Staveley, Derbyshire born centre half Sam Cowan began his football career playing with Adwick-Le-Street Park and Adwick Juniors in 1919 and spent 1920-21 on the books of Huddersfield Town, without making their first eleven, before playing for Bullcroft Main Colliery in 1921 and Denaby United in 1922. He signed professional with Doncaster Rovers in August 1923 and made his Football League debut against Wigan Borough the same month, scoring a hat trick of headed goals in a 7-0 win against Halifax Town in March 1924.
After 14 goals in 51 games for Rovers, Manchester City signed him in December 1924. He immediately became a first team regular for City, and the following year was part of City’s 1926 FA Cup Final team which lost 1-0 to Bolton Wanderers at Wembley. City were also relegated the same season, but Cowan received an international call up and won his first England cap against Belgium in Antwerp in May 1926. His other two international caps also came on England end of season tours against Austria in 1930 and against Belgium in 1931.
In 1928 City won the Second Division Championship and soon after the turn of the decade Cowan succeeded Jimmy McMullan as Club Captain. He missed only two games as Manchester City finished third in the League Championship in 1930, and led City to the 1932 FA Cup semi final where they lost 1-0 to Arsenal at Villa Park.
He captained Manchester City to successive FA Cup Finals in 1933 and 1934, on the first occasion they lost to Everton, but third time lucky for Cowan and a goal down to Portsmouth with 10 minutes remaining, two Fred Tilson goals saw them home against Portsmouth at Wembley. The following season proved his last at Maine Road, although he was an ever present in the team for the first time, and Bradford City signed him in October 1935 for £2,000 after 407 games and 24 goals for City. He had two seasons at Bradford City scoring once in 62 appearances before going into management with non league Mossley. Later, on the coaching staff at Brighton he turned out in a wartime match in 1945 aged 44. In November 1946 he became Manchester City manager, resigning in June 1947.