by Dom Smith
Jarrod Bowen was not destined to play for England. He was not destined to play for another nation either. He wasn’t destined to play for any nation. Not in the way Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden were almost nailed-on future England players even in their youth days. Bowen’s route to the England team was less conventional and was by no means likely to have a happy ending. But credit to him, because he’s here nonetheless.
When Bowen sat up at the table during his first England press conference ahead of the summer’s Nations League matches, he was representing his country for the first time at any level. He answered questions about his childhood, his journey to the Premier League, and his rise from fortnightly substitute to weekly star.
There was a sense of calmness about Bowen. It was as if being here at St George’s Park finally felt like tangible vindication for his years of dedication to climbing the football ladder.
Yet Bowen’s was a career that had threatened never to be. The versatile forward hails from the sleepy Herefordshire town of Leominster — a place with very little (in the words of José Mourinho) ‘football heritage’. Apart from David Beckham then of Manchester United, young Bowen’s inspiration was his father Sam, who had played for Merthyr Tydfil, Worcester City and Forest Green Rovers. A striker, he’d notched hat-tricks on his debuts for all three and, but for Merthyr’s transfer demands, would have signed for Harry Redknapp’s West Ham United following a successful trial.Embed from Getty Images
The Bowens’ football story has come full circle now, as Bowen trails only England mainstay Declan Rice as West Ham’s best player today. However, Jarrod’s own journey to East London was not a straightforward one.
It started at Aston Villa and Cardiff City, where Bowen failed trials. Turning elsewhere, and lowering his son’s expectations, Sam Bowen helped to convince local non-league side Hereford United to offer Jarrod a scholarship. Jarrod Bowen’s career was off and running. Little did he know it, it would take him all the way to the England national team.
Bowen only made eight appearances for the senior side before Hereford United folded. The youngster was snapped up by Hull City who were then in the Premier League. Hull were eventually relegated and then promoted, each time without Bowen playing a part. But in his third season at the club, he represented the Tigers seven times in the Premier League, but ultimately the club were again relegated.
For Bowen’s career, this turned out to be a blessing. The churn of players allowed him to nail down a starting spot for the team each week in the 2017/18 Championship season. He scored 15, then 22, then 17 in the next three seasons, cementing himself as Hull City’s biggest asset, and one of the league’s best young players. Plenty of Premier League clubs were now circling like hawks.
On transfer deadline day of January 2020, Bowen finally got his big move. West Ham. By now, Bowen’s short career had already proven to be one of gradual improvement and a constant upturn in the player’s stature within the game. At West Ham, that continued. Involvement crept up, his goal involvements followed, and soon Gareth Southgate was making regular visits to the London Stadium — and not just to watch Rice.Embed from Getty Images
Last term, Bowen scored 18 times for the Hammers. In March, he picked up an untimely short-term injury which meant Southgate wasn’t able to call him up for friendly wins against Switzerland and Côte d’Ivoire. But by the time England’s June international break came along, the stage was set for a debut international call-up for Jarrod Bowen. Jarrod of Leominster, favourite of Fantasy Football players, inspiration to non-league footballers across the country.
And so Bowen sat there in the England press conference, reminding reporters of his long and tortuous journey here. He told EnglandFootball.org about his memories of watching England as a wide-eyed football-obsessed kid.
“I remember watching it when I was younger when Frank Lampard scored that goal that hit the bar that went over the line but the goal didn’t get given”, he recalled. “I also remember watching the Euros. So I’ve got a lot of memories. I’m obviously a football fan as well and I love football and I love watching my country.”
Speaking ahead of his debut, which came in the 1–0 defeat to Hungary in Budapest, Bowen said: “It would be a bit strange if some of my friends are in the pub watching the game and I’m hopefully participating.”
For the West Ham favourite, even a year and a half ago, there had been genuine hope among Hammers supporters that Bowen might be able to squeeze his way into Southgate’s expanded 26-man squad for a largely home European Championships campaign. Bowen was as desperate to be included as any of his most fervent admirers, but he could now see the bigger picture.
“Everyone’s got a dream. But England’s another level to get to. It’s everyone’s dream. I’ve put my name in contention for a call-up which I’ve [now] got. Obviously I’m delighted with it.”Embed from Getty Images
As the 2022/23 season begins to unravel, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford’s torment at a sinking Manchester United look set to persist even under the new management of Erik ten Hag. With Emile Smith Rowe starting on the Arsenal bench more often now than this time last year, Bowen is right to keep a seat on the plane to Qatar this winter right in the forefront of his mind.
As he sat there in June, he admitted to EnglandFootball.org: “I think I’d be lying if I said I haven’t dreamed about it. Everyone’s got a dream of playing for their country when they grow up. To play in a tournament for my country would be a dream.”
Competing at the 2022 World Cup remains Bowen’s primary goal. In Leominster, Hereford, Hull and East London, they’ll be willing him on. You wouldn’t bet against a 25-year-old whose career trajectory has never dipped, never even stalled. Just as he does at Premier League grounds each week, he’s timed his run perfectly.