Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘Older he got, better he became’: Masters pay tribute to Mark Cowley

The squash world has paid tribute to distinguished player and Masters advocate Mark Cowley who died recently after a long battle with Covid and subsequent complications. He was 68.

Mark was a regular member of England and Middlesex age category Masters’ teams since turning 35. Of his many distinctions on court, perhaps the pinnacle was his victory in Cologne in August 2010 when he became World 55+ Champion.

In the ensuing 10 years, as a ranking system for masters players developed, he was always ranked in the top one or two positions in the world in his age category.  

At the 2019 European Masters in Vienna, only a few days before his 65th birthday, he reached the final of the 60+ event and lost a hard fought final to Allen Barwise, then World No.1.

His final competitive match before the pandemic was the final of the 65+ event in the British Closed, Nottingham in February 2020, when he was narrowly beaten in a competitive match by top-ranked Steve Johnson.

Gordon Kerr, who shared a room with him at the Nottingham event, recalls talking to him between games during the final. “I told him after the third game that if he kept up this level of aggression the referee might take action, and implored him to go a bit easier,” he said. 

“I can’t”, Mark replied, “It’s the way I play.”

“Mark was such a fierce (but fair) amateur squash competitor, and in life a true gentleman,” added Kerr. 

“Although hard as nails on court he was inwardly deeply charitable and concerned for others. In fact, his charitable nature brought about his introduction to squash. In his early twenties he joined the Voluntary Services Overseas organisation and was posted to Sudan, where squash was popular on open (unroofed) courts and he quickly became addicted. He also was a strong swimmer and took part in a four-man relay team that swam the Channel in the early 80s. 

Only ever an amateur, Mark played at a high level in the 80s when squash was at its height and crowds were “banging on the glass” as they looked down from the bar of his first club, the North London Club in Muswell Hill. When he turned 35, he played a major role in raising the standard of play, and numbers of players attracted to domestic (inter county) and international (world and European competitions).  

“He was no-nonsense, never made any excuses and was scrupulously sporting,” said Kerr. “He was one of the hardest ball strikers in the amateur game and loved to own the court. Woe betide any loose shots his opponent played especially on the left hand side of the court, his forehand, which usually resulted in a blistering low deep drive.

“He had an intimidating presence on court; would often stare, (even glare!) at his opponent when they served, and even in the knock up tended to discombobulate opponents, especially first time opponents. But this was all part of his general approach which was to use all legitimate tactics, mental as well as physical in endeavouring to win every match. 

“He very nearly beat Qamar Zaman in, I think, the quarter finals of the British Masters Open 40+ event in Cardiff in 1995; he was two games up and two points from victory when somehow he let the great Pakistani back in; this was perhaps the only time I ever saw a chink in his steely determination. He was a rare player in that the older he became, the better his play seemed to become.

“For me personally it was an honour to play (albeit at the foot of the team when I wasn’t dropped for losing) in the great Middlesex teams of the last 20 years featuring both former professionals, Peter Gunter, Alan Thomson, Adrian Jaski, and also hiqh quality amateurs and members of England Masters teams such as Duleep Adhihetty, James Ockwell and Stuart Hardy.”

Kerr was pleased to learn that a few weeks ago Mark went to watch some of the UK Masters event at Colets and was part of a ‘20 years on’ photo of the England +45 2003 team. He added: “This was a week before he passed away and no doubt he would have met many friends and been warmly welcomed.”

A funeral service will be held on July 4 at midday at New Southgate Cemetary and Crematorium. The wake will be held afterwards at West Lodge Park Hotel, Cockfosters Road, EN4 0PY from 2pm

 Mark Cowley,  31 August 1954 – 16 June 2023.

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