It’s one of the most infamous celebrations in football history.
In 1999, after scoring a penalty at Anfield, Robbie Fowler knelt down next to the byline and pretended to snort the white chalk.
Something that’s often overlooked: he did it twice.
Even in 1999, long before the term ‘cancel culture’ existed, simulating drug use in front of thousands of spectators (and millions of viewers) was considered a major discretion.
The man the Anfield faithful called ‘God’ was suspended for four games.
He also incurred an additional two-game ban for another offence – more on that later.
Fowler was ordered pay a fine of £32,000 — a Premier League record at the time and over three times what Millwall were fined for racist chanting in 2019.
Why did he do it?
Opposition fans alleged Fowler was a cocaine user and, despite no supporting evidence, the joke lasted several years.
The legendary No9 wore a nasal strip when playing to aid his breathing that acted as a visual cue for fans (particularly Evertonians) to hurl abuse.
This had reached a peak when Everton strolled across Stanley Park for the second Merseyside derby of the 1998/99 season.
After 15 minutes, Fowler equalised from 12 yards and let his emotions get the better of him, playing up to his rivals’ jibes before going on to score a brace as part of a 3-2 win.
He apologised profusely but the FA showed little sympathy.
This may be because Fowler had been involved in a controversial moment five weeks before the line-sniffing celebration.
At the end of February, he was involved in an ugly spat with Graeme Le Saux at Stamford Bridge.
After some verbals, Fowler presented his buttocks to the Chelsea left-back in a gesture that was deemed to be homophobic.
Le Saux – a heterosexual who has a wife and two kids – suffered homophobic abuse throughout his career simply because he rejected the uber-masculine culture prevalent in the average Premier League dressing room.
Fowler’s double faux pas (homophobia, drug references) meant he was suspended for six games at the end of the 1998/1999 season.
Did his behaviour cost him a Golden Boot?
Fowler finished the season with 14 goals, which is a relatively modest total when you think of a potential top scorer.
However, that was a consistent theme in 1998/99, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Dwight Yorke and Michael Owen sharing the Golden Boot with 18 goals each at the end of the season.
You may be questioning whether Fowler would have scored the four goals necessary to get in on the action if he hadn’t incurred a six-game ban.
We’ll never know for certain of course but we can use stats to estimate.
He scored 14 goals in 25 games in 1998/99, meaning he averaged 0.56 goals per league game.
His goal-per-90mins ratio is even better, since we know he was involved in substitutions that season, though we can’t provide a detailed number because stats-providers didn’t track minutes played back then.
Using these numbers, we can guess that Fowler would have scored between three and four goals in the games that he missed as a result of his punishment.
If you consider form, his chances improve further, he had scored five goals in three games by the time the Merseyside derby concluded.
He wouldn’t have had to overperform on his average by much to take a share of the widely-desired prize.
And that’s not insignificant when you consider the fact Fowler never won a Premier League Golden Boot.
He scored 163 goals in the English top flight but was outscored by at least one other player in every one of his 15 seasons.
In fact, no other striker in Premier League history has scored more goals without acquiring at least one Golden Boot.
So what’s the story? Footballer’s behaviour hinders their career?
Hardly a unique a narrative but one that reinforces the importance of professionalism, even for those who were born to score goals.