The Footballer Formerly Known As Toxteth Scally made the first public appearance of his new incarnation yesterday. Articulate, thoughtful and self-aware it made one wonder how Saint Robbie had gained his previouly dubious reputation.
It has been a good week for Robbie Fowler and it could get even better. On Monday Liverpool knocked Arsenal out of the championship race and Fowler was praised for asking the referee to revoke a penalty. On Tuesday Fifa lauded him for doing so. Yesterday he dealt impressively with questions on the subject and tomorrow he will lead England's attack against Mexico at Wembley.
Even the flipside has a positive ending. Uefa yesterday fined him pounds 900 for showing a T-shirt supporting the sacked Liverpool dockers after scoring against SK Brann, of Bergen, last week. The fine is inconsequential for a man of Fowler's wealth - and is less than the contributions he and Steve McManaman have made to the dockers' fighting fund - but its imposition further strengthens Fowler's new status as a man of conscience.
Uefa, though, tempered their stringent attitude, admitting: "It may seem strange and even unfair." A spokesman, however, for the Control and Disciplinary Committee pointed out: "By lifting his shirt and displaying the message, Fowler violated Uefa regulations. Although we may sympathise with such support, it is a strict rule that a football ground is not the right stage for political demonstrations." McManaman also wore the same T-shirt but this was only revealed when he swapped shirts with a Brann player after the match. The Uefa observer appeared to miss it.
Fowler spoke after training with an England squad, which now includes Lee Bowyer, of Leeds. His call-up partially compensates for the departures, with injury, of Matt Le Tissier and Sol Campbell. Ten players have now dropped out of the original 25-man party - so far.
Liverpool had banned Fowler from talking about the fine - which is rare but in line with Uefa policy on political slogans, laid down after Swiss players unfurled an anti- nuclear poster before a European Championship qualifier against Sweden in 1995 - but he was cajoled into discussing the penalty.
"It's been a bit embarrassing," he said. "I didn't think there would be this much publicity. There are a lot of cameras at games and everything is highlighted but it was strange getting a fax from Fifa. It was just the natural thing to do. Would I do it again? I don't know, it was an instant reaction. The odd person has suggested I dived but I have never gone into a football game wanting to cheat.
"You could see my reaction straight after. I never appealed for a penalty, I got up straight away and I was about to walk away when the ref pointed to the spot. I could not believe it. I did say it [`he never touched me, it's not a penalty'], you could lip-read it on telly, but I don't know if the ref heard me."
Fowler subsequently missed the penalty - with Jason McAteer following up to score - but he stressed: "I was trying to score. I never miss on purpose, it was just a bad penalty.
"A few [of the Liverpool] players were not happy with me [for trying to change the decision]. They just wanted me to get on and score the penalty. It was a big game and if it had finished 1-1 and we had not had a penalty, we would have been gutted.
"It was important to win. A lot of people have said we are nancy boys, so it was good to show we could win at Arsenal. The criticism is uncalled for, a few of the boys have modelling contracts but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty the so-called model boys are in the thick of the action."
Fowler spoke with feeling having been mis-cast almost from the beginning of his career. His Toxteth background, a hotel-room incident and an infamous interview with Loaded were primarily responsible.
"The scally thing has been exaggerated. I've never been a bad lad. I've done one or two silly things and people think I do them all the time but I don't. I'm quite sensible. You need to keep your feet on the ground in football. Not that I'm that worried what people think of me, I'm just happy to go about my job. I haven't changed. I'm me and I won't change for anyone."
Fowler is expected to make his second start in his sixth appearance tomorrow and is looking forward to the chance. "I feel like I'm playing well at club level. All season I've had little niggles and injuries but I'm now feeling sharp and scoring a few goals."
Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, added: "Robbie's talent is there for all to see. He is a born goalscorer with wonderful movement. He is inexperienced at this level but this is a good opportunity. He will find it is different to playing in the Premiership.
"There is a lot of hard work to do first but if he can adjust, he could develop like Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer did. That's the sort of esteem he could be held in by the time he's 26 or 27."
Hoddle will not decide who partners Fowler in attack until late today. With Steve McManaman and Teddy Sheringham both doubtful, Stan Collymore may continue his club partnership.
McManaman, like Gareth Southgate, did some running yesterday but neither have trained. Nor has Sheringham but at present he is not training, except on the eve of a match, for Tottenham. If none of the trio makes it, Hoddle will be down to 14 fit outfield players. Today he will announce his third captain in five matches. Paul Ince is favourite.
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