Born in Looe, inside forward Ray Bowden started out in Cornish football with his local team Looe in 1925. After scoring over 100 goals for Looe in one season as a 17-year-old, he signed for Plymouth Argyle, despite some initial doubts about his frail physique. Mindful of introducing him to the step-up too quickly, manager Bob Jack allowed him just one appearance in his first 12 months with the club, against Merthyr Town in March 1927, but four goals in the last two games of his second season earned him the No 9 shirt for the start of the next campaign and he went on to bang in 23 goals in 32 games that year being Argyle’s top scorer. He was a graceful player with supreme ball control and word soon spread of his ability. He was called up to an FA select side to tour Canada in 1931 and scored 5 goals in the first game of the tour. The following season he scored 20 goals as Argyle won the Third Division (South) Championship and gained promotion to the Second Division.
In his seven seasons at Home Park, Bowden achieved the rare ratio of more than one goal every two games, and his total of 88 goals in 153 appearances places him at number nine in the all-time goal scoring list. He stayed with Argyle until March 1933 when he was snapped up for Arsenal by their famous manager Herbert Chapman. The transfer fee, £5,000, was the highest ever paid by the Gunners and the record received by Argyle. Ironically, he was signed as the intended replacement for David Jack, the former Pilgrim who was also the Argyle manager’s son.
With Chapman’s death the following year, the Cornishman became the Arsenal legend’s last major signing. He scored on his Arsenal debut and picked up two Championship medals and an FA Cup winners’ medal during his time with the Gunners. His tireless running and intelligent passing earned him the nickname of ‘Football’s Professor’, and just over a year after leaving Home Park he earned the first of six full England caps against Wales at Ninian Park in September 1934. He also played twice for The Football League. Although a modest total for such a talented player, his international achievements were notable because he was the first to progress through the Argyle ranks and go on to full international honours. After 48 goals in 148 games for the London side, he then spent two years with Newcastle United, signing in November 1937 for £5,000, scoring 6 goals in 52 games, including a hat-trick in his last professional appearance against Swansea Town before the Second World War cut short his career.