FFOH Pat Cowdel
Pat Cowdel was born in Smethwick West Midlands, where as child being born 8 years after the close of the second world war he grew up with ‘not a lot’. Pat inherited his boxing ability and interest of the sport from his father who was a professional boxer. One of Pat’s earliest memories was of him and his brother building a boxing ring in his back garden at the age of 2 or 3 with his brother and father. One might say therefore that Pat was born to box, to be a part of the sport from the moment he could stand up. When Pat was 9 he wondered into Worley Amateur boxing club where a chap called Reg Steeles took Pat under his wing. Tutored every weekend by his father from the age 2 in a hand made boxing ring and trained as an amateur from the age of nine by a local boy Reg Steeles Pat truly is an example of homegrown midlands talent.
We asked Pat how he thought boxing had changed since 1953, quite substantially was our guess and we were right. Pat’s answers really reveal the extent to which British boxing has developed over the past 60 years, shedding its image of pub room brawls and toothless grins in order to become a structured, organised and regulated professional sport. Boxers are now regularly monitored through compulsory medicals, rounds have been dropped from 15 to 12, amateur fighters use protective head gear, women are slowly becoming a more frequent sight in the gym, minorities no longer face closed doors, the list goes on and Pat’s examples are expounded upon throughout our display here at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
However, Pat’s somewhat depressed reply that ‘It’s not quite the same for me’ hints at the fact that not all the changes made have been met with Universal applause. American cable companies and their British equivalents have launched the sport into an economic stratosphere utterly alien to the fans who watch it. Compulsory medicals mean compulsory fees for trainers, who unless their names are Freddie Roach or Joe Goossen have to sometimes pay the medical fees via the fight purse resulting in a decreased rate of pay for the fighters involved. Trainers such as Pat even end up shelling out £200s themselves just to get the medical nod and make the fight happen. Whilst the drop from 15-12 rounds was something Pat felt was good for the sport and protected the health of boxers the money involved now in order to become regulated, organised, developed and professional can often prove a stumbling block for many grassroots trainers, fighters and gyms involved.
Pat fought out of Worley amateur boxing club as a young boy and man. He won a junior ABA title at the age of 13 which at the time meant he was an undisputed amateur junior champion of Great Britain. He then went on to the senior ABA championships wining two at featherweight, one at bantamweight and one at lightweight, the finals taking place at Wembley stadium in front of around 10,000 people. Pat felt that there has been a noticeable drop in the overall support and recognition of amateur boxing in Great Britain and NI since his time as an amateur, a feeling we have found to be common amongst most of the old guard involved with our project. A crowd of 10,000 at an amateur event is fairytale talk today, as increasingly fans orientate towards big names and big venues, taking weekly trans Atlantic trips from the their living room to Las Vegas, streaming themselves into NY via their laptops.
Pat’s melancholic tone about the lack of recognition for Britain’s amateur boxers may be in relation to the position he speaks from. Pat Cowdel is regarded as one of the most successful amateur British boxer to have ever lived. He boxed over 50 times in the full England vest around the world, encountering regular international opponents, fighting two European games, a commonwealth games and an Olympic games. He won a gold medal at the 1974 Commonwealth games and a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics, then in 78 he turned professional. Boxing enabled Pat to travel the world. By the age of 15 he was out of his back garden and lacking up to fight opponents across the globe. Boxing also led to Pat meeting his future wife at an international tournament in Holland, Mrs Cowdel clearly punch drunk at the time. Pat claiming he won two gold medals that time.
As a professional Pat remembers Paddy and Tommy Lynch for their ambassadorial work in promoting world title fights for Birmingham, Pat quick to compliment the brothers for being ‘two nice kids’ typically in keeping with Pat’s approachable and friendly style. Pat won a British Featherweight title a British Junior lightweight title, a European featherweight title, a European junior lightweight title and fought for a world title twice. According to Pat getting ‘hammered’ both times. Pat came up during a time when there were only two world title belts and lost his world title fights to two of the best featherweights of all time Azumah Nelson and Salvador Sanchez. In an era where boxers bicker over who is the best, what is the best, when was he at his best etc etc Pat takes away from his defeats a sense of great pride that despite losing he knew he fought the best and tried to be the undisputed best. The clarity with which Pat speaks about this is something that the world of boxing is starved of. A sense of finality and worth about the belts being won and the titles being awarded is what every boxing fan and fighter wants to see.
After losing to Nelson Pat continued on to win the British and European Bantamweight titles eventually retiring simply because he was ‘to old’. Age eventually beats us all, and as any retired fighter will tell you, ‘once your legs have gone it’s time to throw in the towel’, so Pat did and then straight away entered into the world of training. Pat runs a stable of 23 fighters, his greatest achievement not being a title win (although there have been many) but the rewards of coaching young men and women in the sport of boxing itself.
Pat carries on the Cowdel legacy through a son in Yorkshire who runs a ‘little gym himself’, and the full interview with Pat can be listened to here on our interactive audio display.