and affray after a fight between two groups in the city centre left a man with serious injuries. He left the club two years later.
One side-effect of the court case was that he couldn’t play for England while it was ongoing. A captain of the Under 21s, he ended up with just one senior cap, against Portugal in 2002.
‘I should have had more,’ he says. ‘While the court case was happening, I was playing my best football.’
He had two spells at West Ham and three years at Newcastle before finishing at Birmingham and Ipswich.
He never publicly said he was hanging up his boots after his final game against Leicester in April 2012.
‘We can announce it now, I am officially retired,’ he smiles. ‘I just didn’t think it was a big deal. I loved the game but my body was telling me it was time to stop.
‘The Championship was too many games. We had a match on the Saturday and (Ipswich manager) Paul Jewell said he needed me to play again on the Monday. I was still stiff as a board and I snapped my groin after 20 minutes.
‘That was it. I had offers the following season but I wasn’t enjoying it any more.’
Bowyer found himself in hot water after getting involved in an on-pitch fight with team-mate Kieron Dyer (C)
Bowyer thought that Alan Shearer’s goals between player’s legs were luck before witnessing them first-hand.
Besides his lake, Bowyer rents out a couple of properties. He doesn’t need football but it’s unlikely he will be lost to the game for ever.
He has his UEFA B licence and may yet move into youth coaching.
‘As a player, you’d get used to arriving at 9am and leaving by 1pm. As a coach, you’re there from 9am and might not get home till 11pm if you do a match. So be sure about it.
‘At the same time, it would be a shame not to pass on the knowledge I’ve picked up through the years.
‘I remember training with Alan Shearer when I first went to Newcastle, he kept shooting through the defender’s legs, and it kept scuffing into the bottom corner. I thought it was luck but after a month I realised it happened every day.
‘He would pause for that split-second, see the defender stretch his legs out to block, then pull it back into the other corner. I’d love to teach things like that to kids. Coach kids first, then see if I want to be a manager.’
Bowyer reveals he caught the fishing bug as a kid, but now believes he is good enough to turn professional
Bowyer, who won 12 Under 21 caps, was disappointed by England’s performance at the Euros this year
Bowyer won 13 Under 21 caps and watched the Under 21 Euros this summer with a degree of sadness as England went out at the group stages.
‘I was surprised Harry Kane went. He’d had a long season and is Tottenham’s main striker. Nine times out of 10, it is the clubs calling the shots. And not just the Under 21s, the full national side too. How many times do you see people pull out having just played on the Saturday?
‘It is a fine line because you want the strongest England team at all levels but I understand why that doesn’t happen sometimes.’
Not wanting to get too despondent about the national game, Bowyer focuses again on the glorious view in front of him. Football has given him a lifestyle he couldn’t have dreamed of. But for the time being he is the one who got away.
Lee Bowyer is a supporter of the Sir Bobby Robson Celebrity Golf Classic. For more details go to: www.sirbobbyrobsoncelebritygolf.com