Three footballing names became almost institutions at St James’ Park during the last 25 years. Joe Harvey and Jackie Milburn were two. The third is Bobby Cowell, former right back and holder of a trio of FA Cup winners’ medals with United.
After the Second World War, Newcastle searching the North East for promising young players, and coming up with talent like Jackie Milburn, Tommy Walker and Bobby Cowell. The search led to build the best Newcastle team ever.
They collected the FA Cup three times in five years in the 1950s. As one of the only three players to play in all three FA Cup winning sides during the 50s, Bobby was a one-club man. A brilliant right-back who was unlucky never to have been capped in England team. He gets knee injured in a pre-season friendly in Germany before retired on the aged of 33.
All three players have rarely been absent from Gallowgate since the Second World War. Harvey was manager and scout, Milburn viewed activities from the press box and Bobby Cowell has been a devoted fan since retiring in 1956 and is still a popular character in the club’s guest-room.
Cowell’s team-mate, tough-tackling defender and half-back Charlie Crowe, who play alongside him on an FA Cup winners medal in the 1951 victory over Arsenal, talk about their partnerships together.
“Joe Harvey and myself used to do a little bit of kicking. Big Frank Brennan dominated the penalty area and the full backs Bobby Cowell and Bob Corbett, were tremendous.”
Cowell was born in the village of Trimdon Grange near to the university city of Durham in December 1922. From a mining community, Bobby worked down the pit as a teenager getting £4 a week and often watching his local team play football.
His hero wasn’t any famous professional of the time, but a larger than life Trimdon character by the name of ‘Digger’ Dickson. In fact during his teens, Bobby had little time for watching the likes of Sunderland or Newcastle for he was too busy playing himself, for the village team and occasionally for Blackhall Colliery.
During the war Cowell turned out for the Home Guard XI and received his first chance at the big-time with Newcastle. In 1943 he was invited to appear in a trial for United’s reserve side against Shotton. Cowell impressed the watching officials and he signed forms in October of that year.
His first taste of senior football was against Bradford Park Avenue when United lost 1-0. However, by the time wartime soccer had ended in 1946, Cowell’s Football League debut had an altogether different conclusion.
Cowell had to be content with a reserve place for the early peace-time seasons with seniors Benny Craig, Dick Burke and Bob Fraser all ahead. He must wait for as long as three years before finally his got the chance to prove himself worth to be the first team player, when Craig was injured.
The Magpies entertained Newport County in a Second Division match and ran off the field 13-0 victory. Bobby recalled his league baptism, “It was made very easy for me. Newport were never at my end of the field! The Welsh were no world beaters, yet good enough to take revenge later in the season – we went down 4-2”.
The 1955 FA Cup victory over Manchester City was the last game Cowell played in England for Newcastle United. On the summer tour of Europe he was involved in a clash with a German full-back of FC Nurnberg by the name of Uckow. Bobby was left in agony and was carried off with knee ligament trouble.
Cowell said, “Uckow had been given a hard time by Jimmy Scoular and he took it out on me”. The German was sent off for the foul challenge and had, as it turned out, finished the career of one of United’s foremost defenders.
In spite of expert attention the injury put Bobby off the pay-roll at St James’ Park. Cowell was 33 years old and had made, including wartime games, 408 appearances. He was the first post-war Newcastle player to be awarded a testimonial match and 36,000 supported his benefit game in April 1956.
Since then Cowell has been employed on Tyneside in various jobs, from scaffolder to storekeeper, as well as coach to local sides. Residing in Ponteland, Bobby has watched the up and down fortunes of Newcastle United and recalled his days as a spectator with almost as much pleasure as his playing career.
“The run to Wembley in 1974 was exceptional. I was jumping up and down when Supermac hit the second against Burnley just like everyone else at Hillsborough”.
Bobby Cowell was one of those players who consistently got on with the job at hand in an undramatic way, in many ways like his full-back partner, Alf McMichael. He was a footballer rarely rewarded with headlines but, happily in this case, one who was rewarded with three FA Cup medals instead.