Scotsman Obituaries: Doug Cowie, Scotland’s oldest football internationalist

Doug Cowie, footballer. Born: 5 May 1926 in Aberdeen. Died: 26 November 2021 in Dundee, aged 95

A smiling Doug Cowie, resplendent in Scotland cap
A smiling Doug Cowie, resplendent in Scotland cap

Doug Cowie, who was Scotland’s oldest football internationalist, won 20 caps in the 1950s while playing for Dundee. A highly accomplished left half (nowadays attacking midfielder) he was noted for his polished, skilful play, the accuracy of his passing and his inspiring contribution as a team player. Virtually a one-club man, he played a record 446 games for the Dark Blues with whom he won two League Cups, was runner-up in the old First Division Championship and a Scottish Cup finalist as well as a regular team captain. Fittingly inducted to the club’s inaugural Hall of Fame in 2009, his outstanding service was also recognised in Dens Park’s first hospitality suite being named The Doug Cowie Lounge.

After his full Scotland debut against England at Wembley in 1953, he went on to win 20 caps between then and 1958, including playing in the finals of two World Cups in 1954 and 1958, in Switzerland and Sweden respectively. In addition he won three Scottish League caps and a Scotland ‘B’ cap. After 16 seasons with Dundee he was freed in 1961 to join Morton as player coach before managing Raith Rovers for a year, after which he coached and then scouted for Dundee United.

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Douglas Cowie was born in Aberdeen to parents Richard, a boxmaker, and Williamina. The youngest of four brothers and three sisters, he was brought up in Torry where he attended Walker Street Primary School then Torry Secondary, his football talents earning him a trial for Aberdeen schoolboys. He also played for Caledonian Juveniles before joining junior team St Clement’s, with whom he was selected to represent Aberdeenshire Juniors.

After leaving school aged 15 he began an apprenticeship as a riveter with the local John Lewis shipyard while his football potential led to him training at Pittodrie as the Dons considered signing him. However, Dundee beat them to it.

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Their colourful manager, ironically an Aberdonian, George Anderson, appeared unannounced at the shipyard at 8 o’clock one morning in 1945 to offer terms to Doug who, unsure what to do, suggested Anderson speak to his father, who was working nearby. After Mr Cowie received assurances that his son would be well looked after, Doug signed on the dotted line for Dundee.

It took him a little while to establish himself after making his debut on 23 February 1946 against Stirling Albion and playing several times during a tour of Italy, Germany and Austria later that year.

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By season 1948/9 he was established in the first team, playing mostly then at centre half. On the season’s last day, Dundee required to beat Falkirk at Brockville to clinch their first top tier League title but instead lost, allowing Rangers to claim it instead, a huge disappointment for Cowie and teammates.

Success in the 1951 League Cup Final against Rangers compensated somewhat for that disappointment. Although the Glasgow side were strong favourites Dundee emerged 3-2 winners after extra time in what was fondly remembered by Cowie as the favourite match of his career. The exuberant welcome back in Dundee from thousands of fans lived long in the memory.

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The 4-0 loss to Motherwell in the 1952 Scottish Cup Final did not linger long in the memory but atonement came in a second successive League Cup win later that year, against Kilmarnock.

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National selectors were now taking an interest in Cowie and awarded him a League cap against England, a month before his full international debut at Wembley in which he was prominent. Nineteen more caps followed, including four at the 1954 and ’58 World Cup finals, including the infamous 7-0 trouncing by Uruguay in the former, which had no repercussions on his international career. Among several highlights, Cowie gave a standout performance in a 4-1 win over Austria in Vienna’s iconic Prater stadium.

A year before Dundee’s first League title, Cowie was given a free transfer in 1961 by manager Bob Shankly, the reason given being his age, then 35. When Shankly shortly after signed 38-year-old Gordon Smith, Cowie’s disappointment was understandable. Matters were not helped when Shankly refused him permission to train with the first team at Dens once he joined Morton, Cowie then trained with nearby Dundee United. Typically, any hard feelings were kept to himself and reconciliation was effected over time. His input at Morton helped them rise from the bottom of the old Second Division to challenge for promotion during his two years there, while after a year as Raith manager he coached Dundee United under manager Jerry Kerr, thereafter scouting for them for 26 years once Jim McLean took over. Meanwhile he retrained as a welder and worked with NCR in Dundee.

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In June 1950 in Dundee, Doug married Elizabeth – known as Bette – Stewart, a Dundonian whom he had met at the dancing in the city.They enjoyed 56 years of happy and fulfilling marriage, during which they had Douglas and Gloria as they continued living in Dundee.

Highly regarded as a complete gentleman and well liked with a sharp sense of humour, one of Doug’s guiding principles was looking after his family, among whom his grandchildren were particularly special, while another was his encouragement of and belief in the importance of a good education. Outwith family and football he was a versatile sportsman, a good golfer and a decent cricketer. Also musically talented, he taught himself piano and guitar. He was a pigeon fancier with his own loft in his back garden, from where he would fly birds to France and back.

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He is survived by his children, grandchildren Miranda, Gayle, Fraser and Hannah, and great grandchildren Isabelle, Robert and Ember.

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