Lee Child exclusive interview: Give me Cowans over Cruise!
I have met President Clinton and President Obama. Tom Cruise flew me in his helicopter. I have had dinner with kings, lords, sirs and Oscar-winning actresses.
I have watched the Boston Red Sox with Stephen King. I have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium.
But best of all was an invitation to meet Gordon Cowans at Villa Park.
He gave me a stadium tour and we talked all afternoon. He was funny and modest and a really nice guy.
I treasure the memory, because I think he was the best player we have ever had - a truly world-class talent - and no Villan gave me more pleasure to watch. I was glad to get the chance to tell him that.
So when I had to pick a player for a Q&A, naturally I chose him, and I'm grateful he agreed to respond.
LEE CHILD: You were at the club since the age of 12. Did you think of going anywhere else as a young pro, or was it the Villa all the way?
GORDON COWANS: I was always destined to come to Villa.
A club scout watched me playing for the Mansfield District schools team when I was nine or 10, and then the club invited my school team to Villa Park for a game against Mansfield Town in the old Third Division.
After that I played for a team called Stanley Star, a Villa junior side.
The club had just bought a hostel where the younger players stayed.
My mum ran that and my dad was the kit man, so it was very much a family thing.
Arsenal had shown some interest when I was 12 but it was always in my mind that I would sign for Villa.
LEE CHILD: Do you remember your first game?
GORDON COWANS: I remember it vividly.
I went on as a sub against Manchester City when I was 17.
Just after I went on, City had a corner on the left and I was told to cover the far post.
The ball looped into the air as it came into the six-yard box, and Asa Hartford hooked it over my head and into the top corner.
We had conceded a goal before I'd even touched the ball!
LEE CHILD: When did you know you were an automatic selection for the first team?
GORDON COWANS: I was in and out of the team for a couple of seasons and I played in the replay and second replay when we won the League Cup against Everton in 1977.
But I really became a regular after Alex Cropley suffered a broken leg.
It was rough on Alex but I learned a lot from him.
He was a great player who was also very feisty.
When I later broke my leg, the first thing Alex said to me was: "When you come back, make sure you don't duck your first tackle. Make sure you get stuck in."
I did what he said and it was a big help.
LEE CHILD: You were ever-present year after year. That never happens now. What changed in football?
GORDON COWANS: Looking back, it was amazing to go four consecutive seasons without missing a game, and even more incredible that we used only 14 players when we won the league in 1980/81.
That was because we just got on with it. Even if you had a knock, you didn't want to lose your place, particularly when you were in a winning side.
I wasn't always at my best in the season when we won the title and the supporters had a go at me, but Ron Saunders refused to drop me because he said my work-rate added to the team.
In those days the manager picked his best team every week, whereas now clubs have such big squads that they tend to rotate players.
LEE CHILD: What's your greatest on-the-pitch memory? A goal, a pass, or what?
GORDON COWANS: My job was to create chances for other players, so it was always satisfying to set up a goal.
If I had to pick just one pass it was the one from which David Platt scored our second goal against Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup.
Tony Cascarino played the ball back to me and it wasn't the most difficult pass I ever made, but the weight had to be just right.
Thankfully it was, and Platty's goal clinched a famous 2-0 win.
LEE CHILD: What was your best goal?
GORDON COWANS: I didn't score many with my head, so I was delighted with my goal against Juventus in the European Cup.
I played it wide to Colin Gibson and then darted into the penalty area to score with a diving header.
Unfortunately we lost 2-1.
LEE CHILD: Which victory was sweetest?
GORDON COWANS: It has to be the European Cup final.
I had some great victories with Villa, and winning derby matches was always very special.
But it doesn't get any better than winning the European Cup.
Not many English players can claim to have done that and I'm proud to be one of them.
LEE CHILD: Which defeat was hardest to take?
GORDON COWANS: The FA Cup quarter-final at West Ham in 1980.
I won every major competition with Villa - apart from the FA Cup.
We had a great chance that year but West Ham were awarded a controversial penalty in the last minute and Ray Stewart scored to give them a 1-0 win.
If we taken them to a replay I'm convinced we could have gone on to win the Cup.
LEE CHILD: How did it feel playing for England?
GORDON COWANS: It was a great privilege and I would have loved to have played more for my country.
But after making seven consecutive appearances I broke my leg and was out for a year.
Then I went to Italy and I only played three more games.
But I was really grateful to Graham Taylor for giving me my final cap against the Republic of Ireland in 1991.
He put me in ahead of Paul Gascoigne but Gazza took it so well.
After the team was named he shook my hand and wished me all the best.
It was lovely of him to do that.
LEE CHILD: Would you swap it all to have been a great golfer instead?
GORDON COWANS: No chance!
I love my golf, but I will never forget all the great experiences I've had in football.
LEE CHILD: How is your son Henry doing with the U21s?Is the DNA there?
GORDON COWANS: Henry has ability and vision and gives it everything he has. I'm just hoping he will get a break.
This interview first appeared in the Villa News & Record - there's still time to secure your copy through our eBay account - BUY NOW.