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Bittersweet Wembley memories for Gary Bowyer

For every Nigel Jemson and Alex Revell, there is a Gary Bowyer.

Wembley only tends to remember winners and that’s why Jemson, with his brace in the 1996 Auto Windscreens Shield win and Revell, with his ambition and brilliance in 2014 etched their name into Rotherham United folklore following their heroics at the national stadium.

It rarely remembers losers, indeed, even Ryan Taylor’s two-goal salvo in the 2009-10 League Two play-off final cannot sustain itself in the memory alongside the truly great moments in the club’s history.

But what about players like former Millers full-back Bowyer?

Look up the word bittersweet in the dictionary and there is likely to be a picture of the Scot next to its definition.

Bowyer was part of that 1996 squad that created history by becoming the first Millers squad to play – and win – at Wembley.

The victory over Shrewsbury Town was the culmination of a superb run in the competition, in which Bowyer more than played his part, with the Area Final second-leg win over Carlisle United often spoke about as one of the great away days in the club's history.

The glory at Wembley, in front of almost 25,000 fans from Rotherham, was sealed by Jemson’s two goals and led to scenes that go down in history.

That was the sweet part for Bowyer.

The bitter part – he was left out of the side by joint-managers Archie Gemmill and John McGovern and was an unused substitute, something that no matter what brave face is put on it, must overshadow the day slightly.

But to his credit, there was no sulking from the former full-back and he put his obvious disappointment to one side.

“Unfortunately for myself I got left out on the day which wasn't very good from a personal point of view," he said.

“Everybody wants to play but the managers at the time made the decision that I didn't play so that was that.

“You just have to quickly accept it and get around the ones that were playing.

"I remember going straight up to Paul Hurst, who had taken my place, and wished him all the best and then at the end of the game I congratulated him because it was a team effort.

“I had played my part in getting us there and I was really delighted to go as winners.

“It was great to go there and be a winner at Wembley. It's a special place - and to go and win is a fantastic achievement.

“I can remember the Rotherham fans came out in their thousands, it was brilliant to see in terms of the level of their support. It was a great day out for them and fortunately we helped that.”

Unfortunately, things did not get much better for Bowyer, or the club, after the Wembley win and both endured horror seasons in 1996/97.

Bowyer suffered a career-ending back injury while the Millers went through arguably their worst-ever campaign which resulted in relegation to the fourth tier following the appointment of the eccentric manager Danny Bergara – who later claimed to be the trailblazer in allowing English clubs to appoint foreign managers.

Bergara resided over some of the darkest times at Millmoor, but Bowyer insists the Uruguayan, who passed away in 2007 aged 65, wasn’t all bad.

“I can remember the first day he (Bergara) came in and he got introduced as the new manager and he started speaking in Spanish,” he added.

“He addressed us in Spanish for a couple of minutes and we all kind of thought, 'Oh my god - we might have a problem here!'

"But he was a good bloke; he was very, very passionate about football and would talk football all day long. I loved listening to him.”

When Bowyer exited Millmoor in 1997, just prior to Ronnie Moore’s arrival, it would have been unthinkable for the club to be where it is now, playing in the second tier in a fantastic new stadium.

Steve Evans led this particular rise, following in the footsteps of Moore, and Bowyer has watched on from a distance with admiration.

"When I left, the club had just got relegated and attendances had dropped," he added.

"But you always knew that there was support there for the club, as was proved when we went to Wembley.

"But the turnaround of the club over the last couple of years has been nothing short of magnificent.

"The stadium is an unbelievable stadium.

“There's no slope on the pitch like there was at Millmoor like when we used to play. That makes it easier for the players because they don't have to run uphill!”

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