This year’s Camanachd Cup finalists Lovat and Kyles Athletic also contested shinty’s showpiece event 62 years ago. KEITH MACKENZIE explores the legacy of those 1953 finalists, and a link between Lovat, Skye and a once-household name in Scottish football…
There’s a connection between the Lovat side which won the Camanachd Cup in 1953, and the Skye team which did likewise 37 years later — and it runs much deeper than the fact both teams wore white shirts.
The common thread is the Cowie family, which could lay claim to being one of the most decorated clans in Highland sport.
Kiltarlity native Willie Cowie was a mainstay in Lovat’s legendary post-war team before he eventually settled in Portree, where he came to work for the department of agriculture. He went on to play for Skye Camanachd before his sad early death, aged only 40, in 1962. His sons, Ross and William were of course prominent when the islanders lifted the sport’s most sought-after prize in 1990 — and on their maternal side they can trace a shinty lineage right back to the foundation of organised shinty on Skye.
Ross was team manager, and Willie junior (who was still a few months from being born when his father died) was the revered forward who hit two goals in Skye’s famous 4-1 triumph against Newtonmore. To take the link right up to the present day Will Cowie, Willie junior’s son, was an integral part of the Skye team which last weekend won promotion to shinty’s premier league. Young Will is understood to be the only direct descendant from those Lovat legends of 53 who is currently playing the game.
Willie Cowie senior had played in the Lovat team of the late 40s and early 1950s which won a stackload of trophies — culminating in that Camanachd triumph of 1953. That year the Kiltarlity men beat Kyles 4-1 in a replay in Fort William, following a 2-2 draw in Oban.
During that same era Lovat were the most successful club in the game. They won the MacGillivary Senior League Cup five times out of six between 1948 and 1953; the MacTavish Cup in 1949 and 1953; the MacAulay Cup in 1953; and, having been given a special invitation to compete in the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup — which is normally open only to teams from the south of Scotland — they duly won that twice, in 1950 and 1951. In adding those Celtic Cups the post-war Lovat side are unique in that they are the only team to have won all of shinty’s major senior cup competitions.
However, prior to the 1950s the Cowie sporting pedigree was already well established. Andrew Cowie — elder brother of William senior — was a star of Scottish football in the years straddling the Second World War.
Andy, or ‘Dave’ as most Kiltarlity folk knew him, was actually born in Motherwell in 1913. But as a teenager, after the family moved north, he played for Ross County and then Inverness Thistle before being snapped up by Dundee in 1936. In December 1938 Dave was transferred to Aberdeen for a reported £2,500 — in its day an eye-watering transfer fee. When war broke out the following year he signed up, joining the Royal Corps of Signals where he served throughout the war with the rank of sergeant.
After demobilisation he returned to the Dons in December 1945 – although sadly what would have been the peak of a very promising football career was lost to the war.
League football did not return to Scotland until season 1946/47 prior to which Dave was part of the Dons team which won the Southern League Cup (a precursor to the League Cup) in May 1946, beating Rangers 3-2 in front of a Hampden crowd of over 130,000.
In 1948 Cowie also captained the Scottish League XI which took on Ireland, playing alongside such luminaries as Sammy Cox and George Young of Rangers, and Hibernian’s Willie Ormond. Dave Cowie finished his career at Swindon Town, before returning to Kiltarlity with his wife Florence and two children, Aileen and Gordon, in the 1950s. Dave died in 1972 at the age of 58.
THIS SATURDAY two of the surviving members of Lovat’s 1953 team will be guests of honour at the final in Oban. Alan MacLaren and Willie MacLean, who along with Willie Cowie made up three-quarters of the Lovat forward line, will be there to cheer on the present-day vintage. Half back Addie Mackenzie is also still living, though unable to travel to Oban.
Of the Kyles side which played in 1953 there are two survivors — Neil Galbraith and Alastair Chambers, and the former is expected to be there this weekend.
That team’s legacy continues to this day — for the the captain of Kyles in ‘53 was Donald Whyte, grandfather to three brothers who will all line up for the Argyll side at Mossfield on Saturday.
The Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup Final between Kyles Athletic and Lovat starts at 2.15pm on Saturday. Before that there will be junior action, as the under-14 teams of Skye and Fort William meet in the Ken MacMaster Cup final, while in the Scottish Hydro under-14s development trophy Glasgow Kelvin meet Aberdour.