The next edition of Premier League Lessons sees Liverpool’s own, Robbie Fowler, remembered.
“I hate talking about football. I just do it, you know?”
– Robbie Fowler
None of the 12,541 people who were there could have imagined what they were going to see, but Liverpool’s supporters were about to witness something special at Anfield on the evening of October 5, 1993. Eighteen-year-old Robbie Fowler, who had scored bags of goals in Liverpool’s youth and reserve teams, and notched his first senior strike in the first leg of this League Cup tie with Fulham, displayed a composure and class that belied his years in scoring all five goals in a 5-0 win for the Reds – a feat he famously celebrated by buying his mum a bag of chips on the way back home to Toxteth. A star was born.
The young striker had arrived on the scene just when Graeme Souness’s poor side – the exciting Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp apart – needed shaking up, and he quickly established himself in the Liverpool team alongside the club’s record goalscorer, Ian Rush. The teenager scored 18 goals in his debut campaign – a season interrupted by a broken leg – to firmly establish himself as a favourite on the Kop.
The young Fowler was a menace, a constant threat that opposition defenders ignored at their peril. He had a sixth sense for positioning, as that record-breaking four minute and 33 second hat-trick against Arsenal at the beginning of his second professional season showed. As a natural finisher, he is unrivalled in Premier League history. A lot quicker in his teenage years than people gave him credit for, Fowler combined a good pace with his cool finishing ability to quickly become – along with Ryan Giggs – the bright young thing of the new glitzy, glamorous Premier League era. Playing under Roy Evans, Fowler became the focal point of the Liverpool team – an attacking, entertaining side. The two season period that started with that hat-trick against Arsenal, that had a League Cup winners medal in the middle and ended with his first England cap, brought an astonishing 67 goals and the title of ‘the best striker in Britain’ from Four Four Two magazine. He was still just 20.
The fact that Fowler never really fulfilled his potential with England only strengthened his bond with the Liverpool fans. He was one of their own, the opposite of what happened with Michael Owen, who very quickly became England’s ‘property’, somewhat alienating him from the Reds support. Fowler was never given a proper run in the England side due to a variety of reasons, but the belief that his face simply didn’t fit is one that is held by the player himself, and probably correct. No matter to the Liverpool fans – they only cared about him scoring goals for his club. A serious knee injury in a Merseyside derby in 1998 was the turning point in his career. After missing that summer’s World Cup, he suddenly had to become a cleverer striker upon his return to action, combining the finishing and positional skills that he always had with a new ability to drop deep and bring others in to the game. He had Owen and latterly Emile Heskey to do his running for him, and so Fowler concentrated on his all round game and finishing, and was still one of the best around at the latter.
He courted controversy, with the much-publicised ‘snorting the line’ incident against Everton – a response to years of false allegations made against him by mischievous Blues fans – and a subsequent spat with Graeme Le Saux costing him a six-game ban, but success with Liverpool meant so much to him – with the 2001 ‘Cup Treble’, where he scored in two of the three finals, a glorious high point in his career. An argument with assistant manager Phil Thompson before a Charity Shield victory over Manchester United seemed to start an irretrievable split between player and club, and Reds fans’ hearts were broken when Fowler was sold to Leeds United for £11m in November 2001. Two years there were followed by three at Manchester City, where he rediscovered some of his remarkable goalscoring form in fits and starts, before a scarcely believable move back to Liverpool under Rafael Benitez.
Eighteen months back at the club he loves brought a few more goals, taking him above Kenny Dalglish into fifth place in the list of Liverpool’s all-time top goalscorers, and the fourth highest goalscorer in Premier League history had further spells with Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and can now be found in Australia playing for North Queensland Fury.
A true Premier League legend, Robbie Fowler is remembered as one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation. At Liverpool they called him ‘God’. There was a reason for that.
Name – Robbie Fowler
Age – 34 (April 9, 1975)
Position – Forward
North Queensland Fury
Club level honours – 2 League Cups (1995, 2001) – FA Cup (2001) – UEFA Cup (2001) – Twice PFA Young Player of the Year (1995, 1996)
Nationality – English
Caps/goals – 26/7
National honours – None