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Bobby Cowell 1943/44 to 1955/56

Bobby Cowell
Bobby Cowell
Bobby Cowell
Birth 05/12/1922 Trimdon Grange
P/H/W5ft 7.5in11st - 11 st 7lb
Joined10/43 (20) Blackhall Colliery £10 s/o fee
Debut 05/01/46 (23)Barnsley (H)FAC
Left 01/1956 (33) Retired Injured
App/Gls 409

Bobby Cowell, a quietly-spoken pit-lad, was one of a number of young, local players signed up during wartime who did not cost a penny piece apart from the £10 signing-on fee.

He was a one-club player whose loyalty, dedication and ability served United for thirteen-years until his career was prematurely ended by injury. Bobby made over 400 appearances in his thirteen years at the club and was one of the three players who played in all three Cup wins in the 1950's.

When he first joined he did so as a part-timer and retained his pit job. Eventually he quit the coal-face to become a full-time professional and although he took some time to establish himself in the first-team he became a regular once he did. In his last seven seasons at the club he barely missed a game which was highly unusual at a time of such big squads.

Bobby was a sound, steady player who showed splendid consistency, seldom having a bad game. Although he was on the small side he was of solid build and had the heart of a lion.

His fearlessness and speed into the tackle made him a difficult player to pass, although it was once said he was not always happy with the winger who persisted on going through on the inside.

Tenacious and hard-working, a player for the full ninety-minutes, his enthusiasm for the game rubbed off on the other members of the team. Bobby was totally dedicated and Jackie Milburn revealed that he cried with anger and frustration when the team lost.

Bobby was fast and audacious and loved coming down the field to have a go with his speed in recovery ensuring he was rarely in trouble. He had an ambition to score a goal for Newcastle, but only managed one in a friendly match. The rest of the team couldn't catch him to shake hands as he got so excited.

He specialised in headed goal-line clearances and most famously one such effort prevented a certain goal for Blackpool in the 1951 Cup Final, an incident that swung the game.

Joe Harvey claimed he was "better than (England right-back) Alf Ramsey" and Jackie Milburn described him as the "best uncapped full-back" he had known.

During the summer tour of Europe in 1955 Bobby suffered a knee ligament injury following a bad challenge by Uckow of Nuremberg. He spent six months trying to get back to fitness, but was told he would have to quit in January 1956.

Such was his popularity that he became the first post-war player to be granted a testimonial and a crowd of 36,240 attended the game in April against an All Stars XI.

Although his colleagues may have said that singing in the team's choir was his main hobby, Bobby would have told you that his number one hobby was gardening.

Season by Season

Bobby was born in Trimdon Grange, County Durham, where he lived all his life until he moved to Newcastle. He was a noted schoolboy full back, one of the few professional footballers of the time to stick to one position.

Bobby became a miner at Trimdon Grange and when war broke out he played for Trimdon Grange Home Guard FC.

At the end of season 1942-3 he was invited to play for a Blackhall representative team against Newcastle Reserves and was invited by scout Bill Cruddas for a trial at St. James' Park.

1943/44 (18) (2,3)

He played a couple of games for the third team and the reserves and then made his first-team debut at Bradford Park Avenue. Following the game Bobby signed as a part-time professional on £5 a week, keeping his pit job. He was used in both full-back positions.

1944/45 (41) (2,3)

Bobby is the only ever-present and he started off at left-back before moving over to the right when Bobby Corbett was drafted in.

1945/46 (24) (2)

Bobby had the right-back spot at the start of the season before being replaced by Graham. He made his “official” debut in the FA Cup match against Barnsley.

1946/47 (17) (2)

The League re-commenced and Bobby became a full-time professional. He made his Football League debut on the day United beat Newport 13-0. Although he had stiff competition from Craig and Burke he still got a fair few games.

1947/48 (19) (2)

Bobby took over from Craig at right-back before being dropped after the 3-0 defeat at Fulham. Fraser came in at right-back, but the Scot got injured in February and Bobby took over for the last couple of months of the season and established himself as the first choice once more.

1948/49 (39) (2)

Really came into his own this season and kept his place in the side with some consistently impressive performances. Only missed 4 games.

1949/50 (20) (2)

Bobby was injured at the start of the season and had to compete with Craig and Graham. He kept the Number 2 shirt from mid-February until the end of the season.

1950/51 (50) (2)

One of the most improved players of the season and one of three ever-present players. Bobby snuffed out one of Wolves' major threats - Hancocks - in the FA Cup semi-final and performed just as effectively at Wembley. He tackled with perfect strength and timing and completely blotted out the threat of Perry. Also responsible for brilliantly clearing a Mortensen header off the line in the First Half. He would later describe the Final as “the pinnacle of thirteen wonderful years at Newcastle”.

1951/52 (47) (2)

Having played in all but two of the tour games Bobby asked to be rested in September, but appeared as many times as anyone else that season. In December Fulham showed an interest. In March Milburn claimed “there is no right full back playing better than our own Bobby Cowell. Bob has saved over a dozen certain goals on our goals-line this season”. He was also the inspiration behind United's dramatic recovery in the 4-2 comeback in the Third Round FA Cup Tie against Villa as he got amongst the forwards.

1952/53 (39) (2)

Once again he was almost a permanent fixture in the side, missing only six games. Ron Batty was drafted in a couple of times in his stead, but the directors always brought Bobby back.

1953/54 (45) (2)

Played in more games than any outfield player and in the game at Cardiff he cleared three off the line. Although he was steady as anyone in defence he was rested in January, but was soon back.

1954/55 (50) (2)

Appeared in all but two games, being surprisingly replaced temporarily by Woollard in February.


Bobby was injured against Nuremberg on the summer tour of Germany after a bad challenge by Uckow. It was thought at first that he had dislocated his right knee, but he had torn his ligaments. He was flown back with his whole leg encased in plaster and Newcastle secretary Ted Hall admitted "It's a very bad injury,"

There were suggestions his career might be over, but Bobby was not having any of it. “I will play again, even if it takes me six months to get right. But I will not go on to the field again until I know quite definitely that the leg will stand up to the strain."

When the touring party returned to Tyneside Jackie Milburn said “It was a surprise to us on our return from Germany to see Bobby Cowell walking all over Newcastle without the the aid of a stick. In Germany we had to help Bob as he could hardly move. Bob looks as fit as ever, but has been upset over talk about him being finished playing football".

In July the players report back for training and Bobby is the first player to take advantage of the newly installed treatment room as he builds up the muscle under the supervision of Mr Norman Smith, the trainer. By September he could bend his leg following hard graft on a stationary bicycle then lapping.

At the start of 1956 Bobby was advised to quit the game. Three Newcastle businessmen stated that they wanted to inaugurate a subscription list for Bobby and were prepared to start the subscription list with a generous donation.

In April the club published a letter in which they said: It is felt that "United" fans would wish to show in some tangible form their appreciation of his great service to the club of which he was a playing member since October, 1943. A committee has been formed to receive donations to a testimonial fund to which the total gate receipts of next Monday's match at St. James's Park will be paid. I appeal to all true "Geordies" to support this fund and donations, large or small, should be sent to me at ….”

The testimonial took place on April 16th with United taking on a true All star XI: Rolando Ugolini: Andy Beattie, Wally Barnes, Bill Shankley. Eddie Boot, Joe Harvey: Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Jimmy Hagan, Peter Doherty, Tim Ward. The Newcastle team lined up as: Simpson, Batty, McMichael, Scoular, Lackenby, Casey, White, Milburn, Keeble, Curry, Davies.


Painting by Piotr Jozefowicz

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