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Tributes paid to Buckie coach who inspired generations of New Zealand's young footballers

By Alan Beresford

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A FORMER Buckie Thistle player who went on to dedicate his life to developing grassroots football in New Zealand is being mourned.

Tributes have been pouring in for Malcolm Cowie, who passed away last Friday. Picture: St Kentigern College
Tributes have been pouring in for Malcolm Cowie, who passed away last Friday. Picture: St Kentigern College

Tributes are being paid to Malcolm Cowie, who passed away on Friday, October 23.

For over 30 years since he left Buckie in 1988 for a new life with St Kentigern College in Auckland, Mr Cowie became synonymous with nurturing school and youth football in a nation where the sport played a very distant second fiddle to the two rugby codes and cricket.

His selfless determination to see New Zealand's talented young footballers take their rightful place on the world stage earned him the royal honour of the New Zealand Order of Merit last year.

He was praised by New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who lauded his "outstanding contribution" to football in the country and thanked him on behalf of the whole nation.

Although aged 70 at the time, Mr Cowie was still working St Kentigern College as an old collegian liaison officer. Over three decades ago he instituted a football academy and brought the sport into the curriculum at St Kentigern on his arrival.

He not only fostered the growth of the national tournaments in New Zealand – there were only four in the whole country when he arrived – but took young players across the globe as the Kiwis started to qualify for tournaments, moving out of the shadow of their Antipodean neighbours, as well as embarking on tours.

Such was Mr Cowie's impact that the New Zealand Secondary Schools Football Assocation (NZSSFA) named a trophy after him – the Malcolm Cowie Cup – and he spoke of his pride at New Zealand gaining a seat on the Football Associations of International Boards, the only other non-European country to achieve this aside from Canada.

One of the many people at Buckie Thistle who remember Mr Cowie with great fondness is the club's director of football Graeme Tallis.

"I used to watch him play when I was a youngster and I remember him as a very good full back," he said.

"I also used to clean the team's boots back then!

"I met him nearly every year when he came home to visit as he came with his brother Willie to watch a game and it was always a pleasure to catch up with him.

"He will be sorely missed in the sports world and my thoughts go out to all his friends and family at this sad time."

There was much sadness at St Kentigern College where tribute was paid for his decades of loyal and inspirational service.

"His death is a tragic loss and he will be missed by all.

"Malcolm was a long-serving staff member of the college, joining in 1988. He has contributed significantly in many areas, including; physical education, Bruce Housemaster, Dean, sports, attending camps and field centres. He was a highly respected coach and manager, particularly in football, where his leadership contribution was at a national level.

"He has impacted countless young people and his death will touch many staff (past and present), students, old collegians and the wider community and we will seek to support and comfort others within our community at this time.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

The NZSSFA spoke warmly of the revolutionary contribution Mr Cowie had made to both the standard and status of the country's youth football scene.

"Malcolm Cowie was NZSS Boys Football’s inaugural life member. This award was in recognition of Malcolm’s exceptional contribution of over 30 years to the provision of the best possible opportunities in football for secondary school students.

"Under Malcolm’s leadership and as a result of his vision, NZSS Football has achieved significant results both on and off the field.

"On the field, Malcolm has been instrumental in developing NZSS Football representative programs at under-15 and under-19 levels. This has included the organisation of a number of international tours to Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, Korea, China, Malaysia and Thailand.

"Malcolm’s positive attitude, enthusiasm and strong management have contributed to the success and growth we have seen in football at secondary school level. During his reign, the number of national tournaments has increased from four to six and the number of teams participating annually from about 70 to 136.

"Our sincere condolences go to the family and his school community at Saint Kentigern College.

"Rest in peace Malcolm, you will be sorely missed."

Before heading Down Under, Mr Cowie was a weel kent face in the Highland League, having played for not only Buckie Thistle but also Peterhead, Inverness Caledonian and Keith. He also ventured into the world of management, taking up the hot seat at Nairn County and, just before he left Scotland, Elgin City.

Mr Cowie is due to be laid to rest on Sunday, November 8 after a service in Saint Kentigern Chapel.

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