Football: Fowler apologises for goal celebration

ROBBIE FOWLER has apologised for his controversial celebration after his first goal in Saturday's Merseyside derby.

The England striker, who scored twice in Liverpool's 3-2 Premiership victory over Everton, knelt down in front of rival supporters after his first goal from the penalty spot, put a finger to the side of his nose and appeared to sniff a white line. Fowler, whose actions were seen by millions on television, has been a target for unfounded allegations of drug-taking and his apparent imitation of cocaine snorting drew widespread criticism within the game.

Fowler, who faces a Football Association hearing on Friday on a misconduct charge for his part in a running feud with Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux during a Premiership match last month, issued a statement through Liverpool yesterday in which he apologised "unequivocally" for his goal celebration.

"Despite my actions being taken in the heat of the moment immediately following the penalty, I realise that they have caused great offence and I deeply regret that," he said in the statement. "I have been greatly distressed and hurt over the last few years by the constant allegations levelled against me regarding drug use, which have not only affected me but have been very upsetting to my family as well.

"But as an international player and a public figure, I have responsibilities and a duty to rise above such scurrilous accusations and I accept that my behaviour yesterday was totally wrong.

"I would never do anything intentionally to undermine the work being done to combat the suffering and social problems that drug abuse brings to users and their families or to drug awareness campaigns.

"I would like to say sorry to the Liverpool and Everton fans who attended the derby game and have also apologised to my manager, Gerard Houllier, and team-mates for my behaviour."

Ironically, his dispute with Le Saux revolved around the Chelsea defender's apparent interpretation of Fowler's actions in the light of a succession of gay taunts the England wing-back has endured during his career.

The FA has said it will look at a video of the celebration tomorrow morning before deciding if there is a case to answer following an incident that Houllier has dismissed as a joke.

The Liverpool manager has himself drawn criticism for his stance. The chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, said: "It's not the sort of celebration you want to see, and it's the sort of thing where the manager should say, `Okay, Robbie, you've made your point but don't do it again.'

"There's too many bad connotations. I think you've got to say, `Look, it's obvious what he's doing, okay, you know why he's done it, we don't want him doing it again'. Let's approach it that way but not try to say it's something it wasn't."

David Mellor, the head of the Football Task Force, was scathing in his attack on Fowler, and urged Liverpool to act decisively. He said: "I think someone should take him in hand. He's obviously got a problem and someone should sort him out," adding that while some of the barracking was unacceptable, Fowler was "paid a hell of a lot of money to put up with that".

The Football Supporters' Association condemned Fowler's reaction and called for the game's leading players to behave more responsibly.

John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association, said he would be contacting Houllier about the incident. He said that club chairmen, managers and players, "have to act responsibly, and if they don't, then they have to be brought to book".