THE BIG INTERVIEW: Kitman Steve Cowell is PNE's running man
Dave Seddon speaks to Preston North End kitman Steve Cowell who pulled on the trainers to complete a 5km parkrun before every weekend PNE game this season
Preston North End’s kitman Steve Cowell is not afraid to put in the hard yards.
When Saturday comes, the 63-year-old does not just confine himself to making sure the PNE players are fully kitted out.
Every weekend Cowell puts his best foot forward by taking part in a 5km parkrun.
Whether North End are home or away, he pulls on the trainers and covers the ground before assuming his matchday duties.
Parkrun organises free-to-enter, timed 5km runs up and down the country.
They are open to runners of all abilities, whether they are training for events or just keeping fit.
Avenham Park is where it happens in Preston, while Cowell will find the nearest run to where North End are playing an away match.
“I’ve run every Saturday this season whether PNE have been home or away,” said Cowell as he found time to draw breath after a hectic Championship season.
“When we have a game at Deepdale, I do the Preston parkrun in Avenham Park at 9am and then head off to the ground.
“When we are away, I just look for the nearest parkrun to where we are staying at.
“It’s great fun, you meet some lovely people, it keeps me fit and staves off the ageing process.
“For away games, most clubs’ kitmen set up on a Friday – I’m the same.
“I’ll travel with the team or go ahead of them and put out the kit, boots and warm-up gear in the dressing room.
“That leaves me free for a Saturday morning run before the build-up to the game begins.
“The players and staff here are brilliant about it, they’ve really encouraged me along the way.
“The lads will ask me what time I did and what the course was like, that sort of thing.
“Of course they dish out a bit of stick too, I get my fair share of that! Two seasons ago I did the parkrun in Brighton.
“Greg Cunningham was suspended for the game against Brighton so he did the run with me, which was brilliant.
“Our fitness coach Tom Little and sports scientist Luke Hemmings ran too – we flew the flag for Preston that morning.”
The season just ended saw Cowell run through parks the length and breadth of the country.
“I always run in my North End gear,” said Cowell.
“When I ran at Norwich, one guy said to me, ‘Enjoy the run because that is all you are going to get today’.
“Let’s just say I was pleased that we scored an equaliser to get a 1-1 draw.
“The toughest run was when we played Sunderland in March.
“It was snowing and the local parkrun got called off on safety grounds.
“I found the nearest one still on was in Chester-le-Street, 14 miles from where we were staying.
“It was freezing and as I ran up a hill in a blizzard I questioned my sanity.
“The taxi driver who took me was a Sunderland fan who said he would never drop off a fare at Newcastle’s ground – he would pull up nearby.
“On the way home, it was a Newcastle fan driving the taxi who told me he never dropped off next to Sunderland’s ground!
“Perhaps my favourite run was in Telford, that was before we played Wolves last October.
“Part of the course was down a disused railway line with the old platforms and stations still there.
“With parkrun, it is the people who make it, you meet so many lovely people along the way.
“The gaffer Alex Neil is supportive of my running and likes to know how I have got on.
“Matt Jackson, the physio, has helped me in terms of improving my running style.”
Cowell has been North End’s full-time kitman for the last two seasons.
The club is in his blood, he has supported them since 1964.
For a decade he ran and played in the PNE fans’ team, leading them to a great deal of success.
“I’m a lifelong Preston fan,” said Cowell, who hails from Penwortham.
“I started watching as a kid in 1964, my mum worked two jobs to make sure we got to Wembley for the FA Cup final that year.
“I’ve been everywhere with Preston since. I saw every game of the 1970/71 season when we won the Third Division title.
“To now be working for the club is brilliant.
“It’s hard graft, probably harder than some people imagine.
“I’m in early every day before the players so that everything is ready for them for training.
“The gaffer makes me feel part of the set-up and is great with me.
“Sometimes I’ll have a game of head tennis with him in the gym before or after training – it’s safe to say he always beat me!
“Next season I intend to keep doing the running on a Saturday morning.
“My aim is to be doing the parkrun before Premier League games – wouldn’t that be brilliant? Like all supporters, I’d love to see my club in the top flight.”