Liverpool 18-year-old wonderkid steals the show as dressing room whispers proved right

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Little did the 13,599 who braved the wind and rain at Craven Cottage know they were witnessing a piece of Liverpool history.

With seven minutes remaining and the Reds leading Fulham 2-1 in their League Cup second round first leg tie, Don Hutchison received the ball on the right flank and swept a dangerous cross into the penalty area.

And there, at the far post, was an 18-year-old striker who finished first-time into the net to mark his senior debut with a well-earned goal.

It was 29 years ago today the player who would later simply become known as ‘God’ to his team-mates first pulled on a Liverpool shirt and didn’t waste any time in making an impact.

Mind you, it had in some ways been a long time coming. Having been spotted as an under-14 by the Reds, the forward – who was brought up as a rabid Everton supporter – soon began impressing with his goalscoring exploits as he made his way through the youth ranks.

Fowler was only 17 when he was first involved in a matchday squad, an unused substitute in the miserable 2-0 FA Cup home defeat to Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup in January 1993 before being again left on the bench for the 6-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of that season.

A few months later, though, opportunity came knocking. Liverpool were in a poor run of form – a few days earlier, they had lost 2-0 at Everton with Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve McManaman involved in an on-pitch spat after one goal – and manager Graeme Souness was under increasing pressure.

The Reds needed an fresh injection of hope. And Souness turned to Fowler – a decision that brought a temporary halt to the forward’s usual laidback manner.

“My dad had travelled down to London to stay with some cousins, just in case,” says Fowler. “He rang the night before to find out, but I’d been told nothing. Then, before we had tea around about five in the afternoon, Souey pulled me to one side and said I was in. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I never get nervous, but make that one exception.

“I remember seeing my dad climbing the fence in the Liverpool end before kick-off, and putting his fist in the air to tell me to go out and do it. I was standing there as we were about to kick-off, looking around and thinking that it just couldn’t real, me lining up alongside some of these players. Me and Ian Rush, up front together. Get out of here. It was unreal.

“Rushie scored early on, Nigel Clough got a second just before half-time, and I had a hand in both of those goals. At half-time the manager said that I had done well, been unselfish, and to keep it up. Fulham made it 2-1 after the break, then with seven minutes left the moment arrived that will live with me for the rest of my life. My first goal for Liverpool.

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“Don Hutchison was way out on the right and sent in a deep cross. The Fulham keeper stayed on his line, I ran in and met it perfectly on the half-volley from the left-hand edge of the six-yard box. I knew it was in as soon as I hit it, and I didn’t even know what to do. The Liverpool fans were in that corner, so I turned to them first, and then turned back to my team-mates with a stupid big grin on my face. What a moment, my head was a bag of clouds.”

For Fowler, though, almost just as important was the reaction afterwards of one Liverpool legend.

“In the dressing room they were all congratulating me, telling me how well I’d done, but Ronnie Moran, he was brilliant,” says Fowler. “I always liked him. He was really pleased, said I had done very, very well, but he said the job was to ensure it didn’t go to my head.

“Ronnie didn’t speak loudly – so he was almost whispering when he talked to me – and said that a good player would build on that start, would take it into the next game and show he could do it again. The trick was to be doing that in six months, and then six years. It wasn’t negative because he was thrilled for me, just like the gaffer, but he wanted it to be the start. And I listened.”

And listen Fowler did. He kept his place in the starting line-up and, two weeks later, s cored all five goals in the 5-0 win over Fulham in the return leg, only the fifth player in the club’s history to achieve such a feat – in his fourth-ever senior outing. By the end of the season he’d scored 18 goals, including the winner in a derby against his boyhood club.

When he made an emotional second farewell to Anfield almost 14 years later, Fowler had scored 183 goals in 369 appearances, sixth on the club’s all-time list.

In terms of being a pure natural goalscorer, Fowler remains arguably the best in Liverpool’s history and the finest to emerge from England since the late Jimmy Greaves.

And it all started at a wet and windy corner of south London almost three decades ago. ‘God’ was first among us.

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