Played 15, won 2, drawn 7, lost 6.
Twelve goals scored, 20 conceded, 3 red cards, and now, a four-match ban plus a Rs. 5-lakh (~US$6,860) fine for the manager.
With SC East Bengal sitting 10th in the table with five games to go, Robbie Fowler’s Indian Super League (ISL) career, as head coach of one of the nation’s oldest clubs, has been… colourful.
The ban, which effectively ends his match-day appearances for the season, concludes a series of frank and often controversial comments the Englishman has made all through the season, right from day one. We look back at SCEB’s 2020-21 campaign through the words of the man himself.
Nov. 27: ATK Mohun Bagan 2-0 SC East Bengal
“We weren’t overawed against the team who were champions last year. It’s tough with the squad we got and we were the last team to put a squad together.”
What happened: EB started a week after ATKMB’s first game. It was a hastily-put-together squad under a coach who was the last to arrive in India against one that won the tournament the previous season under the coach who had won it for them. It showed.
Dec. 1: Mumbai City FC 3-0 SC East Bengal
“We are still coaching players; some Indian players look like they haven’t been coached before…”
“I think a few of them have probably never been coached before, and that’s what we are doing…”
“We are here to make the Indian players better and that takes good coaching. I don’t think they’ve had that in the years gone by”
What happened: Thoroughly outclassed by an expensive, carefully-assembled team, Fowler was quick to explain whose fault it was.
Dec. 5: NorthEast United FC 2-0 SC East Bengal
“Tonight was our worst performance… [But] we definitely deserved more from this game. If not a win, at least a draw. We deserved two penalties. I’m not saying we depend only on these decisions but imagine us scoring those. I know the referees have a hard job in the middle. But the consistency of the bad decisions is too hard to digest.”
What happened: What looked like proper fouls on Jacques Maghoma and Anthony Pilkington went unheeded, which Fowler did not hesitate to point out. Defensive lapses, meanwhile, cost them all three points at the other end, as Fowler explained.
Dec. 10: SC East Bengal 0-0 Jamshedpur FC
“We finally got a point so we’ll settle for that. Every game we’ve played so far the soft decisions have never gone our way. And today’s referee was no different. We can’t even have proper conversations with the fourth official. The standard of refereeing has to improve.”
What happened: Eugeneson Lyngdoh was sent off early on (24′) after two wild lunges in the space of five minutes. Lyngdoh appeared to get the ball with one boot, but with the other connecting with Alex Lima‘s knees, the referee’s decision was understandable. Jamshedpur also had a player (Laldinliana Renthlei) sent off in second half stoppage time.
Dec. 15: Hyderabad FC 3-2 SC East Bengal
“We had two and a half weeks with a team that was gauged for the I-League. A lot of our players are struggling now in the ISL. I don’t really know what else to do. We give them everything and we are here for them but performance wise in games it hasn’t been good enough. Ultimately the recruitment has not been kind to us… The performance of some players is not good enough, it’s not ISL standard.”
What happened: Hyderabad dominated the first half, yet conceded two goals to neatly-worked counterattacks from EB. Hyderabad dominated the second half as well and, having brought on Liston Colaco, scored three goals. Once again, Fowler pivoted to the lack of quality in the squad, and the fact that they were picked for the I-League.
On an unrelated note, Colaco had spent most of last season on the fringes of a struggling Hyderabad team, and the season before that with the FC Goa developmental team in I-League II.
Dec. 20: Kerala Blasters FC 1-1 SC East Bengal
“We were very good today… But the man in the middle (referee) keeps spoiling our games and we will complain about him again. Lots of decisions went against us. Every one of their players is going around kicking everyone and he [referee] does not say anything to them.”
What happened: East Bengal utterly dominated the game, but conceded an injury-time equaliser against fellow strugglers Kerala Blasters.
Dec. 26: SC East Bengal 2-2 Chennaiyin FC
“I want to win every game. We are playing with what we got. Our players are giving everything. It’s rich coming from you sitting there. There are positive signs there… It’s easy to sit and criticise… Let’s start with positives here.”
(Fowler, responding to comments from ISL pundit Eelco Schattorie on the poor nature of their first half display)
What happened: Chennaiyin dominated vast swathes of the game, created a bucketload of chances, but failed to convert most of them. EB stayed in the game, and got back through two well-executed set-piece goals.
Jan. 3: SC East Bengal 3-1 Odisha FC
“It’s always nice to get a win [his first as EB coach]. It was a good, professional performance. We have a way of playing and we want to keep it simple. We want the players to get comfortable in possession and try to win the game that way.”
What happened: EB played bottom-dwellers Odisha off the park. Fowler was understandably pleased and expounded on his footballing philosophy post-match.
Jan. 6: SC East Bengal 1-1 FC Goa
“[I am] delighted, I think we did well. But every game we are up against the referee. And we have to live with that. I don’t know why [Danny Fox] was sent off. The attitude, intention and desire was brilliant from the team after being reduced to 10.”
What happened: Fox was sent off for what the referee adjudged to be an out-of-control lunge just before the hour mark. Which appeared a reasonable take. Bright Enobakhare then scored one of the best goals the tournament has ever seen, before 11-men Goa equalised two minutes later. East Bengal also had what looked like a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed.
Fowler was booked for his conduct. Meanwhile, EB lodged an official complaint with the AIFF. The federation’s Disciplinary Committee (made entirely of members from outside the football industry) ruled that the sending off was ‘an error apparent on the part of the referee and calls for rectifying the same in the interests of fair play.’ The card, and ban, were overturned.
Jan. 9: Bengaluru FC 0-1 SC East Bengal
Fowler was suspended for the match.
What happened: EB were comfortably the better team, and rarely looked likely to drop points. Fox played.
Jan. 15: SC East Bengal 1-1 Kerala Blasters FC
“We weren’t up to the mark. The goal we conceded was a silly one. We want to play free-flowing football with quick touches. We need to minimise our errors and play extra aggressive.”
What happened: Exactly what happened in the reverse fixture, except in, er, reverse. Kerala Blasters utterly dominated the game, but EB managed an injury-time equaliser.
Jan. 18: Chennaiyin FC 0-0 East Bengal
“I am massively disappointed with the referee’s performance again. We’ve had a lot of injustice again… our players were getting kicked left, right and centre and the referee didn’t [book them]. It’s bordering on disgraceful sometimes [the refereeing decisions]. I am mentally exhausted because I am fighting battles with the referees every single game. It’s an absolute joke. We can’t keep doing this.”
“A few players persistently foul our players and as soon as our players go near the opposition players, the referee is unbelievably quick to get a yellow card out. It’s quite frightening. I’m not calling them cheats, I’m not saying that, I think it’s bordering on the cheating for us. It’s not right and can’t be going on. We are not getting any help from referees.”
When ISL analyst Pradhyum Reddy asked if he was embarrassed about his bench’s behaviour in-game, Fowler responded rather vehemently.
“Why should we be embarrassed? We feel we have to help them get the decisions, because they have been appalling… [The question is] absolutely disgraceful and ridiculous. It’s rich from you to say that ‘you should be appalled’. I will look at the record and see some of your history to see if you have taken it on board and I bet you haven’t! I want to look after my team and players, and if they aren’t looked after by the referees, then it’s up to us to do something… I apologise to people back home if they heard us swear but you know what, it’s a man’s game and we are playing at a level where people do swear.”
What happened: Ajay Chhetri was sent off just past the half-hour mark for two quick yellows, one a blatant pull back on Anirudh Thapa, the other a late swipe of a challenge on Rahim Ali. Chennaiyin had 14 shots on goal to EB’s four.
Jan. 22: SC East Bengal 0-1 Mumbai City FC
“We were brilliant in the second half. This was a much-improved performance and I was happy for my players… It took a little long for players to adapt to the game. Some of them weren’t up to the mark. So I made tweaks in the final 45 minutes.”
What happened: EB played arguably their best football of the season yet, passing Mumbai City off the park in the second half. They out-shot, out-passed and out-possessed the league’s best team.
Jan. 29: FC Goa 1-1 SC East Bengal
“We should have beat them twice this season. Frustrated with the referee’s performance, thought it was awful. Every time the players went near our players, he was getting conned. I am not sure if it’s an anti-English or anti-East Bengal thing, we get no help whatsoever. Our players are getting swiped all the time.”
When an analyst pointed out EB had been lucky to get an early penalty (no discernible contact, but Pilkington missed the kick).
“What about all the other penalties [EB didn’t get]?… We are at the end of the season, how much can [the referees] learn? They can’t keep making mistakes every time. I have been vocal on this. Whoever makes the loudest noise, the referee quickly gets the card out. Maybe I should ask my players to do the same. I do believe they are trying but they need help because there’s a lot at stake. There are a lot of eyes watching them and this doesn’t look good on the league.”
What happened: — A player was sent off, but it was FC Goa captain Edu Bedia, in the 66th minute. EB dominated thereafter, with most stats in their favour, except the all-important one. As was evident in the post-match comments. The AIFF would pull up Fowler for those comments and he would have to face a hearing in front of the disciplinary committee.
Feb. 2: SC East Bengal 0-2 Bengaluru FC
“This is probably our worst performance of the year. Bengaluru was the only team fighting today. Some of our players had a very bad game. If you are given opportunities you need to take them. It was extremely disappointing to see us fail on the field.”
What happened: EB totally dominated the ball (72% possession, more than 2.5 times the passes), yet BFC totally controlled the game. This was the first match of the season where EB failed to register a shot on target. Fowler’s comments made it quite clear who was at fault.
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Post this match, Fowler was banned for four games by the AIFF disciplinary Committee for his comments after the match against FC Goa. They ruled that his comments cast ‘gross inconceivable derogatory and contemptuous aspersions’ and showed ‘blatant malice’ on Fowler’s part.
Fowler issued an apology for his behaviour and said his “intentions had been to protect his players and the team”.
The ban also means that he will only take the touchline for the last league-stage match of the season, against Odisha FC, on February 27.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)