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Keith Rowland exclusive: Talking West Ham, Lampard & Aveley FC

As a full back who spent five years at West Ham United in the Premier League, Keith Rowland knows what it is like to face up against some of the best attacking talent in the world.

Marking the likes of Eric Cantona, David Ginola, Matt Le Tissier and Jurgen Klinsmann was his job on a regular basis, but as of today he is happy helping players develop in the lower divisions.

Recently appointed the manager of Aveley in the Isthmian League North Division, the former Northern Ireland international is happy to be back at a club he loves.

After finishing his 18-year playing career, Rowland joined Aveley as a coach in 2008 before moving onto roles at Braintree and Wingate and Finchley.

However, more than ten years after he first walked through the doors at Aveley, Rowland is back and he is confident about the club's prospects this season.

"I think the club is well set to play in a higher division with a new ground and the facilities," he tells Tribalfootball.com.

"There are a few teams in and around us at the minute, but I would hope we would be around the playoffs by the end of the season."

Aveley currently sit in sixth, one place away from the play-offs, but also just three points from top spot.

Because of their run in the FA Trophy, Aveley also have games in hand on most of the teams around them, and Rowland is confident they have what it takes to fight on both fronts.

"Obviously Malden have had a fantastic cup run and we are going the furthest we have ever been in the FA Trophy so there are a lot of games to catch up on," he explained.

"At the minute it is quite tight but I am sure the games will work themselves out in the end and it will be the usual suspects at the end of the season."

Prior to taking the top job at Aveley, Rowland had spent some time as the manager of Wingate and Finchley, before taking time out of the game in 2018.

"I got a phone call out of the blue about three years ago and it was the chairman of Wingate and Finchley about the manager job," he said.

"It was something I wanted to do, to prove to myself that I could manage.

"I took the job on and I really enjoyed it – we got to the playoffs in the second season, which was the highest finish in their history. Overall, it was successful and it was a good learning curve for me."

However, despite ten months out of the game, Rowland was eager to get back into football when the Aveley job became available earlier this season.

"The Aveley job came up six weeks into the season and I wanted to go for it," he recalled.

"I know the club well and I felt that as a manager I had had three years of success and I could do a good job.

"Given time, which I know the club will give me, I think we will do ok.

"One of the great things about being the manager in non-league football is that you have autonomy to take control over what goes on at the football club. Win, lose or draw, it is down to me."

For someone with 19 caps for his country, and one goal, as well as 80 Premier League appearances, Rowland has had opportunities to go into full time coaching.

However, he said the circumstances never aligned for him to move into the professional game.

"A good few years ago Joe Gallen was at QPR and he offered me a route into the full time game with the under-16s," he explained.

"And then Kenny Brown a few years ago asked me if I wanted to come in with the under-18s at Dagenham and Redbridge when they were in the Football League but the academy stuff, I didn't fancy it. It was great to be offered but the time wasn't right."

Having been in coaching and non-league football for more than ten years now, Rowland is very passionate about championing the quality of the players and managers in the part time game.

While Chris Wilder, Jamie Vardy, Danny Cowley and Charlie Austin are all great success stories, Rowland thinks more needs to be done to support talented individuals.

"The FA needs to look into moving the best people up the ladder," he said.

"When I was at Braintree we had a number of players that could have made it into the Football League. But sometimes because of work or their own circumstances, they just don't want to. It is a big step to take.

"There is nothing better than picking up young players that have been released by professional clubs and getting them back into the Football League. As much as we all aim to win leagues and trophies, you are also looking after young men who dream of playing professional football and if you can help them do that, there is nothing better."

As a player, Rowland started out his professional career at Bournemouth aged 18 under the management of Harry Redknapp.

By the end of his career, Rowland had worked under Redknapp for a total of ten years at two different clubs, and it is clear he has a great deal of admiration for what Redknapp achieved.

"Those first few seasons when I was breaking through at Bournemouth, Harry was brilliant for me," he said.

"He came over and signed me, despite Bournemouth having no real scouting network. We would have the odd argument, but Harry was good to work for because he wanted to play the right way.

"There is talk about the West Ham way, but that is what Harry liked. Getting the ball on the deck and playing through the pitch, always going forward. As a full back, going forward was the best part of my game and Harry always encouraged me and pushed me. People don't realise how good a technical coach he was, he wasn't just a manager."

Bournemouth were relegated to Division 3 during Rowland's first season at the club, but are now sat in mid-table in the Premier League as they embark on their fourth successive season in the top flight.

A few years back this would have seemed impossible and Rowland has been so impressed with the way the club has developed and grown in recent years.

"The club was obviously so close to going out of the Football League and that would have been a disaster and Eddie Howe has come in and just done a terrific job," Rowland explained.

"But also behind Howe, they were building the finances as Bournemouth could never survive with just the gate money, so it is massively important for a club like Bournemouth to stay in the Premier League."

A remarkable part of Bournemouth's rise has been the squad Howe has been able to put together, with players like Nathan Ake, David Brooks, Josh King and Callum Wilson all full internationals.

Rowland is particularly impressed with Wilson and said the level of success the club has seen is still hard to believe.

"If you have told me ten years ago that Bournemouth would be in the Premier League with internationals playing for them I would have said you were daft," he said.

"And then having an England striker like Wilson as well – it is a great honour for the club."

After leaving Bournemouth in 1993, Rowland moved to West Ham and was joined by Harry Redknapp a year later.

During his time at West Ham, Rowland played with Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard as teenagers, and said the development of Lampard in particular wasn't straight forward.

"Rio and Frank were coming through at the time when I was at West Ham," he recalled.

"Rio was always going to play at the top level and we all knew he would play for England even when he was just 16 years of age.

"But Frank had to work hard for it and it was difficult for him because his dad was the assistant and Harry was his uncle. But Harry saw something in him even when he struggled. Bringing in Steve Lomas was a great help for him but going to Chelsea was the best choice for him. He needed to get away from the club, and he obviously went on to have a great career."

Since Rowland left West Ham in 1998, the club have of course moved from the old Upton Park to a new home at the London Stadium.

The move hasn't been popular among all fans though and Rowland also has doubts about the stadium.

"I have been there once or twice but it is very fragmented," he explained.

"The setup outside the ground is great, but you get inside and you are so far away from the pitch. At the old ground you were so close and it created a far better atmosphere.

"At Upton Park, if you didn't work hard and do your best, the fans would let you know. But at the new ground, fans are spread out and traditional supporter groups have been split up. The atmosphere isn't the same as Upton Park and I don't think it ever will be."

It was while he played at West Ham that Rowland made his debut for Northern Ireland against Latvia in September 1993.

He went on to win 19 caps and score one goal, briefly appearing under the great coach Billy Bingham, and it was at Bingham's testimonial that Rowland got the opportunity to play on the same pitch as his hero George Best.

"I was lucky enough to play in the testimonial at Windsor Park, with all the old Northern Ireland stars like Pat Jennings, Sammy McIlroy and Gerry Armstrong," he said.

"I was already overawed being with all these heroes of the 1982 World Cup, but then one of them turned around and said George is here. I was in awe of them and then they were all in awe of George Best.

"This was before he became ill and he came onto the pitch and gave me a hug and asked me how I was. He was the best player I have ever seen live and definitely the best I have ever played with or against. For me he will always be one of the greatest."

About the author

William Dodds

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