Do you remember Robbie Fowler’s spell at Blackburn? Well, no, probably you don’t, and it sounds like he would rather keep it that way too…
There’s nothing that throws a football fan like seeing a someone in the ‘wrong’ context. David James wearing an outfield shirt. Harry Kane in goal. Jose Mourinho clad in a Tottenham Hotspur gilet.
Add to that Robbie Fowler, Blackburn centre-forward.
The problem with everyone treating football as seriously as we often do, that it’s less a job for those involved and more of a noble calling that should transcend all other considerations, is that sometimes we forget that footballers choose jobs by considering the same factors as the rest of us do.
Like the commute, for example. In the summer of 2008 Fowler, his home in West Kirby, had just completed an injury-spoiled season at Cardiff in the Championship, quad and hip problems limiting him to 16 games, none of which came after January. Cardiff, having witnessed at first-hand his limited availability, only offered him a pay-as-you-play contract, and perhaps understandably Fowler didn’t fancy tying himself to a club 177 miles away with no guarantees he would actually get any money for it.
‘Enter my old comrade Paul Ince,’ wrote Fowler in ‘My Life In Football’. Ince had just been appointed as manager of Blackburn, a club situated a much more manageable 45 minute drive away from Chez Fowler, and needed someone he could rely on. “It is not so long ago he was banging in the goals at Anfield,” said Ince shortly after Fowler signed a short-term contract at Ewood Park, thus beginning the most forgettable spell of his, or perhaps any other top-class player’s career.
Fowler sounded upbeat enough at the time. “The fact is, I turned down a contract [at Cardiff] and wanted to play back in the Premier League I think that speaks volumes,” he told the BBC after signing. “My appetite’s still big and I want to be involved in the big league.
“I’m always confident of scoring goals at any level – regardless of the fact I haven’t played that many games over the past year or two. My goals-per-game ratio is very good. I’ve only had one season out of the top flight – I’m still confident. Thankfully Blackburn have given me the chance – so it’s up to me to try and take it.”
Fowler first surfaced as a Rovers player in a League Cup game against Everton, a game they won 1-0, a game that would turn out to be the high point of Fowler’s Blackburn career. He made one Premier League start, came off the bench in a couple more and…well, that was it. His entire Rovers career lasted a cumulative total of 297 goalless minutes, and then the problems with being so closely associated with one manager appeared when things started going south under Ince.
‘For whatever reason, Blackburn were stop-start under Incey, winning difficult away games then fluffing the ones that looked easiest on paper, wrote Fowler, rather generously: Ince’s Rovers beat Newcastle at the end of September, then picked up three points from their next 11 games, before a 3-0 defeat to Wigan drew the whole sorry business to a close.
‘I knew the writing would be on the wall for me, too, and I don’t think I came back in after that to formally receive my P45,’ wrote Fowler, after Ince was sacked. ‘I can summarise my highlights in a Blackburn shirt as follows: 24th September 2008: Everton (League Cup, home), Won 1–0 – Have that, drug rumourmongers!’
And that was that. Fowler has made a fair few mistakes over the years: that gesture to Graeme Le Saux, for example, or the continued faith in those nose plasters that supposedly opened your airwaves but actually just made you look like you’d left the house without looking in the mirror.
But when asked by FourFourTwo in 2018 what the biggest regret of his career was, Fowler said: “Leaving Cardiff to join Blackburn. They were a really good club, but I’d missed games with injury and the contract I was offered wasn’t what it had been in the first year. Blackburn came in, I liked the idea of heading back north and into the Premier League, but in hindsight I should have stayed longer in Wales.’
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