This season, Prostate Cancer UK is the Official Charity Partner
of The Football League. To celebrate this partnership, and in
recognition of the fact that prostate cancer affects one in nine
men in the UK, we've asked some of the country's most acclaimed
football writers to tell us about their favourite No9 in the
history of the beautiful game.
This week, Guardian sport writer and Manchester United fan Rob
Smyth controversially doffs his cap to Liverpool legend (and former
Leeds, Manchester City, Cardiff and Blackburn striker) Robbie
Read on for Rob's eulogy to Robbie and let us know your thoughts
in the comments section below.
The Anfield rapscallion: Fowler celebrates another Liverpool goal. Photo courtesy of Action Images
In recent times the red and white of the St George’s Cross has
been accompanied by a tinge of green. Nineteen teenagers have
played for England since 1990, as many as in the 100 years before
that. It's a surprise that the list does not include Robbie Fowler,
because no England player of the modern era – perhaps of any era –
has encapsulated youth as Fowler did.
He had spells of varying success at Leeds, Manchester City,
Blackburn and Cardiff, but Fowler’s career and life will inevitably
be defined by his time at Liverpool – and particularly the three
consecutive seasons between 1994 and 1997 when he scored more than
30 goals each term.
In that period Fowler was like a Scouse version of Ferris
Bueller, full of anarchic mischief and deriving enormous pleasure
from goading and embarrassing his elders. He was the Anfield
rapscallion. Manchester United fans aren't supposed to like
Liverpool legends, but the raw, swaggering, totally natural
brilliance of Fowler's play – part puckish, part punkish – was
irresistible. If Walter Mitty had daydreamed about being a
footballer, he would have been Robbie Fowler.
The first time I saw Fowler was during England's romantic
victory in the European Under-18 Championship of 1993, when he
top-scored with five in the tournament, including a booming
long-range lob against France. His best season was 1995-96, when he
spent nine long months dehydrating opposition. At Old Trafford in
October, Eric Cantona made his comeback after an eight-month
suspension. It was Le Dieu against God, as Liverpool fans
called Fowler. He didn't quite steal the show from Cantona – not
even the second coming of the real God could have done that – but
he had a damn good go, scoring twice in a 2-2 draw. The second goal
was a delicious fusion of attitude and aptitude: Fowler shoved Gary
Neville aside with contempt before arrogantly chipping Peter
Schmeichel with his weaker right foot.
Fowler loved humiliating opponents. It was nothing personal,
just a bit of fun. In March 1996 he scored a stunning goal against
Aston Villa, making a total fool of Steve Staunton with a flick
behind his standing leg before sweet-spotting insouciantly into the
far corner from 25 yards. Everything he did looked effortless. A
month later he scored twice in the famous 4-3 win over Newcastle,
the second a devastatingly accomplished finish from the edge of the
box. It was probably the high watermark of his career; it was six
days before his 21st birthday. In football terms Fowler lived fast
and died young. That only adds to the appeal.
For more in our Best No9s series, read Michael Cox's ode to
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Jacob Steinberg's tribute to
Dean Ashton and check out our definitive list of the best (and
worst!) strikers from the Football League in the sidebar on the
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