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Cowans: England debut was special - 1986 World Cup absence gutting

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Cowans: England debut was special - 1986 World Cup absence gutting

Gordon Cowans admits his England debut on this day in 1983 was a massive highlight in his football career - despite being pelted with stale beer on the way into Wembley Stadium.

Cowans started for the Three Lions against Wales shortly after Sir Bobby Robson's arrival into the hotseat - and the midfielder helped England to a 2-1 win with a mature display.

It was a genuinely great moment for the patriot Villa legend, despite inclement weather, a small crowd and a brush with Welsh supporters pre-match.

He said: "We trained a couple of days before - and the manager named the team the night before and I was in, which was a terrific feeling.

"West Brom's Derek Statham made his debut on the same day and it was great to play alongside him because he was a superb player in the Midlands region over at West Brom.

"It is a dream to play for your country when you're a small boy and it was great to wear the Three Lions at Wembley. It doesn't get better than that.

"I had been played for England B before and thankfully I was given my opportunity.

"It was a strange day because the weather was that bad, they didn't know whether the game would go ahead.

"That led to a smaller crowd than normal. I remember, too, that as I was getting off the steps of the bus, someone threw a can of beer at me - a Welsh fan.

"It went all over me! That wasn't a great start - but it didn't bother me too much!

"Sir Bobby Robson was in charge at that point and he was great to work for - very knowledgeable about the game and very clear about what he expected from you."


Many people will point to the fact 1983 was a long time for Cowans to wait for a debut - after playing a key role in midfield for the 1981 League Championship and 1982 European Cup teams for Villa.

Typically humble, Cowans ascribes that to the depth of talent in the squad.

"Bryan Robson was class. He was the best player in the country - tremendous box to box player and scored goals too.

"There was Glenn Hoddle who had a great left foot and right foot, terrific creativity.

"And Ray Wilkins too, someone I always looked up. I had a lot of respect for him.

"I just had to bide my time."

After the Welsh win, England took on Hungary in a must-win qualifier for the 1984 European Championships and duly grasped the points in a 2-0 win, with Cowans in good form.

A 0-0 Home International draw against Northern Ireland followed, before Cowans attained darling status among the Wembley faithful when he scored England's second goal in a 2-0 win over the Scots.


"I made a run into the box. I think Trevor Francis crossed it in. I tried to volley it, it came off the end of my foot, hit a defender, came straight back to me and I smashed it into the corner.

"It was my first goal for England - and at the home of football - so that was special."

This was promising stuff - and then Cowans took part in the 1983 tour of Australia, starting and completing all three games in the space of a week.

Cowans' momentum was curtailed when, having moved to Bari, he suffered a horrendous broken leg which kept him out of the picture for a long spell.

He won an eighth cap in January 1986 as England drubbed Egypt 4-0 in Cairo as part of a gentle re-introduction to international football.

With Mexico approaching he won a further cap against the USSR two months later - but frustratingly he didn't make the plane to the World Cup.


"It was getting close and I thought I had a good chance.

"Then we went to Russia and Bobby told me I would be starting and Steve Hodge would play the other half - and he said he'd make a decision on who went to Mexico.

"I ended up playing a little longer and Don Howe - the assistant manager - came over afterwards and said I'd done my chances no harm at all.

"But then Steve Hodge was picked and that was it, which was obviously disappointing.

"Not making that plane is up there with my three biggest disappointments in football - along with never winning the FA Cup and losing the World Club Championship."

He enjoyed a one-off game as he replaced Paul Gascoigne against Republic of Ireland in late 1990 in a European Championship qualifying group match.

"Gazza was left out. I was picked. We went to train and Gazza came up to me and said 'well done.'

"That sums him up - lovely, lovely lad. He made me feel great.

"Overall I am very proud to have played for my country although I wished it'd been more - my leg breaks certainly didn't help that."

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Paul Brown
By @paulbrownavfc 23rd February 2016
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