Robbie Fowler - The Only "God" I Believe In
Unlike the present day, England in the 1990s had an abundance of striking talent to choose from. Andrew (“don’t call me Andy”) banged in goals for fun at Newcastle and Manchester United. Teddy Sheringham might be Cole’s mortal enemy but was widely regarded as the most complete striker England had while Alan Shearer was just a goal scoring machine.
None of them really resonated with me because only one man had captured my heart – the man Liverpool fans call “God”.
To fully understand my love for Robbie Fowler, I have to give you a little background information on myself. See, I’ve been a Liverpool fan since birth (I had no real choice in the matter but I’m not complaining) and growing up Fowler was my absolute favourite player. He was just better than everyone else. He didn’t play as much when we won the treble but I still thought he was the best player that season. He was quite literally God to me.
I love Liverpool and supported them through nearly every single low but the fateful day that in November 2001 when I saw that my beloved Fowler was now wearing the white of Leeds United, my loyalty to and love for Liverpool wavered for a few seconds before my father intervened and told me that I was still allowed to love Fowler but I was never in a million years going to turn my back on the Reds.
That lesson in loyalty from my father was also a demonstration of my love for Fowler. He was, to me at seven years old, bigger than Liverpool. He was Liverpool. He was the standard bearer, the number nine, the local goal machine who could do it anywhere and any way you could imagine. Running through his collection of goals for Liverpool is like watching a best of Premier League goals compilation. He was equally adept at smashing one in from range as he was heading it home or tapping it in. Fowler was the master of making even the best keepers look like mugs with his intuitive finishing. He was, simply put, an outrageous player.
Now some of you are probably reading this and thinking, “OK, you love Robbie Fowler, he’s a great player, what’s your point?”
My point is very simple. The main reason I prefer Fowler over the other great English strikers is that he was a character, a personality, a human being who was living the dream but it never changed his love for the game. It’s the reason he was so inventive and scored so many outrageous goals but probably also the reason that despite his constant goals, Fowler never really made an impression on the international stage. It’s not that he wasn’t good enough, it’s that he was like a clown in a business meeting – his natural tendencies and enjoyment wasted in a serious, pressurised environment.
The reason Fowler flourished under Roy Evans in the 90s was that Evans played a fun, natural, instinctive style built around the mercurial talents of Fowler, Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman. They were suprememly talented but Fowler was THE guy in that side. McManaman dazzled but Fowler would steal the show with a brilliant goal like he was down at the park. Hunt out Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in either 1995 or 96. Fowler mugs off Peter Schmeichel not once but twice – smashing his first in at near post from 25 odd yards before bullying Gary Neville off the ball and chipping the big Dane with his weaker right foot. The best part is that he made it look so effortless. He turned Steve Staunton inside out with his first touch touch in one game then smashed it in from 30 yards with his second like it was nothing. His four minute hat trick against the meanest Arsenal defence was classic Fowler clinical finishing. He got the chances and took each one. Or his goal in the FA Cup semi-final in 2001 against Wycombe where he was going to let Gary McAllister take the free-kick, took two steps and put it right in the top corner, celebrating while being hunted down by a furious Scot. Or his goal in the League Cup final that year where he half volleys it from 35 yards over the keeper. Or his overhead lob against Charlt… you get the idea.
The goals weren’t always the most newsworthy thing about Fowler either. He was one of the derided Spice Boys. He responded to being called a “druggie” by Everton fans by scoring then simulating taking drugs right in front of them. He scored four past Middlesbrough while showing support for the striking dock workers in Liverpool at the time. At Leeds, Fowler would carry a coin onto the pitch and play a game with his teammates where they would pass the coin around while playing important Premier League games. The only real blot on his character is the rather unsavoury Graham Le Saux incident from 1999 but he still remains one of the funniest and colourful personalities in Premier League history.
When history looks back on Premier League strikers, it will shine upon Thierry Henry, Andrew (“don’t call me Andy”) Cole, Alan Shearer and others of that ilk. Yet, for me, Fowler will forever be the greatest with his unmatched personality and line-up of stunning goals. While all the others were a bit stale and a bit serious, Fowler lit up the Premier League and shone brightest amongst a gallery of big stars. His return in January 2006 was a beautiful, genuine footballing moment and it showed that he could definitively be regarded as a Premier League legend.
There is a reason we called him “God” …
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