Eddie Lowe: Aston Villa and Fulham wing-half inexplicably overlooked by England after winning three caps
Saturday 28 March 2009
The England debutant Eddie Lowe was 21 years old, with the ball at his feet and the massed ranks of the French defence ranged in front of him.
The tall, lean Midlander swayed gently but persuasively and his opponents lurched with him, buying his subtle dummy and thus allowing him to deliver an exquisite through-pass with his favoured left foot into the path of his sublimely talented team-mate Raich Carter. "The Great Horatio", needing no second invitation, strode on majestically to score his country's third and final goal, to which France offered no reply.
On that afternoon at Highbury in May 1947 it seemed that in Lowe, who linked so fluently with his fellow half-backs Billy Wright and Neil Franklin, a new international star had been born. But although he continued to excel in the short term for Aston Villa, before going on to become a stalwart at Fulham, he played just two more games for England.
The reason for this lack of international opportunity was unclear. There was a rumour that he had upset an influential member of the FA's selection committee, who had a vested interest in a rival club, by not agreeing to a certain transfer, but that could never be proved. As it was, Lowe – an unassuming, studiously correct, thoroughly decent individual – just got on with his career, giving impeccable value for money every time he walked on to a pitch.
Most of the time he played as a deep-lying left-half (a defensive midfielder in modern parlance) who could also slot in alongside the centre-half when needed. Although he was no greyhound, his distinctive loping stride carried him around the field with deceptive pace, and while fairness was his byword, he was unremittingly hard in the tackle. As a man-marker he was fiercely tenacious, too, proving adhesively effective in direct opposition to some of the most inventive schemers of the day.
In addition he was powerful in the air, he was invariably composed and, as the French discovered to their chagrin, he could pass beautifully. For all that, he was often conservative with his distribution, preferring to break up attacks and feed his own creative inside-forwards. This was a policy as eminently sensible as it was characteristically selfless – especially when he was lining up with an artist like Johnny Haynes at Fulham.
As a teenager, Lowe found employment at a tube-works in Birmingham, before moving to London to become an engineer during the war. While in the capital he guested for Millwall as an amateur, and also represented Finchley and Walthamstow Avenue briefly, before returning to the Midlands. It was while playing for his works side in a cup final that he was discovered by Villa.
After turning professional in September 1945, Lowe, who served as a "Bevin Boy" in Black Country coal mines towards the end of the Second World War, soon broke into the first team. He helped his new employers to finish as runners-up in the Football League South, an emergency wartime competition, before becoming a regular when normal service was resumed.
So impressive was his form as Villa maintained a healthy presence in the top half of the First Division that he earned that England call-up against France, then took part in a 1-0 defeat in Switzerland and a 10-0 annihilation of Portugal in Lisbon – playing behind the sumptuous forward line of Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Tom Finney – in the space of three weeks.
However, he was overlooked when England returned to action in the autumn, and then suffered a couple of niggling injuries. Meanwhile, competition for Villa places heated up as the manager Alex Massie strove to combat a slight downturn in results. Thus, in May 1950, Lowe, along with his younger brother Reg, a left-back whose career was to be ended prematurely by a broken leg, was transferred to fellow top-flight club Fulham. Eddie's fee was reported as being £10,000, Reg's as £3,000.
At Craven Cottage Lowe instantly became a pillar of strength. But it was a poor side he had joined and though relegation was avoided narrowly in his first campaign, Fulham went down as the bottom club in 1951-52.
He proved to be a shrewd acquisition, though, emerging as a key component of an attractively remoulded team in which the jewel was the enchantingly gifted young inside-forward, Haynes. As the decade progressed, Fulham entertained royally, aided by a free-flowing attack containing the likes of inside-forwards Bobby Robson and Jimmy Hill, winger Charlie Mitten and spearhead Bedford Jezzard. But it was not until the arrival of Duggie Livingstone as manager in 1956 that a genuine belief in the possibility of promotion began to grow.
In came high-quality additions such as the full-backs Jimmy Langley and the future World Cup hero George Cohen, and the former England centre forward Roy Bentley. In 1957-58 Fulham finished fifth in the Second Division and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, bowing out only after a replay to a Manchester United team recently ravaged by the Munich air disaster, although Lowe missed that knock-out sequence through injury.
A season later, however, he was back exuding authority as Fulham, with Jezzard newly installed as manager, finished runners-up to Sheffield Wednesday, thus reclaiming their place among the elite. Lowe maintained a steady presence as Fulham consolidated with a commendable 10th place in 1959-60, then embarked on a trio of successful battles against relegation leavened by another run to the last four of the FA Cup in 1961-62.
By the spring of 1963, Lowe was approaching his 38th birthday, yet could look back on a term in which he had finished fourth in the Footballer of the Year poll. The coveted statuette went to an even more gnarled campaigner: Stanley Matthews.
Lowe, who had been linked in the press with a move to high-riding Tottenham Hotspur only 18 months earlier, was now at a crossroads. Instead of attempting to soldier on in the top tier, he accepted an offer to become player-manager of Third Division Notts County, bowing out of Craven Cottage having played more times for the club than anyone except the icon Haynes.
Sadly, the move didn't work out. Heavily criticised for his early sale of the thrusting young marksman Tony Hateley to Aston Villa, and the subsequent poor form of the replacement, Terry Bly, Lowe never truly recovered. County, who were not financially well endowed, were demoted as bottom club that term. He then sold another popular striker, Jeff Astle, to West Bromwich Albion during the subsequent mediocre season in the basement division. By then, in his 40th year and thus incapable of making a meaningful impact on the field, he was sacked in the spring of 1965.
Still devoted to the game, Lowe scouted briefly for Plymouth Argyle while qualifying as an accountant, before earning his livelihood as a purchasing manager for a boiler-making company in Nottingham, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Edward Lowe, footballer and manager: born Halesowen 11 July 1925; played for Aston Villa 1945-50, Fulham 1950-63, Notts County 1963-64; capped three times by England 1947; managed Notts County 1963-65; married (wife deceased 2001; two sons, one daughter); died Nottingham 9 March 2009.
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