Full name: Robert Bernard Fowler
Date of birth: 09/04/1975
Robbie Fowler may now be playing in the second-tier of English football, but he continues to do what he does best – score goals. Throughout his career Fowler has done just that, and is widely acknowledged by Liverpool fans as being one of the greatest players in the club’s history – no mean feat given that Liverpool remain one of the most successful clubs on the planet.
He may never have been a regular for his country and he may not have a huge number of medals to show for his efforts, but nevertheless, Fowler’s name will go down in history as one of the greatest natural goalscorers the Premiership has ever seen.
The Toxteth Terror
Robert Bernard Fowler was born on the 9th of April 1975 and spent his youth in Toxteth, a council estate in Liverpool. Like many professional footballers he did not have a glamorous upbringing. In fact Toxteth was the scene of infamous riots in 1981, but he was surrounded by a family who supported him every step of the way. This, combined with a love of football and incredible natural ability, meant Fowler always looked likely to succeed.
He was first spotted at just 10 years of age by Liverpool scout Jim Aspinall and received an offer to sign for the club as early as 12, when the Liverpool manager of the time, Kenny Dalglish, became so impressed with Fowler’s schoolboy performances that he offered the youngster a youth contract with a guaranteed professional contract to follow when he turned 17.
Despite this and the many other offers that followed over the coming years, it was decided by Robbie and his dad that he was too young to commit to any one club and would continue his development with local teams.
He did, however, accept an offer from Liverpool to train with their academy side, as Dalglish and Aspinall looked to convince Fowler that Liverpool Football Club was the best place to showcase his talents.
The years passed and, with local goalscoring records tumbling, Fowler became more and more sought after by major clubs up and down the country. Manchester United and Chelsea were both rejected, as were Everton, the club Fowler supported as a boy.
Eventually though, at the age of 16, it was time for father and son to make a decision and it was one that delighted Jim Aspinall, the scout who had first spotted Fowler, as Robbie signed on the dotted line for Liverpool FC.
Graeme Souness was now Liverpool manager, but the offer Dalglish had made four years previously remained and Fowler signed a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) deal with a guarantee of a 3 year professional contract to follow.
Reds rise to young hero
(The Herald Sun, Oct 6th 1993)
With Fowler held in such high esteem by the manager and coaching staff it seemed only a matter of time before he made his breakthrough to the first team. However, it soon became clear that despite making good progress in his first year, Souness was not going to rush Fowler for fear of harming his development.
Undeterred, Fowler continued to work hard and in November 1992 made a hugely impressive debut for England Under-18’s, scoring a hat-trick in a 7-2 win, a performance that earned him a place in the squad for the upcoming European Under-18 Championship.
Fowler rose to the challenge brilliantly and excelled in the tournament, finishing as top scorer, with five goals in just four games, as an impressive young England side, which also included the likes of Sol Campbell and Paul Scholes, claimed the trophy.
Fowler was beginning to get a reputation as one of the finest young goalscorers around and with Liverpool enduring a difficult start to the 1993-94 season, the clamour for Souness to hand the youngster his full debut grew.
Come late September, the manager finally decided that the time was right and handed Fowler his first start for the club, in a league cup tie with Fulham. As with the Under-18 Championship Robbie grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring in a 3-1 victory.
He kept his place for the next two games, failing to score, but putting in a couple of impressive performances. Then on the 5th of October 1993, in the second leg of the Fulham tie, Fowler’s life changed forever as he scored not one, not three, but five goals in front of an ecstatic Anfield crowd. On that night the names Hunt, Keegan, Dalglish and Rush took a back-seat. The only name on the lips of Liverpool fans was one of an 18 year old lad from Toxteth.
Teen star sparkles
(The Calgary Herald, Aug 29th 1994)
Some players might have taken their foot off the accelerator after such a stunning start, but not Fowler. He hit a hat-trick in only his fifth Premiership game and in total found the back of the net 15 times in his first 22 games.
But the youngster’s performances were not enough to save his manager and, after the club went out of the FA Cup in a replay to Division Two side Bristol City, Souness resigned. It was also a tie to forget for Fowler as he had broken his leg in the first of the two games. Despite not being a serious break, it was enough to slow down his progress.
Fortunately for Robbie, Liverpool decided to appoint their next manager from within and Roy Evans was handed the job. This meant that even an injury combined with a change of manager was not likely to be enough to threaten his first team position.
Sure enough, Fowler returned quickly and was thrust back in at the deep end – in a league match with fierce rivals Everton. This was his first derby and, by scoring the winner, he proved to one and all that when the pressure was on, Robbie Fowler could be trusted to come up with the goods.
The following season big things were expected of Fowler, indeed it was around this time that Liverpool fans dubbed him ‘God’. He didn’t disappoint. In the 1994-95 season Fowler started every single Liverpool match.
He scored 31 goals, including the fastest ever Premiership hat-trick (4 minutes 33 seconds) against one of the title favourites, Arsenal. He won the PFA young player of the year and helped Liverpool win their first trophy in three years, overcoming Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup final courtesy of two goals from one of Fowler’s best friends – Steve McManaman. Fowler was living up to his nickname; Liverpool fans didn’t just support him, they worshipped him.
Over his first four seasons (which was actually closer to three when you take into account injuries) Fowler scored a phenomenal 120 goals, reaching the 100 goal mark (with a four goal haul against Middlesbrough) in just 165 games, faster than any other player in the entire history of Liverpool Football Club. He was a revelation with an eye for the big occasion, scoring four goals on his 100th appearance and scoring in every round bar one of the 1995-96 FA Cup.
Fowler says sorry for snorting stunt
(Press Association, April 4th 1999)
These sort of goalscoring feats are almost unheard of, but for a player of such quality Fowler has very few medals to show for his efforts. Even during that golden four year period Liverpool never quite reached the summit. They finished as runners-up in the 1995-96 FA Cup, got to the semi-final of the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1996-97 and in the same season also threw away a five point lead at the top of the Premiership.
One of the reasons often suggested by the media for these near misses was Fowler and certain concerns over the Liverpool players’ party lifestyles; they were even nicknamed the Spice Boys by certain newspapers. Whether the papers had it right or not is debatable, but one thing for sure is that Fowler’s career has certainly had its fair share of controversial moments.
Two of the most publicised incidents occurred within a few weeks of each other during the 1998-99 season and resulted in the FA handing Fowler a six match ban. The first was during a match with Chelsea where Fowler was involved in numerous incidents with Graeme Le Saux and in his own words: “laid into him verbally,” questioning his sexuality. The comments were not intended to upset Le Saux, simply wind him up but the FA , perhaps unsurprisingly, took a dim view of the incident.
Next up was perhaps Fowler’s most infamous moment. He had just scored in a derby match with Everton and decided that in response to accusations from the Everton fans that he was taking drugs, he would celebrate by pretending to sniff the white touchline.
Although the gesture was meant to be humorous, it was always likely to result in some form of punishment. Unfortunately for Fowler, it also proved to be the beginning of the end for his relationship with then manager, Gerard Houllier.
Despite these controversies Fowler could never be described as a malicious player or a cheat. In fact after a game with Arsenal a few years earlier he had received a letter from Sepp Blatter congratulating him on his fair play.
During the game Fowler had won a penalty after stumbling in the box. It wasn’t a foul, simply Robbie tripping over, yet instead of just accepting his good fortune he ran over to the referee to try and get the decision overturned – an incredible act of sportsmanship and something that is very rarely seen in the modern game.
Outcast Robbie still in the doghouse
(Belfast Newsletter, Aug 18th 2001)
The 1997-98 season should have been another great year, with Fowler still in his early 20’s and seemingly untouchable. But unfortunately for player and club, Robbie’s luck was about to run out.
The season had got off to a disappointing start when he missed the first seven games with strained knee ligaments. However, far worse was to come. On the 23rd of February 1998, in a match with Everton, Robbie went into a challenge and collapsed in agony. The injury sustained was career threatening. Fowler had torn cartilage, torn a knee ligament and ruptured a cruciate ligament.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Fowler. There was no chance of him being fit in time for the World Cup and just to compound matters a managerial change was looming at Liverpool. The team finished third that season but the board, growing frustrated at the lack of trophies, decided to hire Frenchman Gerard Houllier as a joint manager with Roy Evans.
The relationship never looked likely to work and Evans left just a couple of months into the 1998-99 season, leaving Fowler struggling to get his fitness back when he should have been trying to impress the new manager on the pitch.
Despite the setbacks Fowler fought back well, getting himself fit and scoring a total of 18 goals, which Houllier rewarded with the vice-captaincy. There was yet more trouble on the horizon though and after sustaining an ankle injury in pre-season, Fowler missed nearly all of the 1999-00 season. Houllier, perhaps believing that he couldn’t be trusted to maintain his fitness, decided he needed a new striker and shelled out a club record fee for Leicester star, Emile Heskey.
The injuries, combined with the controversial incidents against Chelsea and Everton, had a huge impact on Fowler’s standing at the club. While the fans still adored him, the same could not be said of the manager or his assistant Phil Thompson.
The 2000-01 season should have been one of the most memorable of Robbie’s career with Liverpool winning the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup and Fowler scoring in two of the finals. But however well he played he just couldn’t secure a regular first team place, starting just 28 of the 63 games Liverpool played that year.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this statistic is that, with Jamie Redknapp missing the entire season through injury, Fowler was essentially club captain.
Despite scoring regularly when he did play (a total of 18 goals that season) Fowler started just one of Liverpool’s three finals and it soon became clear that he had fallen out of favour with the management team.
Even so, he still managed to end the season in fine form, scoring a fantastic individual goal after coming off the bench in the UEFA Cup final and then netting twice in the final league game of the season to help book the club’s place in the UEFA Champions League.
Fowler achieved a major ambition that season by lifting domestic and European trophies for the club that he had played for since the age of 16. It’s just a shame, for him and his many fans, that he did not have more of a role to play.
Injury puts Fowler’s World Cup in doubt
(The Independent, Feb 25th 1998)
Nowadays England seem bereft of striking options, but during the 1990’s they had, amongst others Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Ian Wright and of course Robbie Fowler. The options were great for the national team but not so good for Fowler.
In total he made just 11 starts for England, absolutely astonishing when you consider what England would give for a striker of Fowler’s quality now. It’s probably fair to say Fowler was simply unlucky – unlucky with the quality of competition and unlucky with the timing of certain injuries; he missed the 1998 World Cup through injury and although selected for the squad, was not fit enough to play any real part in Euro 2000.
Fowler’s England career started well enough; he made his debut aged just 20 coming on as a sub in a friendly with Bulgaria. He started the next friendly as well and was duly selected by then manager Terry Venables for England’s Euro ’96 squad.
Fowler only made two appearances in the tournament, both from the bench, but being a part of such an important event would nevertheless have been a great experience for the youngster.
But unfortunately for Robbie, Euro ’96 was never topped. Injury wrecked his chance of making an impact in either World Cup ’98 or Euro 2000. Then when Sven Goran-Eriksson took over the national side in 2001, it quickly became apparent that he preferred to use strikers with great natural pace such as Darius Vassell and Jermaine Defoe.
For all Fowler’s qualities he was never particularly fast, especially after the knee injury he had sustained in 1998. This disadvantage combined with Fowler’s problems at club level at the time, meant that it was no great surprise when, despite being selected for the 2002 World Cup squad, he made just one substitute appearance, an appearance that looks to have been his last in an England shirt.
In total Fowler scored 7 goals in his 11 England starts, a superb record at international level and one that will have left many people wondering what might have been, had certain circumstances been different.
Fowler ushered towards exit
(The Times, Nov 28th 2001)
Despite a promising end to the 2000-01 season, Fowler’s time at Liverpool was running out. In a pre-season training ground incident, Fowler nearly hit Phil Thompson with a football and an already strained relationship reached breaking point.
Robbie was quickly dropped from the first team and despite scoring a hat-trick in a rare start against Leicester, it was fast becoming clear that despite everything Fowler had achieved at Liverpool, he was going to have to look elsewhere if he wanted regular first team football.
The final straw came after he was substituted at half time against Sunderland at the end of November. Fowler decided he had had enough and accepted an offer to join Leeds United.
Leeds signed Fowler for £12million and were flying high at the time. However, despite having an exciting young squad that had reached the Champions League semi-final the previous season, all was not well behind the scenes.
Leeds United, it turned out, were in free-fall and it very quickly became apparent that Fowler had not been signed as the final piece of the jigsaw, but rather a desperate gamble to win the title and save the club from financial meltdown.
It has often been claimed that Fowler was a flop at Leeds, but in actual fact he scored a very respectable 12 goals in 18 starts for the club during the 2001-02 season, including a hat-trick against Bolton and yet another two goals against Everton.
Unfortunately though, Leeds’ mounting problems saw the team slip from top spot at the turn of the year to a disappointing 5th place finish and with star players being sold left, right and centre, it was only a hip injury that prolonged Fowler’s stay.
As it was, Robbie finally returned from the injury in December 2003, scoring of course, and was sold just a few weeks later to Manchester City for £6.5million.
Fowler never seemed entirely comfortable at City and very nearly backed out of the move altogether. A 2-1 debut defeat to struggling West Bromwich Albion would only have added to any reservations and, for the first time in his career, Robbie started to struggle to find the back of the net, scoring just nine goals in his first one and a half years at the club.
To make matters worse, the team were not challenging for titles (as Fowler was used to) but were instead flirting with relegation, finishing the 2003-04 season in 16th place.
Things did start to pick up for Fowler and City the following season, City finishing in 8th place and Fowler scoring 11 goals including his 150th Premiership strike – something that only four other players have achieved. But despite the improvements, Fowler again found himself on the cusp of the team during the first part of the 2005-06 season and the common consensus among the media seemed to be that his career was in rapid decline.
With this in mind, it’s probably fair to say that very few people outside Anfield would have predicted what was to come next.
The return of God
(The Sun, Jan 28th 2006)
In January 2006, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez shocked football fans up and down the country, when he decided that the European Champions’ next purchase would be a 30 year old, who had spent much of the season sitting on the Manchester City bench. This was not just any 30 year old though, but the man known by Liverpool fans as ‘God’. Robbie Fowler was back on Merseyside.
Fowler described his feelings as “like a kid on Christmas day”. It was not just Fowler celebrating either and he made his return against Birmingham City, coming off the bench to a hero’s welcome. That night he also scored what would have been a last minute winner with a spectacular overhead kick, only for the linesman to rule the goal offside. Nevertheless it had given fans a glimpse of the goalscoring ability that had made him such a legendary figure in his first stint at the club.
Determined to make an impression, Fowler got his head down, worked hard and in mid March finally netted his first goal since his return, rather fittingly, against Fulham. He may have lost some of his pace and strength but one thing clearly still intact was Fowler’s deadly finishing and he played a big role in helping Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, scoring five goals in the last nine games of the season.
Fowler had initially re-signed for Liverpool on a six month deal but his impressive performances were repaid when Benitez offered him a new deal, to run until the end of the 2006/07 season.
Unfortunately for Fowler the following season didn’t go quite so well and he found himself on the substitute bench more often than not. It was not all doom and gloom though, Fowler scoring six goals in a memorable season that saw the club reach the final of the Champions League.
Fowler failed to make the squad for the final, which Liverpool lost, but would still have enjoyed his farewell, bowing out to a standing ovation, after captaining the team in the final league game of the season.
You are looking at a goal-scoring genius
Sky commentator Martin Tyler once referred to Fowler as a ‘goal-scoring genius’. They are three words that quite aptly sum up Robbie Fowler. His game is not simply based on strength or pace like a lot of strikers in the modern game.
It is based on an incredible ability to find the back of the net by any means. Put simply it is this that has made Fowler the Premiership’s all time fourth highest goalscorer and it is this that has earned him a place amongst the greats of the most successful club in England.
Fowler may have had his problems both on and off the pitch and he may not have achieved everything he wanted to in the game, but he will always be referred to by Liverpool fans as ‘God’ and you’d have to go a long way to find higher praise than that.
- UEFA Fair Play Award: 1997
- PFA Young Player of the Year: 1995, 1996
|2001-2003||Leeds United||30 (14)|
|2003-2006||Manchester City||80 (20)|
|2007-2008||Cardiff City||13 (4)|
|2008-present||Blackburn Rovers||0 (0)|