Returning Players: Gordon Cowans

Gordon Cowans

Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we look at Aston Villa icon Gordon Cowans, who enjoyed three separate spells at his first club.

Affectionately known as ‘Sid’, he would go on to have huge success with Villa and eventually be part of their greatest ever side in the 1980s. Cowans would play his part in Villa’s greatest achievement in winning the 1982 European Cup.

Returning Players – Gordon Cowans

First Spell At Aston Villa

Despite being born in County Durham, Cowans was a product of the Aston Villa academy. He arrived as an apprentice in 1974 before earning a professional contract in 1976. Before signing his professional contract, Cowans would be part of an FA Youth Cup winning side.

His senior debut came in February 1976 and would be the first of 286 appearances during his first spell with the club. Over the nine years at Villa Park, Cowans collected numerous awards and titles. He was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1979.

His first league title soon arrived during the 1980/81 but arguably his greatest achievement alongside Aston Villa was winning the 1982 European Cup. Villa took Bayern Munich to extra time in Rotterdam and secured a famous victory thanks to the brilliant Peter Withe. That success so far has been the greatest in Villa’s history. Cowans certainly played his part and became a Villa icon.

Injuries hampered his latter years and he would eventually depart Aston Villa in 1985 for Italian side Bari. His first spell saw him make 286 appearances, score 49 goals and collect five major pieces of silverware.

Teams That Gordon Cowans Played for in Between

When Aston Villa sold Cowans to Bari in 1985, they inserted a clause to have first refusal on a buy-back option. He joined the newly-promoted Serie A side in 1985 but was unable to prevent an instant return to Serie B.

His three years in Italy saw him make just shy of 100 appearances for I Galletti.

Return to Aston Villa

Villa manager Graham Taylor eventually brought Cowans back in 1988. He, along with the fans, were thrilled with the news and Cowans once again stapled himself in the core of the Villa side.

His second spell, which lasted until 1991 saw Cowans add another 117 appearances to his collection and eventually another seven goals. While success was limited in this spell, he did help Villa achieve a second-place finish in Division One in 1990.

Cowans was eventually sold by then Villa manager Ron Atkinson in 1991. He would join second division side Blackburn Rovers for £200,000.

Midfielder Helped Blackburn Rovers to Promotion Before Return to Aston Villa

The experienced midfielder, now at the age of 32, still had plenty to give and played a big part in Blackburn’s promotion to the newly named Premier League.

He helped Blackburn to a top-six finish, which allowed them to compete in the playoffs. Under Kenny Dalglish, Blackburn would see off Derby County and Leicester City to secure a place in the inaugural Premier League season.

Cowans’ experience helped Blackburn in their return to the top flight. While he featured sparingly, his wisdom and knowledge helped Rovers prosper, largely thanks to the goals of Alan Shearer. Dalglish’s men would go onto finish fourth in the Premier League, only behind Manchester United, Aston Villa and Norwich City.

Cowans made a big impact in his two years at Ewood Park. He played 50 times for Rovers, scoring just two goals. He left on a free transfer and returned to Villa in July 1993.

His final spell at Villa Park lasted just seven months as he eventually joined Derby County in February 1994. Before his departure, he would eventually reach 453 appearances for Villa and play a part in Villa winning the 1994 League Cup.

The Villa Icon Eventually Returned to the Club as a Coach

Following his final exit from Villa as a player, Cowans spent nine months at Derby County before joining Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield United and Bradford City. Cowans eventually retired in 1997 after brief spells at Stockport County and Burnley.

Cowans finished with a total of 690 career appearances and 54 goals. His love affair with Villa was far from over as he joined the coaching set up in 1998. He would coach at several youth levels before joining Gerard Houllier’s first-team coaching staff in 2010. He returned to the youth system following Houllier’s departure a year later. Cowans stepped up to the first team once again in 2014 after two of Paul Lambert’s coaching staff were suspended by the club.

His time at Villa came to an end in 2016 after a total of 31 years of service as a player and coach.

Gordon Cowans Was and Still is a True Villa Icon

His legacy at Villa will never be forgotten. He was part of Villa’s greatest ever sides and greatest ever nights in their history. Cowans was a loyal servant who continues to love the club. Over 30 years of service as a player and coach has made him a true Villa icon.

He was the diamond of their side during the 1970s and 1980s and still fondly spoke about amongst fans to this day. Cowans is currently battling Alzheimer’s disease after his diagnosis in March 2020.

He was one of the greatest to don the famous claret and blue and remains a huge fans favourite. Cowans set the tone of what it means to play for Aston Villa and certainly, he built a legacy both as a player and coach.

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