Allen John ('Sheik') Bowers
- 194Wallaby Number
Allen ‘Sheik’ Bowers was a very fast, high-scoring winger of the 1920s and was rated as one of the best around at a time when Sydney rugby was not short of quality finishers. Had he played these days, though, the end of his career would have been splashed across the front pages in the boldest type and would have obscured everything else he accomplished on the field. Back in his day, the papers were more sympathetic and while the facts of the case were put before the public Bowers was never condemned, either by his teammates or the fans, and retained a lifelong connection with the game. Since the rather dramatic conclusion to his career has already been touched upon, we will start at the end.
He was chosen to make the European tour with the famous Waratahs in 1927-28 – he replaced an injured Bryan Palmer in the touring party – but had married shortly before the tour. Naturally he felt homesick at times and injuries limited him to only nine matches on tour, another frustration many players have felt over the years. In the end he had a scuffle with tour vice-captain Charlie Fox in the team hotel and, aware of the bad feeling caused by this incident in what was otherwise a very happy side, Bowers went to the manager, Gordon Shaw, and asked to be allowed to return home. Shaw acceded to his request and Bowers left the team, but it was his own decision and he was not expelled from the party as some stories would have it.
The proof of that came in later years when he attended many Waratahs reunions; had he left in disgrace, it is hard to imagine he would have been such a regular at these functions. Bowers had been a regular in New South Wales teams from 1923, when he made his debut against the New Zealand Maori team. Bowers had not played in the first match, when Owen Crossman made a spectacular debut as a replacement and scored two tries, but took Crossman’s place on the bench when the Randwick man was promoted to the playing XV for the second match. As luck would have it, Pup Raymond left the field again (after scoring a try, again) and Bowers took over his place. He emulated Crossman by scoring two tries in an impressive debut, as both tries took some scoring and his finishing ability quickly marked him out as a winger above the average.
Bowers played the third Test, paired with Crossman, but opportunities were fewer in this match and most of his work was done on defence. There was little question Bowers would be chosen for the New Zealand tour that year and, as a young player just making good in the State team, he was unlikely to declare himself unavailable as ten other more senior players did. Even that was not the end of the team’s troubles, as they made some very strange selections on tour and Bowers was unwittingly involved; he was not chosen for the first Test despite a good game against South Canterbury (the Test pair were Danie Erasmus and Norm Smith) and then, despite another good outing against Southland in a match the tourists lost heavily, Bowers was not chosen for a fortnight.
The team carried on losing games heavily before Bowers returned for the match against Waikato-Thames Valley-Bay of Plenty, where he played well enough to get chosen for the third Test. This match was a disaster, as New Zealand ran riot, but Bowers was still one of the few players who took part in both wins (the team only won two matches out of ten) despite making only four appearances in total. He was not seen again in State colours until 1925, when he was part of a New South Wales team that ‘got a bath’ from the All Blacks in the first Test of three in Sydney. Bowers was again replaced by Norm Smith after the State 2nd XV surprised the tourists in the midweeker and he may have been a touch fortunate to make the team for the tour of New Zealand later in the year.
Of the three tours Bowers made with the Waratahs, this was his best from a personal viewpoint. He played regularly, the team had forwards who could win plenty of good possession and there was a star-studded backline that was adept at creating space for the fast men to finish off. Bowers scored nine tries in his seven matches, including hat-tricks against West Coast- Buller and Poverty Bay –East Coast, and was not threatened for his Test place. In this match the Waratahs had the misfortune to come up against an outstanding All Black side in rampant mood and the visitors, despite the class throughout the team, was on the thin edge of a 10-36 hiding.
Many good judges felt this team was the best to represent New Zealand at home to that time and for a good many years afterwards. Bowers scored one of the tourists’ two tries but there was only ever going to be one winner at that match. Bowers was at the top of his form around this time and would have probably been a first-choice through the 1926 home series with New Zealand except he broke his wrist in the first match (won 26-20 by the home side, the only time Bowers was not in a team defeated by at least 20 points by some extremely powerful All Black sides) and his season was over at that point. He was still in good form a year later and , as previously noted, he was chosen for the big tour. Bowers had injury problems throughout his career and these cropped up on tour, which was no doubt extremely frustrating as tries were falling his way thick and fast.
He opened with a hat-trick against Devon and Cornwall and scored in each of his next three matches before his appearances became more intermittent. He only played two matches in a month but made the team against Ireland, where he was one of the best players on the field, and a few days later played what would be his last match, against Ulster; he signed off with another try, his eighth of the tour. The strongly built Bowers (he was 6ft tall [1.83m] and weighed 12st 7lb [or 79kg]) was a keen surfer and got his nickname from a swarthy complexion, retired after the tour. He later became a noted coach at school level and later in Melbourne club rugby when he shifted there just before World War II. He made a significant impact in his adopted city and many of the State’s best players came under his expert eye at some stage. A son, Brian, was a high-scoring winger with perennial Melbourne premiership candidate Power House. Bowers often returned to Sydney for team reunions but lived out the remainder of his life in the southern city.
“A big winger, fast , with a strong fend, who joined Randwick via Eastern Suburbs from St. Joseph’s College at the start of the 1926 season and who played 21 first grade games, scoring 16 tries [48 pts} in his two seasons with the club. He was the top try-scorer in 1926 in first grade with 13. He played two Test matches while with Randwick, against New Zealand in 1926 and against Ireland in 1927 while on tour with the 1927-28 Waratahs. His nickname came from his all-the-year-round Coogee sun-tan which gave him some resemblance to the 1920’s heart-throb, Rudolph Valentino, famous as ‘The Sheik.’ “Towards the end of the 1927-28 tour Bowers had a scuffle with the Waratahs’ vice-captain, Charlie Fox. He realised that this incident could cause disharmony in a team noted for its high degree of comradeship and volunteered to return to Australia early; his offer was accepted.
He was not sent home, as some writers have claimed, and regularly attended the Waratahs’ re-unions. He retired from playing after the tour but coached St. Ignatius College, Riverview, for some years. In all, he played in seven Tests, from 1923 to 1927. Bowers moved to Melbourne on business in the late 1930s and coached Footscray to a premiership and was associated with the Power House club, which he coached for some years. It was at this period that there renaissance in Victorian rugby with players emerging like Max Carpenter, the immortal ‘Weary’ Dunlop and the brilliant winger-centre, Dave Cowper. He was in his eighties when his wife died. After her death, to fulfil a promise which he made to her, he travelled to Sydney and, with the help of a local fisherman, scattered her ashes on Wedding Cake Island off Coogee Beach. He himself died at the age of 91. Bowers always remained a Randwick man. In the 1970s and 1980s he visited Sydney annually, always making a point to come to Coogee Oval to watch Randwick play. He regarded Mark Ella as the best fly half he had ever seen, even better than Tom Lawton, his Waratah team-mate.
Allen Bowers married Irene (Rene) McGown in Sydney on the 14thJuly 1927, just prior to him leaving to play rugby for the Waratahs. They were happily married for 59 years, when Rene died on the 17th February 1987. They had only one child, a son Brian John, who was born on the 30th September 1929. Allen worked for Marrickville Holdings/ Eta foods, a Sydney Company, as Transport Manager and was transferred to Melbourne during WWII to organize control, shipping and transport of essential foods for Australian and Allied Forces overseas. During his career with Eta, he held many and varied positions and stayed with Eta until his retirement in 1972.
Allen and Rene never returned permanently to NSW although they spent many holidays with rugby and family friends in Sydney. Wally and Madge Meagher, of Randwick, were their closest friends. After the war Allen became involved in rugby again as follows:- Coach: Footscray RUFC 1948-1949; Coach: Power House RUFC 1951-1953; Coach: Victorian State Team 1953-1954; and State Selector and Board Member of Victorian RU 1952-1954. Brian John played First Grade with Power House Club 1949-1958: Michael John, Allen’s grandson, played with the Power House Club 1979-1982, and became a very successful coach for the Under 12, 14, 16 and Colts, winning seven Grand Finals. Patrick John, Allen’s great grandson, played for Power House Juniors from 1997, then played with the Colts team and became Club Captain.
So four generations of Bowers have been at the Power House Club. Allen and Rene lived at Caulfield and Frankston for many years close to the family and grandchildren. After Rene died he lived on his own until the age of 90, then moved to a retirement hostel until he died of a heart attack aged 91. All those years he had a sharp and vivid memory of every match he had played in and everything to do with rugby throughout the world. A great storyteller, he could recall so many events that happened throughout his life.
Eddie Kann, in Easts Rugby Story, had this to say of Bowers:”Nicknamed ‘The Sheik’, Allen Bowers in 1924 was rated the most dashing winger in Sydney. He possessed plenty of weight (13.2), pace and resolution and was only 20 years of age. “’The Sheik’ goes hard and fast for the line; in addition he is a tenacious tackler. Sometimes his handling is not first class but he should have no difficulty in remedying that..’