6th March 1997
Cup Winners’ Cup Quarter Final, First Leg
Brann Bergen 1-1 Liverpool
With the Rodgers Revolution kicking off in low-key fashion last night, as Liverpool embarked on their Europa League campaign with a narrow first leg victory over FC Gomel in Belarus, it’s fitting that The Reds’ European exploits are featured in our first 90s Goal of the Week – an outstanding piece of forward play from property tycoon Robert Bernard Fowler.
1996-97 was the height of the ‘Spice Boys’ era, but just over six months on from THAT cream suit fiasco at Wembley, it seemed as if Roy Evans’ men were finally going to deliver on their undoubted talents and win something. January saw them go five points clear at the top of the Premier League, and by March they were still very much in the title picture and progressing well in the late, lamented Cup Winners’ Cup. Norway’s Brann Bergen were all that stood between them and a place in the final four.
Norwegian football was enjoying something of a golden age during the 1990s, as the national team qualified for two successive world cups. That very season, Rosenberg would shock the football world by eliminating Milan with a win at the San Siro. Brann had caused a few shocks of their own in the CWC, not least in despatching PSV in the previous round. Powered by a young Tore Andre Flo, they threatened to pose a stern test for Liverpool.
Despite the media portraying them as a pack of high-rolling, underachieving playboys however, this was a very talented Liverpool side, packed with creative talent such as Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Patrik Berger. Most importantly though, they had someone up front who just couldn’t stop scoring. Robbie Fowler was at the absolute peak of his powers in the mid-90s. Despite not being blessed with electric pace, he had the skill and the innate ability to create just that half a yard of space he needed to fashion chances – and goals – out of thin air. The phrase ‘natural goalscorer’ has become overused, but Fowler’s sense of timing and sheer ruthlessness surely put him in that bracket, as he always seemed to think and act one step ahead of everyone else in the penalty area. 1996-97 was the season that Michael Owen burst onto the scene, but there remained only one “God” at Anfield.
Fowler helped himself to 31 goals in all competitions that season, but none were better than this. Just 10 minutes into the game against Brann, he received the ball on the edge of the box, flicked it over the defender with his heel, spinning past him as he did so, and ran on to blast in a low, angled effort. It was a goal that encapsulated everything Fowler at his best brought to the table – the knack of making his own luck and the nerveless ability to capitalise on it.
The Reds earned a 1-1 draw in Bergen, and comfortably progressed with a 3-0 second leg win in which Fowler bagged another brace (and unveiled his notorious dockers tribute t-shirt). Liverpool’s season began to unravel around this time however. Their title challenge capitulated and they were overhauled by Manchester Utd, eventually finishing a disappointing fourth, while Paris St. Germain put paid to their CWC hopes in the semi finals.
That Spice Boys team was a lot of fun to watch, often gung-ho going forward and boasting some classy ball players in virtually every department (and Neil Ruddock). But they just seemed to lack that flinty edge that champions need. Fowler too, never quite fulfilled his full potential. He should have been the heir to Gary Lineker’s crown as his country’s premier poacher, but he only won 26 caps and never really shone at international level. At club level meanwhile, Gerard Houllier’s arrival was the beginning of the end for him at Liverpool, and despite a respectable scoring record following his £12m move to Leeds, his time there was ravaged by injuries, and the Robbie Fowler who signed for Manchester City in 2003 was not the player who had electrified Anfield during the previous decade. In truth, his heart never truly seemed in it when he wasn’t wearing a red shirt.
If one goal sums up just what a talent he was at his peak however, this one is surely it.