Mark Cowen is the general manager of Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre and Heeley Swimming Pool. Born and bred in Hillsborough, he attended Malin Bridge and Myers Grove schools before starting an engineering course at Stannington College. Mark soon realised this wasn’t for him and moved on to a newly formed course in sports and recreation. After studying for one year, Mark joined Sheffield City Council’s recreation department, initially working at Stocksbridge Leisure Centre and later Westfield Swimming Pool. From there he moved on to Rowlinson Sports Centre, now known as Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre.
Being a Hillsborough lad it may be no surprise to learn I am an avid Sheffield Wednesday supporter. I have a season ticket on the Kop which, as anyone who knows me will attest, is my favourite place in the world on a match day. Wednesday are in my blood – I first went when I must have been about four or five and have been following them now for more than 40 years. My favourite memory as an Owl would have to be watching the FA Cup semi-final Sheffield derby in 1993 at Wembley. It was an unbelievable atmosphere and more importantly the right result! Over the years we’ve had some great players but I’d have to say Chris Waddle is my all-time favourite.
I now take my youngest son to matches and my oldest also comes when work permits, so Saturdays can be a real family affair.
I married my wife Lisa in 1987 and we have three sons, 20-year old Alexander, 18-year-old William and 13-year-old Freddie, and a five-year-old daughter, Connie. We live in Norton. Family is what’s important and when I am not working I enjoy spending time with my wife and our children. Freddie plays as a goalkeeper for Abbey Lane under 14s so my Sundays often involve me taking him to games and cheering him on from the sidelines. It takes us all across South Yorkshire, into areas you never knew existed. On weekends I’m also often with Connie at local parks and swimming pools. Our favourite haunt has to be Graves Park. It’s a fantastic area with something for everyone and Connie and I love it.
I enjoy playing most sports, most often golf and badminton. Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre has state-of-the-art tennis facilities, so it’s certainly one of the perks of the job! I tend to play golf at the courses in Beauchief, Birley, Tinsley and Tapton. Nothing can quite beat being in the great outdoors and enjoying the fresh air, and it’s a great way to relax. I’m afraid of heights but I recently had to face my fear and take part in a diving competition at a Sheffield International Venues company awards evening. Standing on the 10 metre board, you get a really good view of the impressive facilities at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, but it’s still petrifying! It made me really appreciate the skill and bravery of those who compete at a high level, and although I don’t think I could join them I’m pleased to say I made the dive.
I own a German short-haired pointer and take it for regular walks from the Lightwood area in Norton over to Coal Aston. The scenery is really outstanding and the area is usually very quiet, so the walks give me some peace and solitude. Having four children makes for a noisy house so it is a chance to escape and have some thinking time. I am very lucky as living in Norton means that I am just a five-minute walk from beautiful Derbyshire countryside, but also very close to work.
There are some excellent amenities in the area and I am very proud to help run Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre. As well as giving people a facility where they can enjoy their leisure time, we help improve their health and sporting ability, so it’s a very rewarding job.
Food and drink
Ranmoor has given me some great memories over the years. It is home to my favourite pub, the Ranmoor Inn, which has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and serves my favourite beers. Just across the road from the pub is the brilliant Canton Orchard Chinese restaurant, where I would recommend the crispy duck!
On Saturdays, I enjoy pre-match visits to the Castle Inn at Hillsborough. I go with my youngest son, my sister, and used to also go with the dad of a great friend of mine who sadly passed away five years ago. I love the electric atmosphere in the pub before Wednesday games, the debate and expectation – it all adds to the excitement.
Bradfield is a special place to me. I spent lots of time on the village green as a child and it was a favourite of my late father. It is also home to my favourite beer, Farmers Blonde by the Bradfield Brewery. Days out by the stream and family picnics in Bradfield make up some of my earliest and happiest memories.