God. When that nickname is attributed to someone, you’d assume there’s a pretty decent story behind it.
Among Kopites it was, and still is, the one attributed to Robbie Fowler – the Reds’ sixth all-time top-scorer, with 183 goals to his name in 369 appearances across two spells.
His career was, indeed, full of eventful chapters. He signed professional forms for the club on April 23, 1992, and here we remember the many memorable moments that followed.
The ‘Toxteth Terror’ – another of his nicknames, courtesy of his upbringing in the area – grew up an Everton supporter. He was brought to Liverpool, though, after being spotted by club scout Jim Aspinall while playing for his school’s under-14s side.
After twice being named on the bench in the second-half of the 1992/93 season, 18-year-old Fowler made his debut on September 23, 1993, in the first-leg of a second-round League Cup tie at Fulham. Playing from the start, he scored the Merseysiders’ third goal in the 83rd minute of a 3-1 victory with a powerful far-post half-volley.
If that didn’t make people sit up and take notice, he made sure they did 13 days later when, in the return-leg at Anfield, he scored all five goals in a 5-0 victory. He’d go on to notch a total of 18 goals in 34 appearances across all competitions by the end of 1993/94 – and he wasn’t slowing down.
Another 31 goals in 54 appearances followed in 1994/95, the highlight of which being his stunning hat-trick in four minutes and 33 seconds in a 3-0 win over Arsenal at Anfield on August 28. It remained the quickest hat-trick in Premier League history for more than two decades, until Sadio Mané netted a treble in two minutes and 56 seconds for Southampton in May 2015.
He scored the winner in both legs of the League Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace on the way to Liverpool lifting the trophy at Wembley in early April, thanks to a 2-0 win over Bolton and would be named the Young Player of the Year a week later, an honour he would retain 12 months later.
That 1995/96 season would indeed prove his most prolific for the club, with a superb 36 goals scored in 53 games. After starting the season’s first two matches as a substitute, with new arrival Stan Collymore partnering Ian Rush up top, he flew into life when he scored four goals in a 5-2 home league win over Bolton on September 23.
The 20-year-old would score twice to earn the Reds a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford eight days later in a game most widely remembered for the return of Eric Cantona from his eight-month ban for his assault of a Crystal Palace fan in January 1995. It wouldn’t be Fowler’s only double at United’s ground that season.
Come the Spring of 1996 and he notched two crucial braces in successive matches – first to help Liverpool to a 3-0 FA Cup semi-final success over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on March 31, then in the memorable 4-3 Anfield league victory over Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle three days later.
His superb form earned him a place in Terry Venables’ England squad for Euro ’96 but, with Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham the chosen starters, he would be limited to brief substitute appearances in the final group game against the Netherlands and the quarter-final success against Spain.
A further 31 goals in 44 appearances followed in 1996/97, taking him past the 100 mark for the club, though he found himself in the headlines late that season for a variety of reasons.
He scored a 90th-minute winner in the second successive 4-3 Anfield win over Newcastle on March 10, having put the Reds 3-0 up earlier in the contest and he again scored twice 10 days later in a 3-0 second-leg win over Norwegian side SK Brann in the European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals at Anfield. He followed his 77th minute second by revealing a shirt in support of 500 dockers who had lost their jobs at the Albert Docks, something which brought a fine from UEFA a few days later.
His sense of morality was again on display four days later when he protested against his own winning of a penalty at Highbury when he went to ground despite not making contact with goalkeeper and England colleague David Seaman. The decision stood nonetheless and though Fowler’s resulting penalty was saved by Seaman, Jason McAteer converted the rebound and Liverpool won the game 2-1.
A clash with David Unsworth in the Merseyside derby in mid-April, resulting in a straight red card for the Liverpool striker, then earned him further attention.
His next 18 months were ravaged by injury, with knee-ligament damage sustained in a July pre-season friendly keeping him out of the opening six games of the season before a more serious ligament issue was sustained in February 1998, following a collision with Everton goalkeeper Thomas Myhre. That kept him out for seven months and, simultaneously, ended his hopes of being a part of England’s 1998 World Cup campaign.
He still managed 13 goals over the course of that season though and scored on his first start since returning from injury in a 3-3 home draw against Charlton on September 19.
Gérard Houllier would take sole charge of the team following Roy Evans’ resignation as joint manager in November and Fowler largely impressed in the opening months of the Frenchman’s tenure, seeing him have a total of 18 goals to his name come the end of the 1998/99 campaign.
Its latter months were again shrouded in controversy for Fowler, though. He was given a two-game ban for a provocative gesture towards Graeme Le Saux in a match at Chelsea in late February and also earned a four-game suspension for his infamous ‘sniffing the line’ celebration after he converted a penalty early in the 3-2 victory against Everton at Anfield on April 3.
It was an action apparently intended as a response to jibes that had been thrown at him at Goodison Park earlier in the season and on the streets.
1999/00 was again injury-plagued, this time due to two ankle operations. He only appeared 14 times that season as a result, with just eight of them being starts, though his three goals did take him to 150 goals for the Reds.
He wasn’t always a regular starter in the 2000/01 treble season, with 19 of his 48 appearances coming as a substitute, but he did make crucial contributions to the winning of each trophy. His superb looping volley from range gave Liverpool the lead against Birmingham City in the League Cup final in Cardiff on February 25, which Houllier’s men would go on to win 5-4 on penalties.
His free-kick proved the winner in the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Wycombe Wanderers at Villa Park six weeks later and he would end the season with three goals in two matches.
His jinking run and right-footed finish put Liverpool 4-3 ahead against Alavés in the UEFA Cup Final in Dortmund, which the Reds would eventually win 5-4, courtesy of an extra-time golden own-goal. He then scored a brace in the 4-0 win at Charlton on the final day of the Premiership season to help the Merseysiders’ secure second-place.
His first that day, a looping left-footed overhead-kick following a corner that found the top-right corner, has since been described by Fowler as his favourite goal for the club. He ended that season with a tally of 17.
Fowler would score a further four goals in 17 appearances at the start of the 2001/02 campaign but, following steady growth in speculation, Fowler joined Leeds United in a transfer worth £11.75 million. Houllier stated that the club had not wanted to let the striker go, saying that the then 26-year-old felt it was a move that would help progress his career at the time.
Despite persistent injury issues, Fowler maintained a largely impressive goalscoring record over the course of his time at Elland Road which ended with him joining Manchester City in January 2003 as the Yorkshire club’s financial situation continued to decline.
His time at City was similarly injury-troubled but his goalscoring touch largely remained. He did, in fact, score in a 2-2 with Liverpool in late December 2003 and his final weeks there in January 2006 saw him net a hat-trick against Scunthorpe in the FA Cup third round and the Citizens’ third goal in a 3-1 derby win against Manchester United.
Then came his hugely popular return to Anfield – or second coming, if you will – when he joined on a free transfer on January 27, signing a contract until the end of the season.
He’d not lost touch with the club despite his time away, something evidenced by then Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry referencing how the striker was in the crowd for the 2005 Champions League Final triumph in Istanbul during Fowler’s introductory press conference.
He briefly looked to have netted the winner on his return as a substitute against Birmingham on February 1, but the flag was correctly raised for offside.
Five goals would follow for the striker over the remainder of the season, nonetheless – the first of which came against Fulham, against whom he had scored his first ever Reds’ goal, at Anfield on March 15. It was an output that earned him a one-year extension to his contract.
He scored seven goals in 23 appearances – 10 of which were starts – in the 2006/07 season. It would prove his final campaign for the Reds, but it was one which allowed him the proper Anfield send-off that he both deserved and had been unable to enjoy in 2001 due to the swift nature of his transfer to Leeds.
A lap of honour after a 2-2 draw with Charlton in the final Premiership game of the campaign saw he and his family saluted by all four corners of the ground.
He moved on a free transfer to Cardiff City that summer and, coincidentally, would return to Anfield with his new club only a few months later when the Bluebirds suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Reds in the fourth round of the League Cup.
The final years of his career saw him enjoy stints with Blackburn Rovers during the latter months of 2008, Australian sides North Queensland Fury (2009-10) and Perth Glory (2010-11) and Thai outfit Muangthong United (2011-12).
He acted as coach for the latter for much of his time there and has since impressed as manager of Brisbane Roar, another Australian A-League club, for whom he was appointed head coach on April 23, 2019 – 27 years to the day after he signed professional terms with Liverpool.
Also on this day
Saturday April 23, 2011: Liverpool 5-0 Birmingham City (Premier League, Anfield)
Maxi Rodríguez’s hat-trick, alongside Dirk Kuyt and Joe Cole strikes, guided Kenny Dalglish’s in-form side to a thumping victory over the soon to be relegated Blues.
Sunday April 23, 2017: Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace (Premier League, Anfield)
The Reds’ ultimately successful top-four ambitions took a hit as Philippe Coutinho’s superb 24th-minute free-kick was cancelled out by former Liverpool man Christian Benteke’s close-range finish shortly before half-time, with the Belgian then earning the Eagles all three points 17 minutes from time. It is a result that remains the last time Jürgen Klopp’s side lost a Premier League home game.