“It comes to something when you can say that Robbie Fowler is the top scorer at Filbert Street.”
In one sad sentence Leicester City manager Dave Bassett explained why his squad were all but doomed as the 2001-02 Premiership season entered the finishing straight.
A 2-0 win for Leeds United at Leicester’s old ground was a nail in their coffin – and a shot in the arm for a club who were desperately trying to reach the Champions League again.
Leicester’s problems were terminal in the context of their league status but United had endured a troubled winter amid poor form, the end of the criminal trial involving Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer and David O’Leary’s dubious decision to publish a book about life in the thick of it all.
Despite that, Leeds were clinging on in the fight for Champions League qualification and the club were starting to see that their financial position depended on it. Leicester away was a third win in a row; a spurt of form just as O’Leary needed it, even if the dawn was false.
Fowler had scored a hat-trick at Filbert Street for Liverpool earlier that season, prior to his £11m transfer to Elland Road. Over the course of 19 home games, Leicester produced only 15 goals in total. On March 23, Fowler struck for Leeds on the half-hour, 13 minutes after Mark Viduka broke the deadlock with an opportunistic header and his first goal in 12 games.
Viduka created Fowler’s effort by unleashing a shot which goalkeeper Ian Walker tipped onto the crossbar. Fowler, as he had so often for Liverpool, popped up in the right place to turn home the rebound.
In a campaign when Leicester won only five league games, they were not about to peg Leeds back from there.
In later years Fowler described the win as “one of my better games of the club”; by his own admission, no particularly great claim. “I left feeling pretty satisfied with myself, not least because that win put us back on track a bit and gave us an outside chance of making the Champions League,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Fowler’s satisfaction was strangely short-lived. On the Monday morning police officers from the Leicestershire constabulary were waiting for him at United’s training ground. In his Liverpool days, Fowler had been fined by the Football Association for baring his backside at Filbert Street but several years on he was nonplussed about the reasons for the police presence at Thorp Arch.
“When I got in, they sat me down and with a real sense of gravity, they said they were investigating a claim of serious assault, committed by me at Filbert Street at approximately 2.35pm on Saturday, March 23, 2002,” Fowler recalled.
“I got a bit panicky and started to shout: ‘What’s all this about? Who am I supposed to have assaulted? Who has made these trumped-up accusations against me?’ The policemen, who had driven all the way up from Leicester, looked at each other and then said, graver still: ‘Filbert The Fox.’”
An amused Fowler conceded that during the warm-up, and in between firing shots at Leicester’s mascot, he had taken the liberty of clipping him playfully around the ear. “That was it, a little tap around his big fat head,” Fowler said. “The bloody idiot complained to the police and they were duty-bound to travel all the way up the motorway to interview me.”
Surprisingly enough, no charges were ever brought.
Leicester City 0
Leeds United 2 (Viduka 15, Fowler 31)
Barclays Premiership, Saturday, March 23, 2002.
Leicester City: Walker, Ashton, Laursen, Elliot, Marshall (Sinclair 53), Oakes (T. Wright 86), Izzet, Savage, Piper, Dickov, Deane. Unused subs: Flowers, Benjamin, Heath.
Leeds United : Martyn, Mills, Woodgate, Matteo, Harte, Batty, Dacourt (Johnson 14), Kewell, Smith, Viduka, Fowler. Unused subs: Kelly, Keane, Robinson, Wilcox.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).