Jack Rowley: The goalscoring legend who fought in Normandy

Thursday 06 June 2024 13:00

Today (6 June) marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, which led to the liberation of western Europe and, ultimately, the end of the Second World War.

It's a poignant day for so many, as we consider the massive loss of life suffered by all the countries involved.

But here at Manchester United, the day also spurs memories of one of our most legendary players, known more for his incredible goalscoring feats than his military record.

Jack Rowley was one of those involved in the invasion of Normandy – known as Operation Overlord – in June 1944.
Jack in 1940, the year he enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Jack did not take part in the first wave of attacks – an amphibious assault on the beaches of northern France that has been immortalised in countless Hollywood films like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan.

But he landed in Caen, less than 15 miles from the those beaches, just days after, and was later wounded in the heavy fighting that took place inland.

It forced him off the battlefield and into a mobile operating theatre, and he saw out the war (which ended the following year) as a physical training instructor back in the UK.
Jack would eventually rejoin Manchester United, and played his first competitive game in almost six years on 5 January 1946, when United drew 2-2 with Accrington Stanley in the third round of the FA Cup.

Rowley was about to turn 21 when the war first broke out in September 1939, and had already netted 19 goals in 58 games as a Red.

His 27th birthday had passed when he next lined up for a competitive fixture, but the man nicknamed 'Gunner' still managed to rack up another 192 United goals before signing for Plymouth Argyle in 1955.

The players we lost in war


We mark Remembrance Day by recalling the Newton Heath and Manchester United men who died during conflicts.

His final tally of 211 goals in 424 games puts him fourth on our all-time goalscoring list, behind only Wayne Rooney (253), Sir Bobby Charlton (249) and Denis Law (237).

He picked up an FA Cup winners' medal in 1948 – scoring twice in the 4-2 victory over Blackpool in the final – and later fired 30 league goals to help us to the 1951/52 title.

How many goals Jack Rowley might have scored, had it not been for the Second World War, will forever remain an unanswerable question. But despite losing some of the best years of his career to military service, he still finished just 42 shy of Wayne Rooney's later total.

Eighty years on from the D-Day landings, and the start of some of the bloodiest fighting of the 20th century, we remember him as a hero, both on and off the pitch.