We will never know where his career would have taken him but we can be sure it would have been to the very top.
Yet Rob started in a most unusual way. Growing up in Fife he wrote at the age of just 18 what amounted to a scouting report on a Champions League final and sent it off to top clubs in England and Scotland. Among the clubs that replied was Celtic, and he got some scouting work for them and for the Scottish FA. On news of his death Celtic tweeted ‘the thoughts and prayers of everyone at the club are with the family and friends of former Celtic FC scout Robert Rowan. RIP Rob’.
The crucial moment in his young career came when he was 23 and was working in a bank near Edinburgh while sporting director with Scottish club Stenhousemuir. Brentford got to hear of his talents and he was invited to join the Bees scouting department. From there he progressed to becoming the club’s Head of Football Operations and was involved in the decision to close the academy and start a B team.
In 2016 Rob did a presentation to the Scottish FA at Hampden Park in which he explained that Brentford calculated they would gain an advantage by closing their academy and signing players who didn’t make it through the academies at elite clubs, but had the ability to progress.
Rob said; “a lot of football clubs have a hierarchy of first team and academy. I disagree with that and believe that, like in business, to maximise the potential in your assets you need to give them the best resources.We sign players on two or three-year contracts in that elite age group, from 17 to 21, where there aren’t so many variables or influential factors”.
Rob faced many challenges with this project, most notably who exactly would the B team play against as they weren’t in a league. He overcame them and matches were organised not just with Scottish clubs with which he had a connection but with teams from leading English Premiership clubs such as Manchester United plus Bayern Munich and Valencia.
Rob liked numbers, in one update on the B team for the Club website he wrote in January 2017; from August until now a Brentford B player has participated in First Team training 216 times – that is 216 opportunities to prove you are good enough to the Head Coach and his staff’.
He also wrote: ‘Our objective is to promote one player to the First Team at the end of the season”. At the end of that season Chris Mepham was in that First Team. Chris tweeted after Rob’s death ’anyone who knew this man would agree that he was a kind, genuine and well respected man in football, who gave me the platform to grow as a footballer and also as a person … will be deeply missed by everyone’.
Rob’s role went beyond the B team. Former Brentford striker Scott Hogan tweeted ‘Upon injuring my knee for the 2nd time at Brentford FC , Rob and the owner took me for dinner to reassure a worried young man about his future. Even extending my contract. A true gentlemen who cared. Thoughts with everyone RIP Rob’.
Brentford realised they had a remarkable man in their midst and promotion to Technical Director was a way of recognising his status and potential, whilst hoping that other clubs might not come with tempting offers too soon.
The breadth and range of the tributes to Rob Rowan across football after news of his death was announced is proof, if it was needed, that the word was indeed out that this was a very special man.