RAWK Advent Calendar 2014 #10 - Robbie Fowler (2nd) vs Newcastle United 1997

Posted by JerseyKloppite on December 1, 2014, 02:18:36 PM

I’ve been grumbling lately that ‘football isn’t what it used to be’.

This is concerning firstly because I’m only 27 – to feel that football’s best days are already behind me is troubling. It’s also odd because my nostalgic yearnings are for a decade of relative failure for Liverpool Football Club, the 1990s.

I imagine most people romanticise the football they grow up with – as a youngster I was a football addict (as opposed to now, these days I’m more of a Liverpool addict). A recent trip home and sorting of my childhood possessions uncovered troves of football figures, Liverpool posters, Panini sticker albums and a SNES with the ultimate gaming title, International Superstar Soccer DELUXE. I supported Liverpool keenly but I don’t think I really understood what it was to follow Liverpool until I was about 13 or so, and not comprehensively until my early 20s. I'm still learning now.

Whether or not it’s a coincidence that this was in c.2001, a year of famous European nights and trophies galore, I can’t say. It certainly did coincide with my first trips to watch Liverpool away at Leicester in 1999 (I will forever curse the name Tony Cottee) and home against Newcastle in 2000. But my love of the club grew exponentially and I stopped being so interested in the Premier League, and in the English national team. I do miss that fascination with all things football sometimes, but luckily Liverpool have given me more than enough in the last 15 years to offset the ‘loss’.

I wasn’t surprised then, when asked to identify my favourite Liverpool goal, my thoughts immediately went back to the late 90s. Football was benefitting from the influx of money and foreign talent in the Premier League, and the malaise that seems to have crept into the modern game may have taken root, but hadn’t yet flourished. The Premier League was exciting, and Liverpool were one of its most exciting exponents, playing some wonderful attacking football under Roy Evans. They didn’t win much but they were great to watch, with young talent emerging in the shape of Carragher, Owen and Gerrard, on the back of the existing local pool that had brought us McManaman and Fowler. Football was everywhere, Euro'96 had followed on from where Italia'90 left off in inspiring attention and coverage for the sport, and I loved it.

In 1996, Liverpool played Newcastle United at Anfield. It is a game that has widely been regarded as one of the Premier League’s best, and regularly tops polls. Both sides harboured hopes of a title win, and both went all out for three points. In a classic end-to-end fixture, Liverpool came out 4-3 winners, Stan Collymore scoring the final goal in stoppage time to clinch the points.

But I don’t want to talk about that game, or that goal. Honestly, I can’t remember watching it – my earliest memories as a fan are from the 1994-1995 season, but we didn’t get Sky until the following year so I missed it. I seem to recall being annoyed the following season when, in the build-up to the same fixture, the pundits spoke in reverential tones about the wondrous match in 1996 and scoffed at the thought we’d see anything nearly as good. How wrong they were. What followed was a truly epic game that summed up everything about the excitement of football in general and the brilliance of the Premier League, and epitomised the Liverpool team of the late 90s for me. We were dangerous going forward, accident prone in defence, but never disappointing in terms of entertainment.

I watched the match at home, on my own. Probably sat in my first Liverpool shirt (the green and white quartered away), and usually having watched a Liverpool VHS beforehand (perhaps the 94/95 season review). My parents weren’t all that interested in football, and as an only child I frequently ended up supporting Liverpool solo. But I didn’t really care. There was something about that match in particular, the emotion of it, I remember feeling a genuine connection to all things Liverpool. Surprised maybe how much it all mattered, at the depth of my despair and then the unremitting joy of victory.

The season before, a Liverpool hero in Kevin Keegan had been at the helm at Newcastle. This time, an even bigger legend sat in the away dugout – King Kenny. Liverpool started the match positively, Steve Mcmanaman sweeping the ball in after 29 minutes, before Patrick Berger added a second a minute later, perfectly positioned to fire into an empty net after Robbie Fowler’s effort had come back off the post. Fowler would have a goal of his own though, dinking past Shaka Hislop after a wonderful long ball from Jamie Redknapp. Half time, game over – none of this 4-3 rubbish again.

The game settled in the early stages of the second half, and few could predict Liverpool’s sudden collapse. In the 71st minute, Keith Gillespie’s shot squirmed through the grasp of David James and somehow found the bottom corner. Nerves set it, but Liverpool looked to have seen the game out comfortably, as with the clock ticking into the late 80s the home side still led 3-1. The Newcastle goal only a consolation.

Then, in the 87th minute, Liverpool lost the ball in midfield, and Newcastle launched a long pass in the direction of Faustino Asprilla. David James came rushing out to the edge of the box but could go no further, as the Colombia leapt to volley the ball brilliantly over our ‘keeper, and perfectly into the top corner. Defenders looked on, frustrated, and fingernails were bitten again. The reds then went to pieces after a hoof from the back was flicked on into our box a minute later. A tackle failed to clear the lines, and in galloped Warren Barton to slide the ball beneath James for 3-3. Our calamitous defending had struck again, a worrying pattern it would take a couple of years to really escape from.

Disbelief. To this day I remember feeling utterly deflated, like a punch to the gut. How? Why? What? We’d seemed so comfortable but had inexplicably thrown it all away. I had learned a valuable lesson about football. But I was yet to learn an invaluable lesson about Liverpool.

We didn’t give up, and our heads didn’t drop. Stig Inge Bjornedbye picked up the ball out wide on the left and burst past a defender before floating in a glorious cross. Fowler hurled himself at it, and made a connection. Hislop had no chance. The Kop went ballistic, a spectacular roar, as Robbie Fowler celebrated with his teammates (and one pitch invader). My delighted shouting brought my mum into the room to check I was OK. She didn’t really get it then (she does now, though my wife’s still learning…) I ran round and round the room and didn’t stop smiling for about 24 hours.

I still get excited when Liverpool score. The Champions League final, Gerrard’s FA Cup leveller, Coutinho vs City last season. And that win didn’t help much in the end, as we’d go on to miss out on CL football on goal difference... to Newcastle. But the way that game went, from utter to despair to victory, in a time when football was really everything to me, made all the more sensational by the result in the previous season. It’ll take a lot to beat that Fowler header for my favourite Liverpool goal.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/gdtABrmsFds" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/gdtABrmsFds</a>

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