For all the new signings we made this summer. For the talk about what we might do next season and for all the talk about where we will be in seasons to come, it should not be forgotten that a little bit of this club’s history passed this summer.
Robbie Fowler has left Liverpool for the last time. Released by us he has signed a two-year deal with Cardiff City.
But what is so different about Robbie Fowler’s departure? Bolo Zenden, Mark Gonzalez, Craig Bellamy, Djibril Cisse and Jerzy Dudek plus others who also left?
Sometimes there are players who do the job they are asked to do and get the respect of players and fans alike. However, they just lack that certain something that elevates them from a very good professional, even the best in their field, to something different. The “something different” might be natural talent coupled with a type of approach to the game and the ability to entertain. This combination does not necessarily make them better than their contemporaries, or enable them to achieve greater things, but it gives them a certain attraction that makes them firm favourites in the hearts and minds of fans. It’s not what they achieve in the game it’s how they play it and even when their star fades they can do no wrong.
What do I mean by this? Consider this. In golf for every Nick Faldo there was a Seve Ballesteros, for every Bjorn Borg in tennis there was a Llie Nastase, for every Steve Davis in snooker there is an Alex Higgins or a Jimmy White, for every Phil Neal at Liverpool there is a Robbie Fowler. Who achieved the most re cups and medals? But who would win the popularity poll and who would you most like to watch in action?
So, is it just Robbie Fowler’s natural talent that inspires such devotion amongst the Liverpool fans? It is of course a personal thing, a particular goal he scored, or a match he played in, but there are some common denominators. The fact that he was born and bred in Liverpool helps. A local boy made good, and at a very early age, his first team debut was at 18 years. The fact that he scored 248 goals in 366 appearances also helps. There are other stats which I don’t need to repeat. Look them up they are easily available and hold their own against any of the top strikers.
However it is not goals, cups, caps or medals that make Fowler special for me. What I like is that he maintained a sense of perspective and kept his feet on the ground and, unlike many of his contemporaries and those in top flight now, he hasn’t let fame and fortune ruin him or the demands of those who seek to wield influence over him, temper him. He has remained, by and large, a free spirit.
Sure, there had been bits of showmanship but not to show off or promote Robbie Fowler. Usually there was a good reason such as showing a t-shirt proclaiming support for the Liverpool Dockers. Then there was the impeccably timed response to years of rumours and innuendo about drug tacking. Robbie bided his time until he scored against Everton and bang, he sniffed the white line painted on the pitch in front of their fans. What do today’s players do, just reel away with their hand cupped behind their ear!
Of course he was fined for both incidents but principle, or the need to make a point, even better if it is a well timed one, and tweak the nose of those who try to control you are more important than selling out or obediently towing the line. Would you like to be in a situation where you could just occasionally say “**ck you” to the knobs that try to run your place of work?
Some might take issue with me saying that Fowler had principle? What about his ars* gesture to Grahame Le Saux who might ask? Yes, but also remember that he also won a UEFA Fair Play award for admitting that he had not been fouled by David Seaman after a penalty had been awarded during a match at Highbury.
Of course this attitude has got him in trouble, the fall out with Houllier and his lick spittle Phil Thompson saw him transferred to Leeds amid much protest. Even when he was playing for Leeds, and then Manchester City, I could never imagine him in anything other than a red shirt. One of my favourite Fowler moments was when he was playing for City. He scored against The Mancs in a 3–1 derby win after coming off the bench. To lose to a local rival in a derby game is one thing for the Mancs fans but to then have Robbie celebrating his goal in front of you by holding up five fingers in reference to our European Cup wins is salt to the wounds. Superbly timed again, an arrow straight to the Mancs heart. Once a Liverpool player… !
Benitez, perhaps sensing a PR coup, re-signed him from City. Obviously he wasn’t going to recreate the form of his first spell but it was just great to have him back. Actually it was more than great. I really hoped Benitez would give him the send off he deserved with a part in the Champions League Final but it wasn’t to be, he didn’t even make the bench. Many, including Benitez in this instance, say there is no room for sentiment in football I think there is which is why I am writing this!
Only the other night ESPN repeated highlights of a game we played at Aston Villa in November 1998. We won 4-2 with Fowler getting a simple but cynical hat trick. He hardly broke sweat. It’s sad that we, and probably Cardiff, will never see the like of that again
Thanks, and good luck Robert Bernard Fowler!