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As Liverpool Football Club and Robbie Fowler officially part ways for the second time, pays tribute to a true Anfield legend with a week-long series of articles.
robbie fowler week
The first time I set eyes on Robbie Fowler he was just 11-years-old and his surname wasn't even Fowler. As a kid he was Robbie Ryder and everyone involved in kids football in Liverpool had heard of him. There was a huge buzz about him. He played for a team called Thorvald - a team which no other team in the city could live with - and Robbie was the star player. I have to admit though that the first time I saw 'God' I was a non-believer. I was watching a mate of mine playing an under-11s game on Botanic Park and Thorvald were playing on the next pitch. At half-time in the game I was watching, I walked over to have a look at Thorvald. Just to see for myself if this Robbie Ryder kid was as good as people were saying. As usual, Thorvald were administering a hiding to some poor team who simply couldn't get near them. But it was their right winger, a lad called Franny Tierney whom I'd played with in Liverpool schoolboy trials, who really caught my eye. Franny was electric - probably the most talented young footballer I've ever seen - and as was always the case, he was pulling the opposition leftback to bits. Ryder, by comparison, wasn't doing much. He just seemed to be loitering in and around the box, not getting too involved in the build up and, at times, he looked too small and weak to make a big impression. Thorvald ended up winning 4-0 and Ryder got two. Both were tap-ins from about a yard and I can remember saying to my mate that I didn't think he was anywhere near as good as people were making out. Thankfully, Liverpool had scouts who knew quite a bit more about what makes a top class centre forward than I did. A couple of Sundays later I was back at Botanic Park and my mate's team were playing Thorvald. It turned out to be a massacre as Thorvald won 26-0. And that's not a misprint; they really did score 26 goals without reply. Ryder got 16 of them and my mate blamed me. "Thought you said he was no good?" he shouted at me as he trudged off the pitch. "He's alright," I replied. "But he doesn't get to play against you every week, does he?'' I'm pretty sure Robbie was already training with Liverpool by this time and he was definitely a fixture in the Liverpool Schoolboys team. Clearly there were those who hadn't needed to see him score 16 in a single outing to realise what a class act he was. It would be another six years before I saw Ryder in action again and, by the time I did, he had become known as Robbie Fowler and he came with a very, very big reputation which had been forged with Liverpool schoolboys, England under-18s and Liverpool reserves. Graeme Souness picked Fowler for the Liverpool first team in a Coca Cola Cup tie at Fulham and those of us who made the trip to London on a cold night in autumn were given a taste of what was to come as the 18-year-old scored a typical poachers goal.~ It was his performance in the second-leg which made the rest of the country sit up and take notice though. Fowler struck five times to leave the Fulham defence looking like a kids' team's back four on Botanic Park.~ After that he was asked if he'd ever scored more than five and he said: "Yeah, I scored 16 once." The newspapers set out to find the team he'd scored 16 goals against and one of the Sundays ended up tracking down the lad who'd been in goal that fateful day. They got hold of him and took him down to Melwood to be reunited with Robbie. True to form, Fowler gave him a bit of stick when he got there, but he also gave him a load of training gear and made sure the newspaper looked after his 'victim' with a few bob for his troubles. It's impossible to overstate just how popular Fowler was with the Liverpool fans at this time. His love affair with the Kop was so intense that only the one with Kenny Dalglish stands comparison in the modern era. And it wasn't just down to his goals. There was a cheekiness about Fowler that most local fans could identify with and that endeared him to us even more. Even when he messed up, he did so for the right reasons. His infamous goal celebration against Everton may have been ill-advised but most Liverpool fans would love to do something similar given the opportunity. And his abuse of Graeme Le Saux may have been immature and out of order but at least he'd picked the right target to wind up. Then there was the time he scored against Brann Bergen in a Cup Winners Cup tie at Anfield and lifted his Liverpool shirt to show off a t-shirt displaying his solidarity with the sacked Liverpool dockworkers. True to form, he was fined by UEFA for his actions but it was a price well worth paying for Fowler as not only had he raised awareness of the disgraceful way 500 workers had been treated by their employers, it also inadvertently led to his status as a local folk hero being set in stone. It wasn't just about public displays either. Speak to dockers who manned the picket lines during their lengthy dispute and they will readily tell you about Fowler and his great mate Steve McManaman regularly helping them out with donations. Both Fowler and McManaman kept it quiet. They weren't doing it for publicity but Liverpool being the village that it is, word soon got out and they got the respect they so richly deserved for doing the right thing by their working class comrades and for not forgetting their roots. Another thing that endeared Fowler to Kopites was he was so hated by fans of our biggest rivals, largely because he had a knack of scoring against them and then celebrating in front of them. Even after he left Liverpool he was still doing it. Who can forget the five fingers he raised to Man United supporters in honour of Liverpool's quintet of European Cup wins when he scored for City in the Manchester derby? Or the head smacking celebration he did as he ran the length of the Bullens Road after scoring at Goodison? The more they hated Fowler, the more we loved him. Hero status can be too easily awarded in modern football but in Fowler's case he undoubtedly earned it - through his goals, his genius, his generosity and, not forgetting, his pranks. There are those who say Robbie Fowler is the greatest natural finisher they have ever seen and the highest tribute I can pay him is to say there is nothing to choose between him and Ian Rush. Had Fowler been lucky enough to play alongside Kenny Dalglish he would no doubt have added another 100 or more goals to his Liverpool total. He really was that good. In his prime, before injuries took their toll, he pretty much guaranteed goals. Right-foot strikes, left-foot shots, headers, volleys, scorchers from distance, tap-ins from a yard out and flukes off his backside - Fowler could do the lot. Not bad for a kid who started off on Botanic Park and didn't look that good!



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