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God's Job's A Good 'Un?

By Ian Rogan
From Issue 50, Winter 2001

Round and round it goes, where will it stop? Nobody knows. The head-spinning, vomit-inducing, daily merry-go-round that is the Robbie Fowler side-show continues unabashed throughout the national press. Let's face facts here, the merry-go-round will not stop unless it's anywhere other than Anfield. Chelsea? Arsenal? Milan? Rangers? Leeds? (deep breath) Man Utd? The papers won't rest unless Robbie ends up packing his bags.

The latest perceived indiscretion of Robbie's - being lamped in The Wonder Bar - is just what the Fleet St. and Wapping hacks have been waiting for in their continued attempts to put the pressure on Liverpool to off-load him.

"Aah", I hear you say, "but he shouldn't be in a pub at 2am on a weekday". Not even if he's got the following day off? It's a pretty sad indictment of today's modern society in which a lad cannot go for a drink in his own city. Where are we when we cannot sit down with our friends and girlfriends and enjoy a couple of beers, without slack jawed gawkers invading our private space and intent on their own fifteen seconds of infamy?

Robbie will point out quite justifiably that he should be able to go wherever the hell he wants, whenever the hell he wants. Regrettably, his point, no matter how valid I personally feel it may be, is ultimately misguided and sadly redundant when applied to the big-name star going outside in the small confines of the city centre. Tragically I feel this captures the very zeitgeist of today's life. We have a disturbing and self-pitying tendency to put these stars, celebrities and bright lights on some kind of superior, ethereal plain where us mortals dare not venture. We are unaware that this very act is personally demeaning and what it suggests about our own level of self-importance is disconcerting. We gawp, awe-struck, neck jerked backwards, our eyes blinded until they might deign to proffer us with a smile or a signature. When did obtaining a scribble of ink, a photograph or a mumbled greeting suddenly become the Holy Grail of the Football Supporter? Why are these gestures so zealously requested? As if their very reciprocation validates us as a Fan. "Hey, look at me everyone, Robbie Fowler just stood on my toe and I've got the photograph. That means I'm so much more of a person and supporter than you could ever dream of being". I can understand this compulsion amongst our much younger supporters but must it be such a necessity to the grown men amongst the population?

There are many people who will state that all of this comes with the territory and they may well have a point. Up to a point. Yes, he is extremely well paid and enjoys all the creature comforts, tacky sports cars and gold embossed wrought-iron gates you or I can only have nightmares about. Yes, they can take their pick of lucrative sports equipment endorsements and reprehensible catalogue photo opportunities. Yes, they can plunge themselves knackers deep into most of the giggling, vacuous, empty headed bimbettes they can shake their News of the World exclusives at. Nonetheless, when we take a step back, does this really take away his right as a Liverpool Citizen to leave his home with his partner and enjoy a tipple, no matter in whichever pie-encrusted, sordid little grief hole it may be? When did these people, yes that's right people, human beings remember, become our possession?

No matter what the fiscal rewards are, can we really expect guys like Robbie to effectively become prisoners in their own castle? How long will it be before he decides the goldfish bowl of Liverpool is suddenly reducing in circumference and he might be best advised to swim elsewhere? Apologies for shabby metaphorical drivel here but I'm just keeping this paragraph in commensurate proportion with typical Wapping journo-speak in their seemingly endless, orchestrated campaign to oust Robbie from Anfield.

A lot of you may think that I'm missing the point here and that Robbie has a duty to physically look after his body and recuperate properly between games. Again, this is a well-made point but it's easy to exaggerate. It never did our eighties players any harm and I'm really not too bothered about the players having a pint. Just as long as they're not legless the night before a game. We must remember that the players had the following day off in this instance. Even if Robbie enjoyed a couple of pints, he's got all of the next day to relax. It's hardly the end of the world.

It's all too easy for us Liverpool supporters to blindly stick up for our players no matter what and to view the world through rose-tinted spectacles. A sense of proportion and plenty of perspective needs to be applied. Liverpudlians (and Scousers in particular) are labelled as generally paranoid and possessing a tendency to wallow in self-pity. We build invisible walls around the city. "Oh why does everybody pick on us? It's so unfair!"

However, as far as Robbie is concerned I think we have a bona fide point. After his goal-celebration against Everton he was handed a six-match ban. At roughly the same time Le Saux was given a two-game ban for physically assaulting Robbie. So the message being sent was "Actual assault is less harmful than having a laugh". Who can forget the collective loving arm thrown around Paul Merson when he admitted to actually taking coke rather than pretending to take it?

Of course all of this would not be so accentuated and pronounced if we were talking about your common or garden footballer. Would this daily media bilge-fest be so underlined if we were talking about a first division clogger or even someone with a modicum of ability in the top flight? Of course not. We are talking about one of the greatest players

to ever pull on the red shirt of Liverpool FC.

Consequently, this can be added to the perceived cheeky-chappy, glint in the eye, Toxteth scally persona. The hacks are left with the kind of calculation that they can't add up quickly enough. This can only equate to the sort of perennial and professional character assassination, which we've had to furrow our brows over these last few weeks.

No, this is Robbie Fowler. One of the best. I think a lot of fans actually forget how good Fowler was. Either that or they simple did not witness it. The list of highlights we can pluck from the archives are numerous and wistfully none too recent. I don't want to get bogged down in listing the top 20 Fowler goals or anything quite as anorak-ish (although I would actually enjoy reading the differing opinions). Nevertheless, it would be churlish and even inhuman for a Liverpudlian if they could delete that yearning pang when we remember say, his overhead back-flick and volley against Bergen. Turning Staunton inside out and rifling in from 30 yards. Showing a static Rush new tricks against Fulham. Overshadowing Cantona's comeback. Four-minute hat tricks. 100 goals quicker than Rush, Hunt or anyone. Any goal at all against Everton. Especially ones that see him pretend to snort goal lines. Then go back and do it again (did anyone else get past all the sanctimonious creeps on the moral high-ground and think this was absolutely hilarious?) And, of course, nailing his colours to the mast (sorry) when revealing his support for the doCKers.

Balanced against all that of course were all his goals that kept Souness in his job. Ah well, never mind. What struck me about Fowler was not just the amount of goals that he scored but the sheer range of goals. Headers, long-range, tap-ins, one-on-ones, curlers, chips, he possessed the complete spectrum, the whole gamut and full gallimaufry of net-bulging proficiency. As a supreme exponent of sticking the ball in the onion bag (Brian), Liverpool has simply had nobody better. And, thankfully, we've still got him.

I'm well aware that most of the eulogy above is in the past tense. As if I am subconsciously telling myself that we've

already seen the best of him. Sadly, I do think this is the case. Notwithstanding, an 80% Robbie Fowler is still better than most and to hear the advice that we should bite Chelsea's hands off for £12 million is frankly insulting and not a little unsettling when uttered from the mouths of Liverpudlians. Steven mentioned in the last issue that one thing football fans have is faith. Even after the Slater Street event and the subsequent outcry, Robbie still polled 70% on the Koptalk.com vote on who the fans thought was Liverpool's best striker. On an ITV Teletext poll, 85% of the votes said that he should stay at Anfield. So you should expect an article from the odious Ken Lawrence at the Mail entitled "Why do Liverpool Fans Hate Robbie Fowler So Much?" since 15% said he shouldn't.

Conversely, Robbie's own faith in his club and his native city must be frayed to the point of him feeling that his mind is being made up for him. Ultimately, he may opt to jump before he thinks he may be pushed. What must it feel like to constantly be at the butt-end of derogatory comments, rumour and counter rumour as the grazed knuckles of some gap-toothed Neanderthal connect with your soon-to-be flattened nose? You'd feel like calling it a day wouldn't you? Unfortunately, I feel that time may be imminent for Robbie and I for one think it would be a tragedy if he ever appeared in anything other than the crimson of Liverpool.

Oh and by the way Chris Bascombe, if you're going to make comments like "some star players have not performed well for far too long, full stop. Everyone knows who they are but won't say anything…", then at least have the guts yourself to name who you mean.

IAN ROGAN

In fairness to Chris, that's probably the fastest route to the dole queue. And then we get Ric George back. You have to read between the lines sometimes, and clearly Chris' intention was picked up by Ian! SK