‘All I ever wanted to do was play football‘.
Robbie Fowler is rightly considered to be one of the best strikers to have ever worn the Liverpool shirt. I idolised him as a youngster growing up. He had a unique gift, and that was scoring ability – headers, volleys, right foot, left foot, you name it. Finishing with a total of 183 goals in 369 games for the club, his legend still burns bright today.
Where it all began.
His Mum’s side of the family were all Liverpool fans (phew), but his Dad’s side were all Everton fans. It could quite easily have been a different story – he grew up supporting the Blues. However, it was Liverpool where his career began, signing for the Reds as a youth team player upon leaving school in 1991 (he then signed his professional terms on his 17th birthday, 9th April 1992). Steve Highway becoming his first proper Liverpool coach.
It was the start of a love story for the ages. Highway described Fowler early on as ‘technically very good’, and likewise, Fowler praised Highway for his understanding of ‘what players needed to bring to Liverpool’. After impressing, Fowler grabbed the attention of Graeme Souness, who liked what he saw in the reserves.
‘One of the best things you can hear, getting into the game, is the manager has a bit of faith in you’.
That season, 16th October 1993, Liverpool were struggling against Oldham. Up pops Robbie to score his first Liverpool league goal, right in front of the Kop, to grab a dramatic late equaliser (before a late own-goal gifted the Reds a win). Just weeks later, he scores his first hattrick. In fact, in his first 13 games for the club, he scored 12 goals. Astonishing. Fowler was playing up top with a certain Ian Rush.
‘Just watching Rush training, I was in awe of him. He’s a fantastic man for a young lad to be around’.
Unfortunately, Fowler broke his leg and shortly after, Souness departed the club. In comes Roy Evans and Fowler’s career hits the gas pedal. Who can forget his incredible 4-minute 33-second hattrick against Arsenal in the 94/95 season (a record that stood until Sadio Mane broke it playing for Southampton against Aston Villa)?
The following years cemented his reputation as one of the most feared and naturally gifted scorers the league had ever seen. Fowler was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1995 and 1996, as well as scoring 30 or more goals in three consecutive seasons, up to 1997.
‘He probably did bring the best out of me’.
Robbie Fowler on Roy Evans
Stan Collymore is credited by Fowler himself as part of his initial success. They formed a formidable partnership after Collymore was signed for £8.4 million in 1995 as the long-term replacement for the veteran Ian Rush. Collymore reciprocates the feeling towards Fowler, saying in his autobiography that Fowler was the best player he has ever played alongside. Describing his playing relationship with Collymore, Fowler said: ‘The relationship we had on the pitch was extraordinary‘.
‘He was very very clever, he would think about how he finished’.
From being a member of ‘The Spice Boys’ to the cruciate ligament injury in 97/98 to the emergence of Michael Owen to the infamous ‘cocaine celebration’, the later ’90s and early 2000s presented a number of challenges to Fowler. However, the 00/01 season turned out to be his most successful. He lifted 3 trophies in a unique club treble under the guidance of then manager Gerard Houllier.
Despite the trophy haul, the partnership of Owen and Emile Heskey was keeping his minutes on the pitch limited. Over time, his relationship with Houllier deteriorated and he was eventually sold to Leeds for £11 million. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I couldn’t believe we had frozen out one of the best players I had ever seen at the club. One of my boyhood heroes. He lived and breathed Liverpool FC. Fortunately, as we now know, it wasn’t the end of this love story.
Before we move on to his return to Anfield, I asked my fellow Red Debate co-host, Tom Verghese, on his memories of Robbie. He said: “Everyone has that player who made them fall in love with football; their first idol. Robbie Fowler was that for me – my childhood hero, the one I’d pretend to be in the playground at school. Fowler’s Hot 100 goals on VHS on repeat. He scored every type of goal. That young, fearless Robbie Fowler was my favourite.”
“I remember vividly watching the Teletext screen flash up with the news that we’d signed him back. Did a lap of the house that day.”
“Remember when getting someone’s autograph was a thing? The little scrap of paper he wrote his name on for me in around 1999, having waited outside Melwood for about 2 hours in the cold, remains amongst the happiest I’ve ever been to receive a gift. Mad really.“
‘Robbie Fowler is the greatest goalscorer I’ve ever seen and ever played with, fact’.
The return of ‘God’
As Tom mentions above, the moment Robbie Fowler became a Red again in January 2006 was special. Then 30, he said at the time: “It is unbelievable, a dream come true. After I’d signed I sat in my car outside Anfield and was incredibly emotional.”
At the time, Rafa Benitez’s strikeforce of Fernando Morientes, Peter Crouch and Djibril Cisse were struggling for form, so Fowler was seen as some much-needed experience and competition. After an almost dream start when he had a last-minute bicycle kick ruled out for offside on his second debut, he was rotated in and out of the team. He did, however, end the season with a streak of 5 goals in his final 6 starts of the season.
He bagged himself a 1-year contract extension, as well as the return of his famous no.9 shirt (with Cisse departing on loan). Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the fairytale end, with younger, more energetic legs in Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt providing better options. The season ended in sadness as Fowler was omitted from Rafa’s Champions League final squad.
However, he got his chance to say a final farewell. It was 13th May 2007, Liverpool v Charlton – the final league match of the season. Fowler played 88 minutes and got the sendoff he deserved, at Anfield.
‘God – one of the best nicknames you can have in football.’
Relive his Liverpool career via LFC History here, or watch his best moments below.