The 1980s were a simpler, but in many ways a better time. A tweet was a bird’s way of talking shite and not a humans, One Direction hadn’t been born yet, Mr T still wasn’t going on no plane and everyone dreamed of what it would be like after the year 2000 when everyone’s chosen mode of transport would be Marty McFly’s hoverboard from “Back to the Future”.
Similarly in the world of football things were just feckin’ fantastic. Dodgy moustaches were the order of the day; players wore the shortest shorts imaginable while still not feeling the need to shave their legs for aerodynamics; the football hardman was alive and well and stitching a striker with a headbutt was a yellow card offence. Ah…the good old days.
You may say that the reason for my warm and fuzzy nostalgia is because I’m a Liverpool fan…and that would probably be fair enough. The eighties were a time when Liverpool dominated the sport playing some of the finest pass and move football that the English game has ever seen and winning everything imaginable in the process. A big ingredient in this was the owner of one of the previously mentioned dodgy muzzies, Mr Ian Rush.
Rushie is a man who needs little introduction. Liverpool have been blessed with some exceptional striking talent over the years, but they all pale in comparisson to the Welshman. Scoring 346 goals in his time in a red shirt he is Liverpool’s all time top goalscorer; a man so clinical he could put most surgeons to shame.
Perhaps this would explain why I was a little bit nervous going to interview him. I didn’t know whether I should be writing down what he was saying or kissing those feet which had scored so many vital goals and won so much for Liverpool.
But professionality was the order of the day so I resisted the urge to tell him how fantastic he was and sing his song at the top of my voice in front of him.
Signing for Liverpool as a scrawny 18 year old Welsh kid, few could’ve predicted that Rushie would become such a sensation on Merseyside. It wasn’t all plain sailing though and he had a difficult start to his career trying to fit in with some of the biggest names in football. With contract sagas and cocky kids seemingly the order of the day at Liverpool at the moment, he revealed that wily old Bob Paisley had a method for dealing with that type of situation.
“Well nothing is easy at 18,” he said. “I came into a dressing room with the likes of Dalglish and Souness and they did nothing but take the piss out of me. I came to realise though that that it was all about team spirit and getting me into the dressing room banter. Years later I’d do the same to new signings. It’s all different now for young players though.”
After settling and getting a couple of goals under his belt, the young Welshman figured that his paycheque could stand to get a bit heavier.
“I remember going to Bob after my first season and asking for a rise,” he recalled. “He just turned to me and said ‘No. You’ve not scored a goal.’ I was angry with this attitude and told him that I wanted to leave and he said ‘Ok, you’re going on the transfer list.’ After that I started playing for myself and for a move. I scored six goals in a week. After a while Bob called me into the office again and said ‘I’m gonna give you that rise’. I said ‘Does that mean I’m off the transfer list?’ and he just smiled and said ‘Son, you were never on the transfer list!’ People go on about Mourinho in this day and age, but these new guys can’t hold a candle to the likes of Shankly and Paisley. Bob could say in ten words what it would take managers ten minutes to say these days.”
Once Rush started scoring, he couldn’t stop. People talk about Suarez, Messi and Neymar being one of the best partnerships in the modern era, but back in the day Dalglish and Rush had such an intuitive partnership that I bet Rushie could tell what the Glaswegian had had for breakfast before he turned up for training in the morning.
“Kenny was an incredible player. He couldn’t run, he couldn’t head…I haven’t a clue what it was but he was special,” Rush laughed. “He’d say to me ‘When I get the ball, run into that space’ and sure enough it arrived every time. People often ask me if our relationship was telepathic, I think it was because half the time I couldn’t understand a word he was saying! Kenny had everything in his locker though and was without doubt the best I’ve played with.”
It’s not overly romantic to say that together, Rush and Dalglish conquered the world. With Rush having only played a minor part in the 1981 European Cup triumph, their partnership was in full bloom by the time the 1984 European Cup final rolled around and Liverpool faced the daunting task of facing Roma in their own back yard.
“We were very much going into the lion’s den,” Ian recalled. “I had scored 49 goals that season though and as a team we felt invincible. A lot of teams would’ve whinged about playing Roma in their own back yard but we were confident and we just got on with it. Of the 80,000 fans, probably only around 10,000 were Liverpool, but we could hear them and that made all the difference.”
A famous story recalls the Liverpool players lining up in the tunnel before the game alongside their Roma counterparts. There was a short delay in getting onto the pitch at which point Craig Johnston started singing Chris Rea’s “I Don’t Know What it is but I Love It” at the top of his voice and was quickly joined by the rest of his teammates.
“That’s a true story yeah,” Rushie grinned. “There was a great buzz and we all just started singing. That’s what it’s all about. The Italian lads were looking at us like we were mad. It was a special moment.”
After a tough fought game, a penalty shoot-out, famous for Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs, was required to separate the teams.
“Of course the occasion and atmosphere played on my mind when taking my penalty,” he said. “I think that walk from the halfway line with 80,000 fans whistling was the longest ever. Once I got the ball in my hands it was a bit easier. We never knew what Brucie was going to do at any moment, but obviously it worked.”
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Joe Fagan’s team that lifted that European Cup in ’84 to add to the League title and League Cup were the type of team that only comes along once in a generation. The following year the team once again made it to the final of Europe’s biggest football competition in a bid to make it five European Cups and bring the trophy back to Merseyside for keeps. What followed, however, was one of the darkest periods in the club’s history.
Before the game 39 fans lost their lives when an element of Liverpool fans charged the Juventus end and a wall collapsed. To avoid any more trouble, the authorities decided to go ahead with the game. Evidently it’s still something that’s tough for Rush to talk about.
“I don’t want to talk too much about it,” he said. “But we didn’t know what we were doing. We were hearing all kinds of rumours, but we knew people had died. We just wanted to get the game over. Juventus’s goal came from a penalty that wasn’t a penalty and then we should have had a penalty too, but not one of us offered any complaints. It became meaningless.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t the only tragedy the club was to bear. In 1989, 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives when they were crushed at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. The event took a massive toll on the families, the club, the players and particularly manager Kenny Dalglish.
In a strange twist of fate, Liverpool were to contest the FA Cup Final that year against neighbours Everton and Rush would again emerge the hero.
“That was a great day for Merseyside,” he said. “It was a great final and a great reflection of the city. There was red and blue all around the stadium and I don’t think that will ever happen again. Scoring two in that game is a feeling I’ll never forget. When I scored usually I’d run to the Liverpool fans, but I didn’t know where to run. The whole stadium was red and blue. It was really special.”
While Liverpool have had their share of outstanding strikers, they have also had their fair share of painful goodbyes, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, being the most recent painful break ups. As someone who did try his luck abroad for a spell himself, Rushie has a message for any wantaway Liverpool stars – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. He is refreshingly honest about his time in Italy with Juventus.
“I went for the money,” he laughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. As well as that, the best players were in Italy at that stage. I found the football very boring over there and I didn’t enjoy it. It was about the individual in Italy, at Liverpool it was about the team. After my first season there, they signed Rui Baros and I knew that meant either myself or Michael Laudrup would be leaving. I had contact from Bayern Munich, AC Milan and even Alex Ferguson, but then I got a call from Kenny Dalglish and he said: ‘You’re on the 7 a.m. flight back to Liverpool. You’re coming back here.’ We hadn’t worked out any terms or anything like that, but he just said: ‘We’ll worry about that later’. The fans were great with me when I left. They signed a petition with over 30,000 signatures for me to stay so I was delighted to be able to come back to Liverpool and I never looked back.”
The message stands for Raheem Sterling who has been the subject of much controversy at the club. Refusing to put pen to paper on a deal worth more than £100,000 per week has provoked the wrath of the Anfield faithful. Sterling says it’s not about money and it’s about trophies. He also says that it’s his dream to have his own song on the Kop. They duly obliged by singing “Raheem Sterling, your agent’s a knob!”
However, Rushie feels that despite the hard time he’s getting at the moment, Raheem is a good kid who he believes remains committed to Liverpool.
“Having talked to Brendan (Rodgers) and Sterling, I think he’ll stay. He’s a good kid and I think he wants to stay at Liverpool, but obviously when agents get involved things become difficult. He needs regular games and I can’t think of too many places he can go where he will get that. He can continue to develop under Rodgers and he has a lot more to do. He has to learn to kick with his left foot for a start. If he goes somewhere for £50million the pressure is on him to be an instant success, but I can see him being at Liverpool for another couple of years at least.”
Speaking of Rodgers, Rush is unwavering in the belief that Liverpool have the right man for the job. In the face of increasing pressure and in the middle of a miserable slump to another fruitless season, quite a few ‘Pool “fans” have turned on the gaffer and want him replaced with the likes of Klopp, who struggled even worse with replacing big names and is currently 18 points of the top 14 in Bundesliga. Personally I think these fans can piss off and support Chelsea where the culture of managerial musical chairs is well established.
“I fully think Rodgers is the man for the job,” said Rush. “Last season we over achieved, but I think next season will be huge. When I speak to the players, I can see how much it means to them and I’d be confident that Liverpool can do well in the next few years.”
While “next season” has become a crappy mantra for Liverpool fans, there’s something about hearing it from Ian Rush that’s reassuring. Either way, he believes the next transfer window will be a vital one, but he remains coy on who Liverpool will be looking at. As an ambassador for the club, he will no doubt be somewhat clued in as to who Rodgers might be thinking of, but he wasn’t in the mood for sharing!
“I never like to name names, because that’s down to the manager,” he said. “Brendan will know the changes that have to be made and he will look at every possibility. He’ll have his targets and if they’re too expensive then we won’t buy them. I think we’ll bring in a couple of new faces and, as I’ve said, next season will be a big one for Liverpool.”
A big one indeed. If only Rodgers could hop in a DeLorean and head back to 1980 and sign an 18 year old Ian Rush, it’d be problem solved!