The son of an army major, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh born inside right Dick Rowley spent his childhood in a number of barracks. He excelled at a number of sports, representing Wiltshire and Hampshire at cricket, golf, tennis, 100 yards, hurdles and motoring. Further, while on active service Rowley won the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Rowley first took to football with the Fulwood Barracks team in 1920 and played as an amateur with a number of clubs including Tidworth United in 1921, Andover from September 1922 and also The Casuals, for whom he made two appearances in November 1925 in the Isthmian League, scoring once.and he played his first League games during a spell with Swindon Town whom he joined as an amateur in November 1924, making his Football League debut at Exeter City in April 1926, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory. He made one further appearance for Swindon at Watford later in the month.
In May 1926 Rowley signed for Southampton to replace Arthur Dominy and quickly struck an understanding with Bill Rawlings and by that November he had been awarded his first professional deal. Regarded primarily as a “schemer” capable of working space from deep, he was also an adept goalscorer, scoring 18 goals in his first season with the club. In The Saints’ run to the 1927 FA Cup semi-final, where they narrowly lost to Arsenal 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, he scored five goals and began to attract scouts from more “glamorous” clubs. In 1929-30 he managed 26 goals in as many games, top scoring for Southampton including four away to Bradford City and hat-tricks on successive games against Nottingham Forest and Chelsea.
Capped by Ireland for the first time in a 2-2 draw against Wales at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham in February 1929, Rowley scored his first international goal in front of a 40,000 crowd at Windsor Park on the occasion of his second cap – indeed he was one of the few Irish players to earn credit as Scotland “stronger in every respect” cruised to a 7-3 victory a few weeks later. It was his role in the Wales fixture a year later for which Rowley is best remembered, his passes setting Ireland on the way to a 7-0 victory and Joe Bambrick to a double hat-trick. In all Rowley won four caps while a Southampton player and 2 more in 1931 while at Tottenham, scoring twice.
In February 1930 Tottenham had an irresistible £3,750 bid for Rowley accepted having scored 58 goals in 113 appearances for The Saints. It was not to prove a wholly successful move as he was largely restricted to the reserves though Rowley did score 10 goals in the 24 appearances he made for Spurs. When he left White Hart Lane behind after a little under two years in December 1931 Spurs still netted a sizable £5,000 fee from Preston North End in a deal that also included Ted Harper.
In 1932-33 Rowley laid on many of Harper’s 37 goals and claimed five himself as Preston fell well short of the Second Division promotion spots. In the following campaign the partnership was split up as Harper left to join Blackburn mid-season and injuries restricted Rowley to just five games as Preston claimed promotion to the First Division as Second Division runners-up. Unable to face a campaign in the top flight, Rowley retired in the summer of 1934 after 16 goals in 58 appearances for The Lilywhites.