Jack Cowan was a Canadian left back who played for Dundee F.C. from 1949 until 1954 and was a member of George Anderson’s successful trophy winning Dees in the early fifties.
Born in Vancouver on June 6th 1927, Cowan became the first Canadian to play professional soccer in Europe when he signed for Dundee from the University of British Columbia in 1949. He also became the first Canadian to win a major football honour when he was part of the Dundee side which lifted the League Cup in 1951.
Cowan entered U.B.C. in Vancouver in 1945 to study electrical engineering and as well as playing for the University soccer team, he also played for Pacific Coast League team Vancouver City between school terms.
At U.B.C., he was awarded with five Big Block Awards for excellence in varsity sports and in his first spell with Vancouver City, he was awarded with the prestigious Rookie of the Year Award.
Upon finishing his degree, Cowan decided that there might be an opportunity to make a career out of playing soccer and to do so, he realised he would have to move to Europe to have a chance.
His opportunity came in 1949, when he was selected to play for the British Columbia All Star Team who were to travel to England to play two exhibition matches against Newcastle United and it was in these matches that he was spotted by ex-Dunfermline manager and ex-referee Bobby Calder, who was a friend of fellow Aberdonian, George Anderson. Calder recommended Cowan to Dundee manager Anderson who then moved to bring him to Dens and he would turn out to be one of Anderson’s most astute signings, making 149 appearances in the next five years.
Cowan joined Dundee at a time when things were just starting to tick and his team mates during his spell included such legendary figures as Alfie Boyd, Doug Cowie, Tommy Gallagher, ‘Pud’ Hill, Bobby Flavell and Billy Steel.
Cowan made his Dark Blue debut in the first league match of the 1949/50 season away to Stirling Albion in a 2-2 draw and it was against ‘The Beanos’ that Cowan scored his only goal for Dundee in a 4-1 home win on December 22nd 1951 in front of 17, 000 fans.
His home debut came the following week against Queen of the South and in both matches he would wear the number three shirt that he wore in every single match he played for Dundee.
At the end his first season, Cowan picked up his first winner’s medal when Dundee beat Brechin City 3-2 in the Final of the Forfarshire Cup but his greatest moment in a Dark Blue shirt came in an altogether bigger final eighteen months later.
On October 27th 1951, Dundee lined up to face Rangers in the final of the Scottish League Cup in front of 92, 000 supporters and in a classic encounter, Dundee edged out the Light Blues 3-2 with a last minute winner from skipper Alfie Boyd.
It was Dundee’s first trophy in forty-one years and for Jack Cowan the first professional medal won by a Canadian player and both Cowan and Dundee very nearly made it two six months later in the Scottish Cup.
In April 1952, Cowan lined up for Dundee against Motherwell at Hampden in front an astonishing crowd of 136, 990, a record crowd for a match not involving either of the Old Firm but although Dundee were the favourites, it wasn’t to be as Motherwell scored four second half goals without reply to take the Scottish Cup back to Lanarkshire.
Before that Final however, Cowan was named as the North American Football Confederation (N.A.F.C.) Player of the Year for 1951 after his terrific displays for Dundee and his League Cup winning achievement. In 1961, the N.A.F.C merged with the Football Confederation of Central America and the Caribbean (C.C.C.F.) to form the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (C.O.N.C.A.C.A.F.) and become the modern day governing body for football in the region. Cowan is now listed therefore as the C.O.N.C.A.C.A.F. Player of the Year for 1951 as the winners from both federations were absorbed into the list for the new Association. It was a tremendous accolade for Jack who became the first Dundee player to be awarded with any player of the year award outside of the Club.
There was to be more final disappointment for Cowan however in October 1952 when he was unfit to play to in Dundee’s third appointment at the National Stadium within twelve months, when they successfully defended their League Cup trophy against B Division Kilmarnock.
Cowan had played in all nine matches on the road to Hampden and so was bitterly disappointed to get injured the week before the Final in a league match against Hearts at Dens. He was replaced in the side by South African Gordon Frew but there was some consolation for Jack as he watched his side retain the trophy with a 2-0 win.
Whilst at Dens, Cowan was selected to play for both the Scottish International team and the Irish International team but he was unable to qualify because he was not of direct Scottish or Irish descent.
In his final season at Dens, Cowan made the decision to return to his native Canada but The Dee were unwilling to let one of their stalwarts go and made him a very good offer to stay. When he turned down the offer, Dundee tried to prevent him from continuing his football career, but an appeal to F.I.F.A. allowed him to sign for Vancouver Halecos and return ‘home’ with his Dundonian wife.
In his first season back at the Halecos (they had changed their name from Vancouver City who Jack had played for before joining Dundee), he captained them to the 1955 Dominion Soccer Championships and would go on to represent the Canadian national side.
He also played many games for the British Columbian All Stars and played for a Canadian All Star team against Lokomotive Moscow in Toronto in 1956 but when selected to play for Canada away to Mexico in a World Cup qualifier later that year, he turned down the invitation and decided to retire from football at the age of twenty-nine to concentrate on his engineering career.
In 1974, Cowan was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame and in May 2000 he was honoured to be one of the first inductees in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and was listed in their Canadian Team of the Century.
It is surely only a matter of time before a similar honour is bestowed upon him at Dens and he is inducted into the Dundee Hall of Fame.
Honours at Dundee:
Scottish League Cup winner: 1951/52
Scottish Cup runner-up: 1952
C.O.N.C.A.C.A.F. Player of the Year: 1951
League: 115, 1 goal
Scottish Cup: 13
League Cup: 21
Totals: 149, 1 goal