RAWK Advent Calendar 2014 #3 - Robbie Fowler vs Birmingham City 2001
Posted by Acton Nick on December 1, 2014, 10:22:51 AM
How do you define your favourite goal? Do you have to have seen it ‘live’ to appreciate its quality? Does it have to be one of the best you've seen? Does it have to have been scored in a big game rather than be the 3rd goal in a routine home League win? Does it have to be scored by a favourite player? Or, can it be a combination of the above, used as a shameless device for me to think up a suitable opening paragraph?... Let’s go with that!
Despite the relative lack of success, growing up in the 90’s had many enjoyable moments for a teenage Liverpool fan. The emergence of one Robert Bernard Fowler definitely at the top of that list. It had it’s fair share of nightmares too though. Barely a season went by without an embarrassing cup defeat at the hands of some shit town journeymen. Bolton (shudder), Bristol City (shake), Middlesbrough…always fucking Middlesbrough. There had been isolated successes of course – an FA Cup win in 1992 and League Cup triumph in 1995. But as the new century dawned Liverpool by our lofty standards were in the middle of a trophy drought.
As for me, I was still waiting patiently for the opportunity to witness Cup success. I had seen Alan Hansen nonchalantly raise aloft yet another League Title in 1990 but apart from that my trophy watching experience was bare. In 1984 my Dad had taken my older brother to Maine Road to watch the League Cup Final Replay versus Everton. In 1987 the golden boy got the nod again to watch us play Arsenal at Wembley. I was assured that it was my turn next. 1988 and 1989 came and went without so much of a sniff of a ticket. As did further finals in 1992, 1995 and 1996. In February 2001 we demolished Crystal Palace in the Semi Final second leg to book a trip to the final to play another lower League peril – Birmingham City. I had been to all the home games in the cup run but having been denied a Final ticket many times over in the past expectations were low. I was setting off to travel the world a few days after the final and my thoughts were largely pre-occupied by that.
Then, a week before the final, my Dad finally came good on his 14 year old promise. He’d secured an extra ticket, the minibus was booked and finally I was off to my first ever Cup Final. It wasn't to be Wembley, due to it getting a rebuild all cup finals for the next few years were to be played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. We didn't know it at the time but it was to be the start of a beautiful five year love affair between Liverpool fans and the Welsh capital incorporating two FA Cup Finals, Three League Cup Finals, Three Charity Shields. A wonderful stadium that would give us plenty of thrilling moments and several sore heads.
After a never ending journey through Welsh market towns and a boozy pub lunch we arrived in Cardiff in high spirits. Birmingham were a decent Championship side but surely we were ready to end our trophy hoodoo. Gerard Houllier had established a fine squad, full to the brim with internationals and well stocked in every position.
Even with the freshly acquired Jari Litmanen ruled out through injury (surely not!) picking on form gave him the luxury of leaving Michael Owen on the bench, with Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey leading the line. The central midfield oozed class with Gerrard and Hamann orchestrating. Out wide a couple of more surprising picks with Smicer and the newly signed Igor Biscan getting the nod over the likes of Barmby and Murphy who had both been instrumental in our cup run. The rock solid defence of Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz and Babbel inspired confidence even with the slightly flappy Sander Westerveld in goal. Birmingham’s strikers personified their style of play. Geoff Horsfield and Dele Adebola were big and strong, but slow and limited. They were surely just happy to be part of the occasion. We’d have these!
The game kicked off and pre match optimism soon made way for mid game pessimism. Birmingham were well drilled and we were struggling to make any inroads. Then out of the blue, and as had been so often the case in the previous 8 years, Robbie Fowler conjured up something from nothing. A long punt forward from Westerveld was flicked on into Robbie’s path. In the inside left channel, with not a lot on, speed of thought met wonderful technique and before half the stadium even knew what had happened Fowler had sent a delightful dipping half volley over Ian Bennett and into the Birmingham net. Captain for the day, Fowler ran off to a delirious bench where he was mobbed for his instinctive genius. Liverpool had four strikers at the time, all had different strengths. It’s fair to say that this was a goal that only Fowler could have scored. The awareness, the confidence and of course most importantly of all, the sheer quality to spot the opportunity and tuck it away as if it was a routine tap in from inside the 6 yard box.
We were on our way! Finally I’d be seeing us win a Cup Final. At long last I was on the march with
Kenny’s Souey’s Roy’s
Gerard’s Army, we were all off to
Cardiff and we’d really shake them up when we won the
League Cup. I’d celebrate by spending the next 4 months travelling the Southern Hemisphere! Could life get any better?
Well, in the short term it could get worse. With a routine 1-0 victory in our grasp we got our act together, remembered that we were Liverpool FC and never did Cup Finals the easy way. Why brush aside a team in 90 minutes when you can make everyone have a collective heart attack and win it in 120 minutes plus penalties? Deep into stoppage time a clumsy tackle from Henchoz had David Ellary pointing to the spot. In an instant celebration turned to recrimination and we had to deal with the prospect of another half hour. Both sides threatened, Liverpool hit the woodwork, Birmingham forced an outstanding save from Westerveld.
In the end it went to penalties. As ever things were never done easily. A German (Hamann) missed! Carragher scored after a run up from somewhere near the halfway line. Finally Westerveld saved from a young Andy Johnson! I turned and hugged my brother. Finally, and an hour or so later than planned I had seen us win a cup. What’s an extra hour when I’d been waiting my whole life? The fact we did so came down to a goal from my teenage idol.
With such a back catalogue it’s hardly a shock to say Robbie has scored better goals. But in identifying a favourite you need a few factors as I listed above and this ticked them all: A goal of top quality, scored by my favourite player of the time, in my first cup final. It’s hard to beat that for a real thrill. The fact that it helped break the trophy drought and set us up for what would be an incredible season just made it even sweeter looking back.
I left for Thailand a few days later. By the time we were winning the FA and UEFA Cups I was in Sydney and Christchurch respectively. It was a time of life and a season that I will never forget. And that beautiful, arcing, top spinning half volley from our genius of a number 9 is the goal that always flashes through the mind when thinking back to that wonderful time.
Thanks Robbie! Merry Christmas!
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