By Liam Bekker
The second edition of the Remember the Name: series sees us delve into the Liverpool career of local player and working class hero Robbie Fowler.
On the 9th of April 1975 a man was born in Toxteth, Liverpool who would have a marked impact on the history of Liverpool FC. This man – Robbie Fowler. Robbie grew up supporting Merseyside rivals Everton, but at age 14 he had been snapped up by scout Jim Aspinall into the ranks of our youth. From that moment on, his blood would be red, both literally and figuratively.
Robbie made his debut for Liverpool in the 93/94 season in the League Cup where he scored one against Fulham. The return leg of this fixture would see Fowler bag an incredible haul of 5 goals – only the fifth Liverpool player to have ever done this. His debut season would prove to be a good one, ending with a tally of 18 goals (1 less than Ian Rush who had played 13 more games). At the end of the season Robbie was selected to represent the England at the u/18 European Championships which they subsequently won. Robbie, grabbing the golden boot with 5 games in only 4 matches.
His first full season for the club would show just what a devastating striker he was. In his first 3 matches he had 5 goals, including the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick against Arsenal – a record which still stands. He also scored in both legs of the League Cup semi-final which was crucial for Liverpool on their way to winning the cup. He featured in every single match (57) for that campaign (league and cup) and ended with a haul of 25 league goals and 31 all in all. These exploits won him the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
1995/96 saw a peroxide blonde Robbie at it again. He hit 3 past Arsenal again and 4 past Bolton, but his best performance came at Old Trafford where the Scouser bagged 2 classic Fowler goals against United and stole the light from a returning Eric Cantona. Again, Robbie would go on to win his second PFA Young Player of the Year Award in a row – an accomplishment which has only been matched by Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. He had made his England debut during the season and his form was rewarded with a call up to Euro 96.
The following season saw the departure of Liverpool legend Ian Rush, and as his protégé, Robbie assumed the number 9 jersey…and then the goals kept coming. Fowler wasn’t the quickest, nor the tallest but he has renowned as a player who could poach them in from close range or hit a 25 yard screamer and was adept with both left and right foot. His 4 goals against Middleborough saw him bring up his 100 for Liverpool in only 165 matches – one match faster than mentor Rush and again he reached 30 that season. He remains the only player to have scored 30 plus goals in his first three full seasons in England scoring 98 goals with a total of 116 in 3 and a half years, something which has also yet to be beaten in La Liga, Seria A and the Bundesliga too * (Wikipedia). His character shone both on and off the field, Robbie received the Uefa Fair Play award for trying to stop a referee from wrongfully awarding a penalty for him, and later famously showed support for the Merseyside Dockers. He had reached a level of popularity amongst the Liverpool fans that had not been seen since the days of one Kenny Dalglish.
The next season would see Robbie plagued with recurring knee injuries, an increase in ‘temperament issues’ and the rise of a young Michael Owen. The bad season was topped off by Robbie missing the ’98 World Cup. He seemed fond of finding himself in controversial matters. In 1999 Robbie was banned for 4 matches for celebrating his goal against Everton by snorting the white line. This was done to hit back at the continuous (and unfound) allegations that he had been using drugs. The FA also slapped him with a further two match ban for an incident involving Graeme le Saux of Chelsea where Robbie mockingly shook his behind at him following rumours of le Saux’s sexual orientation. (All of which I might add were rather entertaining and showed a side of wit and character rather than one ‘bringing the game into disrepute’).
Being Fowler though, he wouldn’t lie down and the 2000/2001 season would prove to be his best. With regular skipper Jamie Redknapp out with serious injury, Robbie would jointly assume the armband with Sami Hyypia. Together the pair would see the club to a famous cup treble, winning the FA Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup with Robbie scoring in the latter two. However, his best season would soon turn out to be his last season. Following Robbie’s long-time friend Steve McManaman’s bosman move to Real Madrid, Gerard Houllier decided to cash in Robbie while his stock was high. Despite goals galore and an unwavering desire to stay, he was shipped off to Leeds for 11 Million pounds.
He remained a loyal Liverpool supporter though, and made the trip to Istanbul in 2005 to watch the Red’s run out victorious in the most epic Champions League Final of all time.
Six months later and the unthinkable had happened. Robbie Fowler had returned to Liverpool on a free transfer. Many fans coined it as the ‘second coming’ of the ‘prodigal son’. He may not have been the awe inspiring player that he had been years before but he stilled showed glimpses of brilliances and added to his impressive tally for the club. A tally which would end on 183 after 369 games for the club. His last game in a Red jersey came a year and a half after rejoining in a match against Charlton for which he was given the captains armband, and unlike the last time, he was given a proper Liverpool farewell.
Loved by All
To say he was loved by all, might be a bit of a lie, but those who didn’t love him had to respect him – and they did.
Aston Villa’s keeper at the time Mark Bosnich had earned a PHd in Robbie Fowler’s goals and couldn’t help admire the striker: ” He usually gets 10 out of 10 on target, and with 9 out of 10 he hits the corners”
Upon Ian Rush’s departure from Liverpool, he had this to say about Robbie. “I leave it (the club) in good hands. Robbie will probably eclipse all that I ever achieved at Liverpool” From a man like that, you don’t get higher praise!
Former player Graeme Souness was also an admirer: “…if you’re talking about being a goal getter then he could be the very best”. These thoughts were echoed by former manager Roy Evans, “Robbie has immense talent. He can be frightening”
But no one loved him more than the fans of Liverpool. They supported him through his glory days, his injury days, his controversial days and even in the days when he was away. They loved him so much that they didn’t call him Robbie, or Rob or any other name – they called him ‘God’