ON THIS DAY IN FOOTBALL | 27 MARCH

Fowler shows support for Liverpool's dock workers (1997)

Fowler shows support for Liverpool's dock workers (1997)

In 1995 there was a long dispute between Liverpool dock workers and their employers, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC). The conflict began when workers refused to cross a picket in a show of solidarity with another group of dockers who had been sacked by a different company. The 500 men who had shown support for fellow workers were accused of acting in breach of their contracts and were sacked, from one day to the next, by MDHC. Some were later readmitted after MDHC buckled to public pressure, but under worse working conditions than before. The city of Liverpool was going through a difficult time as it was, the general public were very sensitive to the ongoing and seemingly endless dispute. Two Liverpool FC players, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, decided to do something to show solidarity with the workers; while over on the other side of Stanley Park, Everton's Duncan Ferguson also stated he too was right behind the sacked dockers. On the eve of the Champions League meeting with SK Brann on 20 March, McManaman and Fowler decided to wear a second shirt under their LFC one, with a message for the dock workers.  McManaman advised his team mate that they should not display the shirts they were wearing underneath until after the final whistle, when both teams exhanged shirts - the gesture would have the same impact, but was more likely to go under the radar of the relevant football authorities.

But when Fowler scored his second goal of the night, giving Liverpool a comfortable 3-0 advantage and practically sentencing the tie, he forgot about the agreement made with McManaman, lifted his jersey, under which was another red top, emblazoned with the words: 'Support the 500 sacked doCKers». The 'CK' in the word 'doCKers' being the logo Calvin Klein, who had given the shirts to both players, which converted the action in to something which could have been perceived as brand integration, unintentional advertising.

Fowler stood, in clear view of the press photographers, with his Liverpool top hiked up to show the one underneath; it caused a huge scandal and the media was divided on the issue. Some thought it was brave and praiseworthy for a player to come out and show support for the disadvantaged, for others, it was an inopportune reaction while also giving Calvin Klein free publicity.

The problem was still generating debate four days later when Liverpool visited Arsenal at Highbury. During the game, Fowler, who was a quick, creative, skillful and opportunistic striker, scampered into David Seaman's penalty area and fell at the keeper's feet. A penalty was awarded but Fowler strode over to the ref to tell him that it wasn't a penalty. The ref had already blown his whistle and there was no way he could now back down on his decision; so Fowler decided to take the spot-kick himself - and missed. Two days later, on 26 March, he received a telegram from FIFA president Joseph Blatter, which read: "I wish to congratulate you for your act of sportsmanship". But the following day, March 27th, he received a very different communiqué from UEFA, who during the previous week had studied the shirt supporting the dockers: "It seemed strange and unsportsmanlike…" the letter began. Fowler was issued a 900 pound fine. In the space of 24 hours he had been a hero for FIFA and a villain for UEFA. The player later explained: "The dockers were getting a lot of stick for what they were doing and what they believed in and we believed in what they were trying to do. I was fined the equivalent of 900 pound but there was collections going round Anfield which proved how much that support meant to them".