By Jack Sumner
We go back 15 years and to Liverpool for the latest in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series. This game belonged to one man. A 21-year-old Robbie Fowler was just two goals shy of his century for Liverpool. ‘God’ went onto surpass the hundred mark in quite emphatic style. He got four as Liverpool pulverised Middlesbrough. You can follow Jack on Twitter @Sumna88 and read more from him and his team at Our Beautiful Game.
One of my earliest memories of a football match, the exact events of which I was recently reminded of after watching a programme entitled Liverpool’s 100 Greatest Premier League Games. It only made number 63 on the list, but for nostalgia and sentimental value it ranks as a good shout for one of my favourites!
I hadn’t expected to be going to Anfield that day. It was the Saturday following my eighth birthday, and after a morning spent playing football in the garden at a friend’s house, trying to re-create my favourite goals and celebrations – I think at the time Gazza’s against Scotland in Euro ’96 was my most prolific, but in that garden I scored hundreds of tap-ins before diving to the ground screaming ‘FOW-LER!’ – I got called inside to speak to someone on the phone. It was my dad asking me what I wanted to do that afternoon. Liverpool were at home to Middlesbrough in the late kick-off, so my plan would most likely have included watching Final Score before listening to the game on the radio. As it happened, my old man had arranged for me to go the game with my uncle.
On the way there in the car, I remember that the talk was of Robbie Fowler needing just two more goals to reach a hundred for Liverpool. To my eight-year-old mind I don’t think it quite sunk in as to how significant that was. Fowler was already a hero at Liverpool by then, and he was my favourite player by a country mile, but looking back now it amazes me to think that he was only 21 at the time. It felt like ‘God’ had been around for years, and I guess really he had, having cemented his place in the first team at the age of 17. To score that many goals for a club at senior level, at that age, is some achievement. Consider that the sensational Lionel Messi scored his hundredth goal for Barcelona last year, at the grand old age of 22.
Sitting in the Kop end before any Liverpool game is special. I may be biased, but I honestly don’t believe there is an atmosphere anywhere that beats Anfield when they play ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before kick-off. To hear that crackle over the PA system as everything goes quiet for a second, and then the song kicks in and thousands of fans hold their scarves aloft above their heads and sing along. Even watching it on television it’s spine-tingling, but being there is immense, and although that wasn’t the first game I ever went to, Liverpool at home to Middlesbrough in December 1996 is my most potent early memory of that experience.
What ensued, was not only a good day to be a Liverpool fan, but a great day to be a fan of Robbie Fowler. Middlesbrough took the kick-off and came right out-of-the-traps, ploughing bodies forward into the Liverpool half, but after winning possession on the edge of the 18-yard box Liverpool were abruptly able to turn defence into attack. A swift counter-attack spearheaded by Stan Collymore culminated with the ball falling to Fowler in front of goal, and with just 29 seconds on the clock, God stuck the ball in the back of the net for the 99th time in his professional career. Fowler ran for the corner flag, where he stopped and sarcastically checked his wrist in amazement at the time; Steve McManaman followed suit, the pair shrugged their shoulders and trudged back to the centre circle.
Collymore should have got on the score-sheet shortly thereafter, but events just seemed to conspire in Fowler’s favour. As Collymore’s effort ricocheted back off the inside of the post, Fowler found himself with the ball arriving at his feet again, only this time roughly six-yards out and staring down at an empty net. Despite losing his footing, Liverpool’s cult hero rolled the ball into the open goal with perhaps the easiest finish his fabled left-foot ever had to produce; an ironic way to score your 100th goal for the club, it was as though it was presented to him on a plate. The second goal preceded an equally memorable celebration, as Fowler lifted up his shirt to reveal a t-shirt with the words “Job’s A Good ‘Un” written in marker pen, then walking round the pitch in his typical joker fashion spending an entire minute showing the message to his team mates, something that in today’s game would probably warrant a booking. For the record books also, Fowler had achieved his century one game quicker than the club’s all time record goalscorer, Ian Rush.
Before half-time Liverpool grabbed a third. Collymore’s free-kick stung the hands of Boro’ keeper Gary Walsh, and the ball was headed in by Liverpool’s Norwegian full-back Stig Inge Bjornebye.
In the second-half Middlesbrough were to pull a goal back. That came on 75 minutes when Michael Thomas – who as anyone who has ever seen the film Fever Pitch will know, will go down in history for goals he scored against Liverpool – scored at the wrong end by turning in a Craig Hignett set piece. But this was Fowler’s day, and no ex-Arsenal legend was going to spoil it. Two minutes later he latched onto a ball from McManaman, and began a new century of goals by claiming his hat-trick, this one a composed strike to the right of the advancing Walsh.
Then with five minutes left, the result beyond doubt, and Fowler already taking home the match ball, the man with the legendary white nasal strip scored his fourth of the evening. Released by Collymore – who was fantastic on the night himself I must add, being involved in four of the goals – Fowler evaded two Boro defenders and after wrong-footing Walsh with a dummy, dinked the ball over the diving goalkeeper’s head.
Liverpool 5, Middlesbrough 1. Robbie Fowler 4. And he celebrated his fourth goal by taking a bow in front of the Kop.
If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more.
By Ollie Jackson
There have been many magical European nights at Old Trafford but few compare with this one from back in 2007. A potent Manchester United decimated a shell shocked Roma on an evening when everything Rooney, Ronaldo et al tried seemed to end up in the back of the net. You can follow Ollie on Twitter @myfootballblog and read more from him and his team at Our Beautiful Game.
‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’. For those of you not familiar with the club from the Eternal City, AS Roma are a football team who pride themselves on adhering to the aforementioned expression, which when translated, reads as follows; Roma is not to be questioned, it is to be loved. Upon interpretation, this is a statement that is designed to ensure that even the most ardent of supporters do not lose faith in their beloved side. For Roma’s Italian supporters remaining devoted is an important quality to possess and no more so than on the 10th April 2007 when the then Roma manger, Luciano Spalletti and his side travelled to Old Trafford, buoyant after conquering the English giants just one week earlier at the Stadio Olympico, in their Champions League quarter final tie.
The highly charged first leg meeting between Roma and Manchester United was witnessed by a capacity crowd of 77,000, who saw their team put two past Sir Alex Ferguson’s men courtesy of Rodrigo Taddei and Mirko Vucinic. Wayne Rooney’s priceless away goal helped ensure the tie remained alive for the second leg which would not involve Paul Scholes after the accomplished midfielder saw red in Rome for two rash tackles.
Despite returning to Manchester defeated, United remained defiant that they could overturn the one goal deficit and secure a place in the Champions League Semi Final.
Frequent visitors to Old Trafford will know that on a European night under the floodlights, the atmosphere can be so intense, so exhilarating, so emotionally overwhelming that any sign of weakness from the traveling opponents, will be quickly exposed. The United faithful are capable of producing an atmosphere so intimidating that even the most hardened of professionals can quickly be engulfed by the unrepentant waves of vocal support that time and time again inspires the home side to victory.
Prior to the second leg tie on April the 10th 2007, Roma’s notorious supporters clashed with Manchester United fans outside of Old Trafford. It is fair to say that Roma’s fans are not the most popular amongst English supporters, just ask Arsenal, Liverpool and even Middlesborough fans who have all been targeted by Roma’s Ultras, a well known group of fans intent on causing disruption be it through violence, racist propaganda or political ideologies.
Despite the rising animosity between Manchester United and AS Roma fans prior to kick off, the unrest only served to spur the home support on in a bid to extinguish any confidence that the Italian club might hold heading into the game.
As a devoted Manchester United season ticket holder, I travelled to the game with a great deal of anticipation, knowing that I along with 70,000 home supporters would be needed in order to inspire the team. So, with my scarf in hand I took my seat in the North Stand and unbeknown to me at that moment, I was about to witness one of the finest English displays in Europe.
Knowing that an early goal would unsettle Spaelletti’s side, United began with such intent that many were struggling to keep pace with the action. Much maligned midfielder Michael Carrick opened his Champions League account, scoring with a stunning effort after taking up possession following Cristiano Ronaldo’s infield pass. Upon scoring the first goal there was a real sense of belief amongst the capacity crowd that United would overcome the Italian side. So when Gabriel Heinze proceeded to slip the ball to the feet of Ryan Giggs who in turn produced a wonderfully lofted first time cross to Alan Smith who slotted in United’s second of the game, Old Trafford was in raptures, the sound of unparalleled joy echoed around the stadium. “Magical Manchester United” were the words used by ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley as Wayne Rooney made it 3-0 inside 20 minutes. Safe in the knowledge that his side were going to progress, Sir Alex Ferguson looked on as his side scored another four goals. Ronaldo followed Rooney’s effort with two goals either side of half time, the first of which was a sublime solo effort that beat the helpless Doni at his near post. His second of the game came courtesy of Ryan Giggs who played a magnificent ball that alluded the Roma defence and allowed Ronaldo to secure United’s fifth. Manchester United’s sixth goal was scored by Carrick who surpassed his earlier effort with a quite incredible strike from a distance.
Not even a 69th minute goal from Roma talisman Daniele De Rossi could spare the Italians a humiliating night at the hands of the Red Devils. As if to add insult to injury, Patrice Evra, not known for his goal scoring prowess completed the rout and made it Manchester United 7-1 AS Roma.
On a night whereby Europe’s elite looked on in awe as Manchester United demolished any lingering integrity that the unpopular club once held, attention quickly turned to how in just 90 minutes Ferguson’s side had all but erased the reputation of Serie A. Despite failing to progress to the final after being defeated by AC Milan in the semi final, there was growing confidence around the club that United would soon add to the two European Cups previously acquired in 1968 and 1999. That expectation has been proven right as currently, United are in pole position to compete in their third Champions League final in just four years, after claiming the prestigious crown in 2008, one year on from their captivating performance against Roma at Old Trafford.
I leave you with this, and it is in reference to my opening sentence. ‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’ – On that memorable night in Manchester, United single handedly nullified any lasting significance behind Roma’s cherished motto. It is easy to love a football club, but it is nigh on impossible to not question the ability of your side after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of one of the most successful domestic clubs to have ever of graced the European stage.
If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more.
By Tom Victor
This is the first international match in our series and what a corker it is. A fary cry from the tedious tripe which was all too prevalent in South Africa, this one is a thrilling end-to-end affair. Admire the moves, the goals and some world-class saves from a match which literally had everything. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tomvictor and read more of his work at his Footy Matters column.
I have maintained for some time that the bulk of the criticism levelled at the 2010 World Cup came from the fact that we were spoiled so much by the three major tournaments which preceded it. Euro 2008 had the thrilling semi-final between Germany and Turkey, while two years earlier Jose Pekerman’s Argentina gave a footballing lesson to Serbia and Montenegro in one of the best attacking displays in recent memory. And these competitions were by no means defined by those single matches alone: in Germany and just across the border in Austria and Switzerland we saw a month-long display of top quality football, dismissing the myths that international tournaments did not represent the highest stage for a whole host of players.
2006 and 2008 were brilliant, but you have to go back a little further to find my favourite match.
A truly great game should be played out at breakneck speed, involve two well-matched teams without the rivals cancelling each other out, have controversial talking points, not to mention plenty of goalmouth action of the highest quality. Czech Republic v Holland at Euro 2004 had all of this and more.
After one match in the group of death, the Czechs had edged past outsiders Latvia while a late Ruud van Nistelrooy equaliser helped rescue a point for Dick Advocaat’s side against a Germany side for whom that 1-1 draw would prove a high-point.
Karel Bruckner’s squad took on the mantle of dark horses despite most observers beyond the mainstream media recognising them as far more than that. Jan Koller had finished the season with his best ever Bundesliga tally of 16 goals, Karel Poborsky was enjoying a renaissance at Sparta Prague, and Pavel Nedved was playing some of the best football of his career. There was also an intriguing side-plot set to develop, with Petr Cech lining up against Arjen Robben. The duo were set to join Chelsea after the competition as a parting gift from Claudio Ranieri, and their performances here would give a taste of things to come for the future English champions.
The Dutch may have lost out to Bruckner’s men in qualification, earning the Czechs a modicum of revenge for their Euro 2000 defear but a 6-1 playoff victory over Scotland demonstrated that there were goals in this side. Ruud van Nistelrooy had found the net 30 times for Manchester United in the season prior, and he was flanked by Robben and Internazionale winger Andy van der Meyde in an exciting front three.
The Czechs will have been well aware of their opponents’ firepower, but could hardly have expected the Oranje to get off to as fast and clinical a start as they did. Koller and Marek Jankulovski had already had time to miss a couple of presentable chances before Robben’s 4th-minute free-kick was headed in at the back post by an unmarked Wilfried Bouma.
And almost before their shell-shocked opponenents had time to settle, a controversial second followed. Van Nistelrooy was clearly beyond the last Czech defender when Edgar Davids found Robben with a precision through-ball, but took full advantage of the newly-implemented ‘separate phases’ element to the offside rule and ambled forward to tuck home his team-mate’s low cross as static defenders looked on dumbfounded.
Many teams might have given up when trailing the Dutch by two goals not twenty minutes into the game, opting for damage-limitation ahead of a winnable third tie against an aging German side, but the Czechs were in the mood for no such thing. Indeed the sense of injustice brought on by van Nistelrooy’s goal – whether warranted or not – may have been just what they needed to wake from their slumber.
Of course the comeback was helped by a misplaced pass from Gio van Bronckhorst a couple of minutes later. That error let in Milan Baros, the archetype of a player who saves his best performances for the big occasions, burst forward before keeping his cool with Edwin van der Sar closing in to feed Koller, and the lumbering striker slotted home to halve the deficit.
Some stunning saves from van der Sar and Cech followed, as both defences appeared to sit back and admire their respective opponents’ attacking flair, the pick of them from the former Rennes number one to tip over Johnny Heitinga’s rising 30-yard effort. There was even time for Davids to smack a low shot against the inside of Cech’s left-hand post before the half was up.
After the break Cech kept his side in it once more, denying van Nistelrooy with his feet, while at the other end Nedved and Poborsky were plugging away with plenty of skill but little reward. Not long later it was van der Sar’s turn, preventing a near-certain equaliser from Vladimir Smicer with a fingertip save. The two goalkeepers were as flamboyant as they were busy, and it would clearly take something special to add to the three goals the game had brought so far.
That special moment arrived with 20 minutes left on the clock, and epitomised everything Bruckner’s Czech Republic side were about. Nedved cut inside from the left to swing in an inch-perfect cross, Koller played a cushioned chest-pass of which Ronaldinho would be proud. It fell perfectly for the advancing Baros and the Liverpool striker rifled a shot into the top corner with such ferocity that even a parked bus could not have stopped it.
Even with the score tantalisingly poised at 2-2, tension was never going to overcome these two attacking powerhouses. A game of chicken ensued, with neither side prepared to sit back and let the opposition come on to them, which of course was an absolute treat to everyone watching.
The pace was too much for Heitinga, who picked up his second yellow for a shove on Nedved as the winger burst forward, after which the Dutch threat was restricted somewhat and the Juve man came inches away from a winner when his 35-yard shot came back off the woodwork, but it took until the 88th minute for the dramatic winner which a game of this calibre richly deserved.
Van Bronckhorst surrendered possession in the Czech half, setting up a lightning break made even more remarkable by the energy-sapping 87 minutes which had come before it. Marek Heinz’s low shot towards the bottom corner was parried out as far as Poborsky, who proceeded to demonstrate the phenomenal calmness under pressure which saw him net the goal of the tournament at Euro 96 and a £4m move to Old Trafford that same summer.
With the winger five yards from goal and with a chance of glory, it would have been easy for Poborsky to close his eyes and hope his effort snuck past the advancing van der Sar. However, with the Dutch goalkeeper rising from sleeping lion to Schmeichel-esque star-jump in a split second, the veteran looked up and calmly squared the ball for Smicer to tap into the empty net.
The final whistle was greeted by tears of joy for the Czechs, dumbfounded shakes of the head from the Dutch, and a realisation from fans and neutrals alike that they had witnessed one of the greatest games in European Championship – if not football – history.
The statistics do not lie: 36 shots, 21 on target, and 90 minutes of end-to-end football. It was not just the excitement which makes this such a memorable game, but also the consistently-high level of football which has rarely been matched before or since.
If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more.