Farewell to Fowler, Goodbye to God

Surely the most difficult part in writing a tribute to Robbie Fowler has to be in deciding what to leave out. Robbie Fowler was highly rated as an up-and-coming young player in the early 1990’s, ready to earn his way into the senior squad. There were many groans and rolling eyes when he was labelled as the next Ian Rush, simply because there could never be another one. Or could there?

Robbie reached one hundred goals for Liverpool in one game less that Rush, and scored more than thirty goals for three consecutive seasons. What’s more, that was when he was still developing his talents, and during which time he received the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in both 1995 and 1996. He went on to win the FA Cup, the League Cup twice, the UEFA Cup, the Charity Shield, and the UEFA Super Cup before moving on to Leeds United and Manchester City.

There have been so many occasions when we would sit back in awe at the natural talents of the young player who became known as God, and there were also many occasions when we laughed in spite of ourselves at the antics of a mischievous lad who didn’t seem to be able to keep himself out of trouble for very long. Of course I’m thinking of his crawl along the goal line after scoring in the 1999 Merseyside derby, while holding one side of his nose and miming an act that was suggestive of something that he was being accused of at the time. That resulted in a fine and a four game suspension by the FA. That was also at the same time that he received a further two game suspension for provocatively waving his posterior at a Chelsea defender, as a way of taunting him for his allegedly questionable masculinity. Before either of those incidents there was the Cup Winners Cup match in 1997 where he lifted up his shirt after scoring to reveal a tee shirt with a slogan in support of the sacked Liverpool Dockers. That was sufficient for him to be fined by UEFA, but was priceless in how it increased his popularity amongst the people of Merseyside.

Those are the ones that come to mind first, but if I had to choose just one incident then it would be the 1997 match against Arsenal at Highbury where Robbie was apparently tripped in the penalty area as he ran in on goal. From the angle of the television camera, it looked like a sure penalty and it was no surprise that the referee immediately blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. But Robbie got up and faced the referee, shaking his head and gesturing frantically with his hands that it was not a foul and so should not be a penalty. Without the benefit of a replay, and as referees are so inclined, the decision stood. Robbie coolly stepped up to take the kick and the ball flew quite comfortably toward David Seaman’s hands, only for him to parry the shot which was then tapped in by Jason McAteer. The commentator at the time described Robbie’s miss as ‘œjustice’ for the mistaken call, but there’s a definite suspicion that Robbie wasn’t really trying (McAteer was seemingly unaware of the plot). That’s just one incident that would have faded into obscurity if it hadn’t been for the fact that Robbie received a UEFA Fair Play award for his honesty, countering all of those ‘œbad boy’ incidents.

fowler and maccaRobbie was known as a ‘œnatural’ goal scorer, and he gave us plenty of those to remember. Again, choosing just one or two is an almost impossible task. Should it be the wonder goal against Aston Villa where he dummied with his back to goal at the Kop end, turned his marker (former Liverpool full back Steve Staunton) inside out, and left him standing as he went on a twenty yard run which inevitably finished with the ball almost bursting the net? Or, should it be the four minute and thirty three second hat-trick (still a Premier League record) against Arsenal in 1994? If not one of those, then how about the wonder strike against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1995? That was another classic Fowler strike where what looked like a run at goal from an impossible angle, on the left side of the area, ended up with the ball flying into the roof of the net with Peter Schmeichel stunned and wondering what had just happened. Actually, the most memorable for me of all Robbie’s goals was in the last match of the 2001 Treble season against Charlton Athletic. That match was described as a ‘œfinal,’ as it was the one that we had to win in order to guarantee entry to the Champions League for the following season. With the score 0-0 at half time, Liverpool came out in the second half determined to break through. Following a corner that should have been easily cleared from the Charlton area, Robbie managed to get a foot under the ball as it travelled away from the goal, and flipped it up over his head where it looped up into the top right corner of the net. That was the first of two for Robbie in a 4-0 win. It’s fitting then that Robbie’s last Premier League appearance for Liverpool should be against Charlton Athletic, and that he may still play a part in the Champions League final later this month. If it wasn’t for Robbie’s wonder goal against Charlton six years ago, we might not be there at all.

It was a sad day for all of us when his transfer to Leeds was officially announced at the end of 2001, but we hung on to the memories of Robbie that we had accumulated over all those years that he was known as God to us. He often said that he would crawl on his hands and knees to come back to Liverpool if given the chance, which showed just how much he missed the club. The feeling was mutual and so it was no surprise that the club jumped at the chance to bring him back on loan from Manchester City in the 2006 January transfer window. His permanent move to his beloved club was made official soon after, and we are all fortunate indeed that he was given the chance to fulfill his desire, and to see him play out his career at the top level.

Inevitably the time has now come for us to say farewell to Fowler or goodbye to God, and wish him well as he looks ahead to new challenges. No matter what Robbie does in the future, I’m sure it will bring success. He’s shown that not only is he a superstar as a player but also that he’s a highly capable businessman. Whatever happens, we can be sure that he’ll never be away from Anfield for long and will use any excuse to return in any capacity.

Until then, thanks for the memories and all the best for the future Robbie ‘“ You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Keith Perkins