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Selling Fowler: Thou Shalt No Other Gods But Me

By Steve Kelly, John Green, Chris Smith, Frank Murphy and Allerton Al
From Issue 54, Winter 2001

So that's that. So ends the longest running farce since Brian Rix's 20 year West End run in "Whoops Vicar, Those Are My Trousers". The club's contempt for its supporters plumbed new depths, while its' current estimation of Liverpudlian intelligence ranks alongside that of a studio audience for 'Tricia'. The sad thing is that, in some quarters, their estimation proved to be correct.

For out and out fans like me, it's been particularly sad because 2000/2001 definitely saw the re-emergence of Robbie Fowler. As bad as I've been with predictions in the past, I know Robbie will never reach the same heights he achieved between '94 and '97. It wouldn't matter if he played for Real, never mind Leeds, he'll never be as good as he was. That still doesn't mean he couldn't have done a good job for us. Last season at least saw a genuine improvement, and the propaganda that has poured forth since (often from Liverpool fans themselves) to deny that FACT has been little short of disgraceful.

I've grown sick and tired of fans who repeated like parrots that misleading little nugget "Oh, he's only scored 40 goals in the last 4 seasons". Yeah, but there were 17 in one year - a year in which we won 3 trophies, and to even try to take away or diminish his part in the Treble borders on the spiteful. His goal ratio was better than Heskey's: he almost equalled Emile's tally, but for two missed penalties, two shots against the woodwork and two mysteriously disallowed goals. That's despite featuring in far fewer matches and never being given a settled role in the side. He was also involved in the creation of more goals than Emile, too. The only thing that he could not match him for was work-rate, and in the new regime that counts for an awful lot more than goal scoring or (whisper this particular sacrilege) "creativity".

While everyone rightly rushed forth to kneel at the feet of "The Little Genius" for his marvellous exploits at Cardiff, it was conveniently forgotten that Fowler could and should have had two cup final winners. But for the last-minute idiocy of Henchoz and Westerveld, Robbie's fantastic strikes against Birmingham and Alaves would have made him an even bigger hero on Merseyside, and also much harder to dump him. Consider this: Fowler could have scored the winning goal for our first trophy in 6 years, the one that set us on the way to a piece of history. He could have had the winning goal that secured that moment in history. He DID score the goal that set us on the way to clinching Champions League football, and while fans excuse his sale on the dubious basis of an imaginary stall for a Bosman move, it's worth remembering that the £20-30m Liverpool FC will earn from this year's European endeavours wouldn't have been possible but for numerous contributions from Fowler last season. And yet the snides still repeat their pathetic mantra: "ah, get rid, he's done nothing for five years". Absolutely fucking incredible.

Conspiracy theorists are waiting to find out what happened during the summer to make the management believe that all of the above was a trifle, a mere epilogue at the end of a mostly-brilliant Liverpool career. Perhaps nothing happened at all, and Houllier simply decided that Fowler wasn't needed. It was hard to view the events of August as anything other than propaganda. Training ground spats are ten a penny in football, and it wouldn't have been difficult to keep it under wraps. It may have become part of a column by odious tabloid shit stirrers like David Maddock, but it would never have become a national 'story' if it hadn't have been for Fowler's exclusion from the Charity Shield 18. That made it news, and even the good guys in journalism like Winter, Lawton, Holt etc now had to discuss his exclusion and consider the consequences.

What followed next was petty and actually damaging to Liverpool FC. It could have been dealt with internally, but it was Houllier himself who chose the alternative route. With his three trophies, he now felt as if he could take on the last vestige of Evans' reign, no matter what he had contributed to those 3 trophies that had given him so much power. I believe a decision was taken there and then, probably even earlier. Fowler was out, and no amount of goals would have changed Houllier's mind. Even after the squad was reduced to two fit strikers, there was still no reprieve for Robbie, and Houllier sycophants everywhere were only too happy to blame Fowler for this managerial intransigence and quote his weak "factory boss" analogy. Fowler apologised, and the manager still called him a scoundrel! Clearly, this was not going to have a happy ending.

The number of incidents that smelt of hypocrisy started to pile up. One player, and one player only, was publicly criticised. Dishonest and soul destroying comparisons to Rush and Hunt were not designed to build up shattered confidence, but to further undermine it. Fans slammed Fowler for his "childish" response to being subbed at Bolton, and yet when Owen was clearly pissed off about being replaced at Blackburn, Thommo was all over him like a rash: "Oh I'm glad to see that response, I'd be upset if he wasn't annoyed". That wasn't what was said at the Reebok, in fact Robbie was chided by Houllier for his lack of respect for team mates. When he scored 3 at Leicester City, Phil T talked about how he "still had some room for improvement", while Heskey went game after game after game without scoring and was told he was "absolutely fantastic"!

The end, when it came, was almost as ruthless as Westerveld's. I had no problem with the half time substitution against Sunderland, it was totally the correct decision - though it stacked up with all the other times that Robbie was subbed. Amidst all the guff about why Fowler was sold, nobody from the club has come clean: that Liverpool do not intend to play the kind of football any more where Fowler could flourish, that they now intend to make our style strictly one-dimensional and replace Fowler (and Litmanen) with carbon copies of Owen and Heskey. The smokescreen was so thick it suffocated: Robbie chose to go, the club wanted him to stay, his reluctance to sign a contract exacerbated the fear of another Bosman, Fowler could not handle rotation.

Bullshit, every single word of it. At least Parry had the balls to come clean about his accountantly (???) fear of ending up with no fee for him, but the rest was undiluted drivel. How anyone could believe that Liverpool wanted to keep him after everything that's been said and done is a mystery, but sadly there were enough thickies around for this to become 'fact'. Stories have emerged that a new contract wasn't even on offer, and compared to the "whatever he wants" settlement with Owen Robbie must have felt that was the final straw. As for 'rotation', Fowler could not accept what was laughably called Rotation at Anfield, and was rarely if ever given a good run in the side to improve his touch and fitness while the two main strikers were always given consecutive matches no matter how much they screwed up.

Fowler has also been blamed for a lot, like the lack of a good chant for Owen! Sorry, but that's the Kop's fault and Fowler can have no influence whatsoever on how many times the name of Michael Owen is sung. Even at Derby, the Riise song got bawled out far more and with the merest of excuses ("I wanna knoooow, how you won that throw") - I suppose that's Fowler's fault too? The lack of opportunities for Litmanen was also put at Fowler's door, and it was risible to read some Liverpool fans claiming Litmanen would get more games now. Read my lips: N…O…F…U…C…K… I…N…G…C…H…A…N…C…E. Jari is even less likely to fit in with the new 'style', and he'll be the next one out. Some have even blamed Robbie for the unhelpful ramblings of a certain journalist, so let's see if that 'misinformation' ends now Robbie is at Leeds. Somehow, I seriously doubt it. Those who even claimed Fowler had something to do with Gerard's condition aren't even worthy of contempt - just pity.

I suppose this is where I wax lyrical about Fowler's career at Anfield, but I'll save it because this article is getting out of hand. Maybe next issue? It shouldn't be necessary anyway. If anyone doesn't know that this was the best Liverpool player of the 90's, a period that has now suffered hysterical historical revision, then where have you been? As Colin McCabe said to me in one of his e mails, "I'd like to see you do one of those 'greatest career moment' overviews and manage to keep the list below 50". I'll have a go, but don't expect it to be short. Fowler has given me almost as much pleasure as Dalglish and Barnes, and if Liverpool do manage to get a new third-choice striker who can nab 17 goals a season they'll have done extremely well and made the right decision.

I suppose that's the bottom line, isn't it? The slimy Maddock droned on about Fowler's hat trick at Leicester and his busy performance at Boavista, "then he was dropped for the next three matches". That was it, though; end of paragraph. So I shall complete it for him: "those three games were Charlton 0 Liverpool 2, Liverpool 2 Dortmund 0 and Liverpool 3 Manchester United 1". The word you were searching for, Davy Boy, is "vindicated". No matter what we Fowler supporters say, the team is top with a game in hand with hardly any help from Robbie. A longer run of wins would help enormously with our title ambitions and, like Jerzy Dudek replacing Westerveld, the ends will be seen to justify the means.

But did the means have to be so manipulative, so dishonest, so brutal? This is a Liverpool Great we're talking about here. I can't help but feel that a short-term gain will be offset by a long-term reputation that will be incredibly difficult to shake off. After all, what centre forward will come to Anfield knowing that what happened to Robbie could also happen to him?

SK

Having just seen the Teletext highlight the impending move of Robbie Fowler, I have tried to analyse the pros and cons of the move.

FOR

1. Robbie is never going to get a starting place ahead of a fit Michael Owen. If Lazio offer £50M for Michael and only £14M for Robbie, what does that tell you about other teams' perception of the two strikers? Do we want another scenario of a quality player leaving Anfield for nothing under the Bosman Ruling?

2. Robbie has not liked the squad system, and has shall we say "blotted his copybook" with a couple of spats around the City, a disagreement with Phil Thompson, and a flurry of unsubstantiated rumours about other less socially acceptable habits following him around. In other words, he has not conducted himself in a professional manner.

3. Robbie has had a string of injuries over the last two or three seasons and has never really shown more than a few glimpses of the old magic. He has at times looked sluggish in his movement, and at other times the body language has indicated a "couldn't care less attitude" (Bolton away this season!). If you get a chance to play at the level we as a team aspire to, then you would sweat blood to take the opportunity if it is given. Robbie has failed to do this on more than one occasion. Have the injuries taken their toll? He will never be the player who scored goals like the nutmeg through Staunton's legs, and the semi-final goal at OT versus Villa?

4. Indiscipline led to the wilderness years at Liverpool. The "Spice Boys" image, the white suits, mobile phones ringing-ten-to-the-dozen. Ruddock, Macca, and Robbie were all part of that image. Houllier has lay down a code of behaviour that Robbie appears to have a dislike for and would not or could not conform to. Do we want to revert to trophy-less years or do we want to build upon last season's success?

5. What was Robbie's reaction to the subbing against Sunderland following the sending off of Hamann ? Would he have "ran his socks off" unselfishly like Heskey did, and ultimately win us the game? I think a Robbie of three years ago would have done, but I very much doubt if he has the ability to do it nowadays.

AGAINST

1. Have we shot ourselves in the foot/scored the biggest own goal in Championship history, by selling a player to a main rival for the title? I have a horrible feeling that this may come back to haunt us in a big way.

2. Have the Club finally swallowed "hook, line and sinker" the ramblings of a national press, who seem intent on causing trouble within the Club at every opportunity? If Robbie has finally let the press get to him, shame on Robbie, the Club and the hacks for letting it get to such a state. The Club should start naming and shaming these morons and banning them and their rags from the Press Box. Isn't it funny how something always seems to materialise on the eve or day of a big game?

3. Rush apart, Robbie has been the most natural finisher in the Premiership. A fit Robbie would guarantee goals which may lead to our first title for so many years.

4. Talking of fitness, can we trust the fitness of Michael Owen who seems to have niggle after niggle lately? We do not have any quality back-up, either. We need to re-invest and purchase a quality forward as soon as possible. Please don't let it be Dwight Yorke!

5. Does Robbie think that by going to Leeds that he will not fall foul of the squad rotation system there?

*********

This started off as a list to convince me the Club were right, but I notice that I have as many Cons as Pros. He hasn't delivered the goods of late when given the opportunity, but why do I feel uneasy about the move? Let us hope that come May, a Premier League crown will once again justify Houllier/Thompson's decision making in the re-emergence as a major force of the Club that we love - the Jury is definitely "out" on this episode, and only time will tell.

Keep the Faith,
John Green

Well I hardly know where to start. It's Wednesday night, Robbie has agreed personal terms at Leeds and tomorrow he will sign for £11million after passing a medical. How do I feel? Gutted. Angry. And desperately sad.

Houllier has finally won the End Game and sent Robbie packing. I, for one, will find it hard to forgive him, despite the fact I know full well that he has caused a wonderful rebirth at Anfield. Let's get this absolutely straight - this move has nothing to do with footballing ability. This boils down to the fact that Houllier could not bear Robbie's popularity with the Anfield faithful. I am not saying that it is because Houllier is so egotistical that he wanted to be number one in the popularity stakes. But he obviously believes, wrongly, that Robbie's popularity was bad for his precious team ethic.

You are wrong, Gerard. What's really galling was the way Houllier has gone about the whole business. He has orchestrated this move for at least the past 18 months - and probably since he took sole charge. He was hoping that he would break Robbie's resolve and get him to ask for a transfer request so he could turn round to us fans and say 'I didn't want Robbie to go but he wanted to go. What else could I do?'. But unfortunately for Houllier, Robbie's love and respect for the club was so great that he was not for breaking.

Robbie put up with outrageously barbed comments in the Press from Houllier, regularly questioning his fitness, commitment and even ability on occasions. He even backed down after the 'Phil Thompson affair' and apologised, despite the version of events I believe to be true would suggest that he had no reason to do so. Eventually, the unbelievable way Robbie was treated regarding team selection - or should I say lack of it - has finally seen Robbie off.

Take note: Robbie still didn't ask to go, but the club accepting Leeds' offer made it crystal clear that he had no future at the club. In fact, just hours before news of the move broke yesterday, there was nonsense on the official web site that Robbie was in fresh talks over a new contract. Yet more lies from the club about Robbie. I am so angry about the whole affair.

Let's examine Robbie Fowler's performances in 2001 - in the circumstances they haven't been too bad at all. He played exceptionally well in the home leg against Crystal Palace in the Worthington Cup, away at Leeds in the FA Cup, and at home to West Ham in the league to name but three occasions last season. And of course he scored that beauty at Cardiff against Birmingham. Oh, and don't forget his little contribution in the UEFA Cup final. And the goal against Wycombe. And his sublime double at Charlton. Need I go on? But it didn't matter what he did on the pitch. Houllier had decided he would force him out by picking Owen and Heskey as his first choice whatever happened - even if one of them went on a 16 game goalless streak. The message was abundantly clear.

Given one opportunity to shine, Robbie put Houllier's recovery back a little by scoring a top hat-trick at Leicester. But no, that wasn't good enough to keep his place. The whole thing is a scandal. Yes, on occasions this season he has struggled with his touch and fitness - but is that surprising when he is playing so intermittently? And of course when he has played, it is in the framework of a team exclusively set up to feed the strengths of Owen and Heskey even when they weren't playing. The implications of this in itself are worrying. It means that the ridiculously negative performance I witnessed at Ewood Park the other week is going to continue. I will probably rant on about that on another occasion. But back to Robbie.

The implications of him going to one of our title rivals are worrying, and surely too much of a risk. Do you remember how much Leeds were left to rue the sale by Mad Howard of Cantona to Man United in 1992? There is a serious danger of history repeating itself here. And if Robbie shoots Leeds to the title, then should Houllier be sacked? Is his judgement misguided due to his friendship with O'Dearie? I think it has been seriously misguided and if the nightmare scenario mentioned above does come true, to me Houllier is negligent. And what about this £11m price tag. Am I alone in thinking this is scandalously low? Robbie no better than (£11m) Frank Lampard, not as good as (£12.6m) Dwight Yorke, not in the same league as (£15m) Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink? I don't think so.

Typically, the official line coming out of the club is they didn't want to lose him for nothing. Bollocks. If you have got one of the very best, you take a risk. And they have never worried about being crap in the transfer market before, have they? The whole business stinks and has left me feeling physically sick - the worst I have felt since the news that Kenny had quit. I hope my doom and gloom can lift as the season goes on, and let me make it perfectly clear that I will still be giving my wholehearted support at each game, including to Houllier.

But a little part of my love has died at the moment. I just wish it had never come to this.

BRYAN WALKER

I don't want to kick a man whilst he's down but it looks like Le Boss and the tactically witless one have finally achieved what they've been trying to do since they arrived at the helm (and Redknapp's next and last). Both sides have started the propaganda - Parry fuck off! Whereas Maddock was spinning Robbie's yarn in his rag, the fact is this yarn is the truth. The lad wants to play and he knows he'd never get a chance with Michael and the undroppable one ahead of him.

I hope that they have a very, very good replacement lined up and I don't mean that sexaholic, rubber doll- shagging porno star from United. We need quality along the lines of Henry/ Trezeguet/Anelka or even one of those two muppets currently (temporarily) occupying the Leeds forward line! Or this lad from Auxerre?

Finally, thanks Robbie and good luck (you could give the title to Leeds).

FRANK MURPHY

Well Gerard, Phil, Rick, David, I hope you know what you are doing. If Leeds beat us to the title this season or push us out of a Champions League place due to the sale of Mr R Fowler then I hope you all know the way out of Liverpool. Eleven fucking Million???? Sale of the Century used to come from Norwich. Not any more, and it's been like that all the time under Houllier. It now comes from Anfield. The Leeds fans who took the time to call me in work weren't phoning to see how my office stationary Levels were, but to thank Liverpool for their generosity over Robbie. They actually couldn't believe we sold him for 11 million.

I mean for fuck's sake jug ears over the park cost Arsenal 10 million and he's just a jumped up little shit. And I have said to you previously Robbie is the most natural goal scorer ever. To sell him to our title rivals is just plain stupid. We can all say he is not fit, doesn't look motivated etc but even on Sunday there was a glimpse of what Robbie can do when the Sunderland defender slipped and Robbie forced in a shot. Watch the replays and it was going in until the swerve on the ball took it away at the last second.

Leicester away, what a hat trick. The third goal summed Robbie up. No-one picked him up and he didn't blast that volley in, he passed it into the back of the net. I know Liverpool can point to the fact that he only had 18 months left in his contract and they didn't want him to do a Stevie Mac, but why did talks break down in the summer and why didn't Liverpool do more about getting them restarted? You now only have 1 spice boy left and Jamie, you are out of contract in the summer and I can't see the club offering you more than a one year deal. Paddy is also in the final stages of his contract and Mr Houllier has done a pretty ruthless job getting rid of all Evans signings and players apart from Jamie Carragher and the Blue eyed boy Danny. This is your team now and the fans don't like seeing one of their own forced out. I have said we played a different way to the way Robbie was used to but surely with encouragement he could have fitted in to this style.

I am sad to see Robbie go. I have always liked him, he is one of us out there, a scally given a chance. He lets you down now and again but mostly he gets you what you want. From last season I will always remember his goal in the semi against Wycombe when the fan ran on and the steward slide tackled Robbie. How many other players would have reacted the way Robbie did, diving on him and taking the piss? So long Robbie, you are up there with Rushie and Sir Roger in my eyes. Just don't do it for Leeds, because I hope this doesn't come back and haunt us.

Come in number 9, your time's up.

CHRIS SMITH

So Robbie's finally gone. Can't say I'm surprised. I think the writing has been on the wall for some time now. It's been quite interesting listening to all the phone ins and reading the views of Echo readers. I think that Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson have come in for some unwarranted and unnecessary criticism over the whole affair.

Robbie Fowler has shown that he still has the ability to score some exquisite goals at the highest level and on the biggest stage. Last year's Worthington Cup Final, the recent England international against Albania and his hat trick at Leicester support this. What Robbie Fowler has not shown for some time now, is that he can do this on a consistent basis. In my opinion, Robbie has appeared sluggish (at times disinterested) for between 2 and 3 years now. I think that the root of the problem is that he has never really recovered from that terrible injury - I've heard that it really was touch and go as to whether he would even play again. Sure we've seen flashes of his genius since but can anyone honestly say that Robbie has been anywhere near as sharp as he was prior to the injury?

And having seen Robbie's performances during this time (and on the training ground too no doubt), I believe that Gerard and Phil have reached the conclusion that if a decent enough offer was on the table, then the time was now right to seriously consider such an offer. That's not to say that the management team (or myself) haven't been hoping that Robbie would rediscover himself in a red shirt. Of course we have. But perhaps the sands of time are running out and with the threat of McManaman revisited looming on the horizon, £11m now is better business than losing him on a Bosman next year.

I mentioned at the top that I wasn't really surprised by the decision to sell. Two things do surprise me however. Firstly the decision to sell him to one of our title rivals. Secondly, the fee. Leeds have recently paid £9m for Seth "who?" Johnson from Derby and Arsenal paid £8m rising to £10m for Franny 'jug ears' Jeffers. How many games did he play for the Blueslime?........scoring how many goals? By these comparisons Robbie is surely worth at least £15m?

We should however also respect Robbie's view. He knows that the World Cup is just around the corner and realises that his best chances of selection will come if he is playing first team football (is he guaranteed that at Leeds?). After all this may be his last chance to perform on the World stage. So rather than getting caught up in issues such as the bust up with Thommo, his frustrations with the squad rotation system and whether or not he has difficulty playing second fiddle to younger rising stars, I'd much prefer to wish Robbie all the best and say thanks for all the wonderful memories he's given us down the years.

When the dust finally settles, I think that this will probably prove to be the best thing for both Robbie and Liverpool Football Club.

ALLERTON AL