Harold Macmillan was a slightly goofy figure for a Prime Minister of a powerful nation. He expressed himself thrilled at Peter Cook’s scathing impersonation of him, so much so that he once visited the theatre to see Cook perform. The respect-nobody attitude of Cook manifested itself in a particularly vitriolic display, culminating in the in-character comment that “I do like to go to the theatre, where I have a stupid grin my fat face due to the performer.”
Macmillan’s response to this jibe is not recorded. But history has been kind to him, generally because of one Stalinesque quip that is attributed to him. When asked by a reporter what was the most difficult task facing a politician, he responded “events, dear boy, events.” I certainly know how he feels. The last couple of weeks have seen me beavering away at a trio of devastatingly witty commentaries on the nature of the atmosphere at Anfield, refereeing and how much I hate everybody who is not of LFC (not much humour in the last one, to be honest.) Then – pow! – the event of Robbie Fowler departing for Leeds United, a team that featured prominently in said article, lands in my editorialising lap like a cannonball among a flock of flamingos.
I’d be eternally grateful to anyone who can tell me the collective noun for flamingos.
In truth though, as surprises go, this one was about as surprising as an event preceded by klaxons, mile-high neon signs and Ian Paisley bellowing its arrival through a megaphone. I don’t consider myself to be one of these much-vaunted people who have the Inside Track On What’s Happening In Anfield. Those folk, who have being predicting Fowler’s departure twice a week for the last three years will no doubt be triumphantly trumpeting their ‘scoop’, proving the adage that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Still, I had heard on the grapevine that Robbie was not going to sign a new contract and was therefore on his way. The person who told me is not the kind to spread rumours or wear S** hats – not that I’m thinking of anyone – so I believed him, and my belief has proven to be justified. So all the expressions of shock, horror and anguish are going to get very tedious, very soon.
As far as I’m concerned, the feelings of dismay that people are feeling are predicated not on the loss of a top player but by feelings of nostalgia. This doesn’t make them any less real. Nostalgia is obviously a big part of following a team, and no one gets weepier at the memory of great moments than I do – “ooooh, that’s Boys Own stuff!” – but in twelve games at Anfield this season, Robbie Fowler has scored the less-than-grand total of one (1) goal. And that was against Haka. Don’t say that he hasn’t been playing in those games either. He’s had plenty of chances in the team, he just hasn’t taken them. As Michael Owen’s star burned ever brighter, it made the waning of Fowler’s luminosity all the more pronounced.
For a while now, and living over here has only made me more certain of it, it has looked to me that Fowler’s career can be divided into the period before and after that calamitous knee injury he suffered against Everton a few years back. Before then, Fowler strode through our lives like a colossus, pulling up trees wherever he went. Since that freakish injury, he’s had difficulty picking up matchsticks. A large part of me feels that we might well have pulled the biggest fast one since the suicidal lookout on the Titanic informed the captain that there wasn’t an iceberg to be seen.
So I wasn’t too gutted when I heard the news. John Aldridge claimed in the Echo – I looked at it in WH Smith’s! – that £12 million (sic?) doesn’t buy much these days, certainly not a player of Fowler’s ability. A cynic (ahem) might point out that Leeds have landed a player of Fowler’s ability for exactly that. More pertinently, at least we have the money to spend whereas in two years we’d have diddlysquat with which to buy a replacement. The head enthusiastically endorse the sale of a player who simply hasn’t done anything in ages to justify his position at our great club.
But the heart quivers at the sheer magnitude of this event. One has to applaud Houllier’s cojones in dispensing with the player who gets the single biggest cheer when his name is read out at the ground. It was an astonishingly brave thing to do. Flicking through the reaction in the Echo – my flatmate bought it! – the sheer venom of some of the reactions reflects the affection with which Fowler is held. Houllier was almost certainly motivated by the desire to avoid the Steve McManaman debacle, when a top player was lost for nothing due to managerial procrastination. But while he now has the money, he’s also stored up a whole lot of trouble. Should Fowler achieve even a modest degree of success at Elland Road, the weapon-wielding hacks will plunge their daggers into Caesar’s back faster than you can sat “Et tu, Robbie?” Houllier would correctly argue that his job is doomed if he doesn’t win the League and Fowler’s sale doesn’t change that scenario one jot. But if – and it’s not that big an if – if Leeds win the title, Le Boss may regret not sitting on his hands and letting Fowler depart of his own accord. McManaman was the butt of most of the anger regarding his departure because he was clearly the prime mover. Ged may yet rue not letting a similar fate befall Fowler.
And what about the man of the moment himself? The memories come flooding back as I sit here – his debut goal against Fulham, five against the same team in the second leg at Anfield, slaying the Blues in the last derby in front of the Kop, the fastest hat-trick in Premiership history against Arsenal, making a mug of the red-nosed Manc four times in the same season, that thunderbolt against Aston Villa, the cheeky FA Cup semi-final brace against the same opponents, the unknown wonder goal against Brann, a sublime volley against Birmingham in Cardiff, gliding past the Alaves defence…I once prided myself on being able to describe every Robbie Fowler goal in intimate detail and while distance will make it highly unlikely that I’ll keep up that particular record, it is quite conceivable that absence will make the heart grow fonder.
Fare thee well Robbie Fowler, and thanks for the memories.