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ARTICLE BY TOMOS WYN JONES
NOT MANY Welsh footballers will have the honour of representing one of the biggest football clubs in the world but Ian Rush went a step further than that and became Liverpool’s top goalscorer of all time.
Born in the small city of St Asaph, Denbighshire, in October 1961, the forward learnt his trade in the lower divisions of English football. Rush was clearly seen as a talent from the very start, and his big break came in January 1980, where he scored the decisive winner for Chester in a 2-0 shock victory against then-second division side Newcastle United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Rush, a boyhood Evertonian, attracted interest fro several clubs after his big performances in the FA Cup, with Liverpool eventually securing his services for what was a then-record transfer fee of £300,000 for a teenager.
Rush had to wait until the festive season to make his club debut for Liverpool, where he replaced Liverpool’s number 7, Kenny Dalglish, against Ipswich Town in the old first division. He struggled to adapt to the intensity of playing at the highest level at first as he finished the season with 9 appearances and zero goals. On a brighter note, the Welshman did win silverware at the end of the 1980/81 season, where he was part of a winning League Cup and European Cup side. There were signs when he played in the Reserve side that he could step up to the first team. This could be seen immediately at the start of the 1981/82 season, where scored his first goal for the club against Finnish side Oulun Palloseura in the European Cup.
Rush was starting to grow in confidence, and by October, he had scored his first league goals for the club, when he netted a brace against Yorkshire club Leeds United. His influence in the side was clear to see, his silky play contributed in Liverpool’s rise from mid-table to the league summit after Christmas. His first hat-trick for the club came in a 4-0 league win against Notts County in January ’82, with his remarkable scoring run continuing for the rest of the season. Rush’s first significant contribution for the club came in the 1982 League Cup final, where he scored Liverpool’s third goal in a 3-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Rush’s first full season was impressive to say the least, as he ended up as Liverpool’s top goal scorer for the season with 30 goals, winning the league title and the League Cup as previously mentioned.
He continued this form into the following season, where he stood out in the Merseyside derby by scoring 4 goals in a 5-0 demolition over Everton. Rush was now becoming a hit with the Kopites and led them to yet another League and League Cup double, scoring 31 goals in the process. Rush was also voted as PFA Young Player of the Year. Rush was also becoming a global superstar, with many of the top European clubs attracted by his hot vein of form.
The 1983/84 was perhaps Rush and also one of Liverpool’s greatest season to date. He seemed even more determined, hungrier for more goals and success for the team. To no surprise, he had a significant impact on the Reds. Rush scored at a ratio of 0.72 goals per game during the 1983/84 season and had led Liverpool to an unprecedented treble in terms of winning the League and League Cup (Everton) for a third successive season, in addition to winning Liverpool’s 4th European Cup against A.S. Roma, in their own stadium (Stadio Olimpico). His 47 goals during the 83/84 season was simply remarkable. He showed up defenders’ countless times with his pace and precise play, and keepers were unsure whether to commit or stay on their line when Rush was on the attack. Rush’s performance on the pitch was acknowledged by his fellow peers yet again, as he was voted the PFA Player of the Year, in addition to being voted as the 1984 BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year.
Rush had achieved so much during his first four seasons with the Reds, including three league titles and two European Cups, but the 1984/85 season was underwhelming. He only managed 14 goals during the league season but had a greater influence in Europe – he scored an influential hat-trick against Portuguese giants Benfica and scored a crucial brace in a rout in the semi-final against ‘84 Greek champions Panathinaikos. However, the 84/85 season will always be remembered for all the wrong the reasons… Before the 1985 European Cup final, rioting occurred between fans from Liverpool, resulting in a wall collapsing on the fans of Juventus. Sadly, 39 died during these tragic scenes. Football did not feel of the upmost importance following the incident, though, the final continued as planned. Liverpool lost 1-0 to a 58th minute Michel Platini goal. Liverpool also lost their title defence to the hands of their Merseyside rivals Everton, resulting in a first trophyless season for the Reds since 1974/75.
As a result, from the tragedy of Heysel, English sides were barred from participating in European competition for 10 years (reduced to 5 after an appeal), therefore, Liverpool would be able to fully concentrate on domestic competitions. It looked like another season where Liverpool wouldn’t win the title after Everton had dominated for large periods. However, the Reds exploded into life in the final period of the season, with the help also of Everton losing their nerve under pressure. Consequently, Liverpool reclaimed their title from their rivals by a margin of two points. Rush, who contributed 22 goals to the title win, wasn’t to settle for just the league title. There was one trophy that had eluded him and Liverpool for several years, the FA Cup. Liverpool faced Everton in an all Merseyside final. Barcelona bound Gary Lineker had put the Toffees in front at Wembley, but Rush was the striker who had the final word, as he put in a Man-of-the-Match display, and scored two goals that led to a 3-1 victory for the Reds. Liverpool also became part of a very elusive community in English football, by winning the historic League and Cup double for the first, and only time in their history.
At this point, Rush had established himself as one of the best strikers to have ever graced the English game, and after attracting the European heavyweights, he decided to follow in the footsteps of the late John Charles, by signing for Italian giants Juventus for a record fee of £3.2 million.
Rush certainly wanted to challenge himself against sterner defences in Italy, in addition to prove to himself that he could play in different playing conditions. However, he struggled to adapt to the game in Serie A, as he only managed to score 8 goals in 29 outings for the Old Lady. It has been rumoured that he struggled to life outside of Merseyside, by feeling “homesick”. Having said this, Rush has also come out and said that moving to Juventus was the best decision he had made in his life. A year after his move to Italy, he returned to Liverpool for a fee of £2.7 million. Place for competition in the attacking 3rd for Liverpool was tougher upon Rush’s return; with John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley providing competition for the Welshman. Rush was warming the bench for the opening stages of the season, due to the spectacular form of Irish international Aldridge.
His first season back at Anfield was somewhat of a disappointment, returning seven goals in 24 appearances for the Merseyside outfit. However, the 88/89 season can only be remembered for the tragedy at Hillsborough. In what proved to be an exciting cup tie between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final, the decision was made to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end, where tragically, Liverpool fans were unlawfully crushed, resulting in horrifying deaths of 96 innocent fans. Once again Liverpool FC had endured a tragic disaster, and an FA Cup final against Everton felt fitting to the families of the bereaved. In what was a highly emotional day at Wembley, Ian Rush came off the bench to win the final single-handedly for the Reds, scoring yet another double against the Toffees in a 3-2 win after extra time to win his second FA Cup title. Liverpool could’ve won the double, but a final day calamity occurred at the hands of Arsenal, who won the title on goal difference at Anfield thanks to a late, late Michael Thomas goal.
Rush found some sort of form in the following season, where he managed to score a goal every two games in a comfortable title win for Liverpool in the 1989/90 season. It looked increasingly likely that Liverpool were to win yet another league and cup double, though, suffered an unexpected defeat in the semi-final against a talented Crystal Palace side. This proved to be Rush’s final league title for Liverpool, as the decline of the club started. Having said this, Rush continued his good form from the previous season into the next, scoring 17 goals during the 90/91 season. He also helped Liverpool secure European football for the first time since the Heysel disaster. The 1991/92 season was a real struggle for Rush in terms of injuries, as he only managed to score 9 goals in all competitions. However, he still had a great influence on the side, as he scored in yet another FA Cup final, helping secure a 2-0 victory against Sunderland to win his 3rd winners medal from the historic competition.
The inaugural Premier League campaign was perhaps Liverpool’s most difficult since the start of the 1970s. Although Rush had two solid seasons between 1992-94, by scoring 28 goals, he failed to galvanise his squad to push further and compete in the new competition. It was a blow to not finish in a European spot for consecutive seasons, in addition to a more bitter blow with Manchester United winning the first two Premier League titles on offer.The 1994/95 season was an improvement for Rush, as he managed to help his side to League Cup victory at Wembley against Bolton Wanderers. Rush had an impact on a much-improved Liverpool side, who ended up 4th in the league and entered European competition for the first time in three years. Rush’s final season at Liverpool was a disappointing one to end his illustrious time with the club. The signing of Stan Collymore and the emergence of Robbie Fowler didn’t help his course either, as he was severely restricted by manager Roy Evans to the amount of game time he received.
Rush’s final appearance for the Reds came in an infamous 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, which will best be remembered for the Liverpool squad wearing white suits. Ian Rush ended up as Liverpool’s all-time leading goal scorer, by scoring 346 goals in 660 games for the Reds.
Rush spent his final four seasons with Leeds United, Newcastle United, Sheffield United, Wrexham and Australian side Sydney Olympic, before retiring at the age of 39. He struggled to find his best form after reaching his 30s, and this was evident to see in his final seasons with Liverpool and then subsequent clubs. Rush’s career total for appearances for goals were 827 and 383 respectively. In terms of honours, he won five League titles, four League Cups, three FA Cups, two European Cups, three Charity Shields, and a Football League Super Cup – All with Liverpool FC.
On the international stage, he represented Wales on 73 occasions, scoring 28 times. Until Gareth Bale broke his record in 2018, Ian Rush was Wales’ all-time leading goal scorer for two and a half decades. During his international career, he and his fellow countrymen failed to qualify for a major tournament. However, his international career will be best remembered for his winning goal against reigning world champions Germany in a Euro ’92 qualifier on home soil.
Following his playing career, Rush went into management, and by 2004, had his first job with Chester City, where it had all started as a player. After a relatively successful first half of the season, he was under severe pressure by chairman Steven Vaughan, and by April 2005, he had resigned as manager. This ended up being Rush’s first and only managerial post to date.
Ian Rush will forever be remembered as a Liverpool club legend, and one of the greatest strikers Wales had ever produced, the finest of his generation by a long shot. His pace and strength were backbreaking for defenders, and his precise finishing would always prove difficult for keepers. If he had played in this Liverpool side today alongside the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mané, he would be having a field day each time he’d line-up for the Reds as, one thing is for sure, he knew where the goal was!