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Soup of This Day #88: Let’s Always Remember The Good Times

October 21, 2011

William Turner's Flint Castle
William Turner’s 1838 Flint Castle. Flint, in North Wales, is just over 20km as the crow flies from Anfield. It’s where Liverpool FC legend Ian Rush grew up – Image: Tate Gallery, 1838. The Tate Gallery has no affiliation with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

October 20, 2011 will most likely be remembered as the day Moamar Gadhafi, the former Libyan dictator, was killed. Accounts of his death are as varied as the ways to spell his name but the predominant rumour is that he was in an ambulance on the way to hospital when he was shot in the head, allegedly via crossfire.

Any region that you can be shot while in an ambulance, you know it’s just not safe to travel there.

Whatever you think of Gadhafi and let’s be clear, as a murderous despot is pretty much how most, including Longworth72, do think of Gadhafi, this day will be coloured by his death. For me though the day has another aspect as well. To be fair, it’s a trivial 1, a sporting anniversary but since this blog is about sport and this involves a childhood hero of mine then read on if you want an antidote to YouTube videos of dying tyrants.

Ian James Rush is an admittedly strange choice to be my hero. He did play for Liverpool and he did score a bag full of goals for them, including 5 in FA Cup Finals, but you can’t escape the fact that he is a striker. Yep, Longworth72, he-who-bags-out-strikers-as-lazy-showboaters, had a striker as a childhood hero.

This is partly because Rush was not lazy and he wasn’t big on the showboating – His celebrations were relatively simple, coming as they did in an era that largely pre-dated the backflip, baby-rocking, Glee-choreographed routines we get today.

Sidebar: I don’t watch Glee so I’m guessing at the choreography bit. I once saw a promo where they did a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s brilliant ‘Go Your Own Way’. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was pointless.

No, Rush was not a showman – His playing style didn’t lend itself to that anyway. He was a predatory striker, clinical and incisive. He rarely wasted time or movement, linking with team-mates as required. In a sense Rush had to be good at football, partially because – and there is no easy way to say this Rushie so forgive me – he wasn’t a looker. Nope, a scrawny 5’ 11’’ the Welshman had a face like a ferret that he adorned with an almost comically large moustache. Nobody was ever going to make a movie called Rocket it like Rushie. Thankfully though he played football in a time when it was mostly about actual football.

He’d made his League debut with Chester City in the 3rd Division in 1979 as a 17 year old centre forward. He subsequently played 34 games for the Seals, scoring 14 times. This form got him noticed by legendary Liverpudlian manager Bob Paisely and the Reds signed him in April of 1980. Before he could make his Anfield bow Rush played his 1st international for Wales, against Scotland at Hampden Park. His Liverpool colleague and future captain and manager Kenny Dalgliesh took the field for the Scots as they won 1-0. This inauspicious start – Rush appeared on 21 minutes as a sub – would herald an outstanding international career. He would earn 73 caps for Wales, scoring 28 times, with the 1 sour note being that Wales did not feature in any major tournament across that time. Perhaps the highlight though came in a June, 1991 Euro 92 qualifier against reigning world champs Germany. Playing at Cardiff Arms Park the rank underdog Welsh stunned the recently re-unified Germans via a 66min break-away goal to Rush and a stifling defencive effort. Sadly it was not quite enough as the Germans topped the qualifying group by just the 1 point from Wales.

If Rush was held back from the main stage and honours in international football he made up for it at the club level. From 80 until 87 he played in 224 matches, scoring an astonishing 139 goals, every 1.6 times he featured. This corresponded with 4 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 4 League Cups and 1 European triumph. This club record was to be blighted in 1985, with the Heysel Stadium Disaster and Rush’s career suffered a continental setback as Liverpool and all other English clubs were subsequently banned from European competition. Partly to offset this but also in pursuit of a challenge and money Rush transferred to Juventus in 1987. As Juve had been the club rocked at Heysel this was also seen as a conciliatory move by Liverpool.

On a personal note at the time I named a grasshopper I captured Juve, in honour of Rushies’ move. This, in 1 of the more unlikely coincidences you’ll get, corresponded with me getting my 1st girlfriend. Neither the girlfriend or the grasshopper stuck with me for long.

Grasshoppers make stupid pets.

Similar to those relationships, Rush’s time in Italy was not successful – Italian defences were tough and goals were at a premium. Still the moustache scored 13 times in 40 appearances. There is an oft-quoted story that Rush described his time in Turin as difficult, complaining that, ‘It’s like living in a foreign country’. This it turns out is apocryphal – largely generated by Rush’s Liverpool Manager Kenny Dalgliesh.
Dalgliesh obviously missed Rush and in 1988 he re-acquired the Welshman for a then English record of 2.7m. Rush was to remain at Anfield until 1996, scoring at a lesser rate of 90 goals in 245 appearances. The club added 2 FA Cups, a further League Cup and the 1990 League title to the trophy cabinet. That latter triumph though was their last to date and heralded the start of a barren drought for the previously perennial challengers.

Again there was a dark moment for the club, this time with the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster. 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crush as too many were let into too small an area at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest. Rush, like his team-mates, attended many funerals. Liverpool went on to play neighbours Everton in the 1989 FA Cup Final with Rush, a boyhood Evertonian, scoring twice to seal a dramatic and emotional 3-2 extra time win. He was to score a 5th FA Cup Final goal in 1992 as Liverpool won again, this time 2-0 over Sunderland. This was a record that still stands and complements his standing as the 2nd highest FA Cup scorer of all time, netting 44 goals at all stages of the competition.

It is somewhat fitting then that Rush’s final appearance for the Reds was in the 1996 FA Cup Final. Less appropriate was that Manchester United won a dour game 1-0. Shortly thereafter Rush joined Leeds United, where he scored just 3 times in 36 outings. He then joined Newcastle, where Kenny Dalgliesh now resided as Manager. He was only able to score once in 10 games – The winner against Everton in the 3rd Round of the 1998 FA Cup. It was to be his last goal of note.

From Newcastle Rush’s playing career petered out, playing some games for Sheffield United, Wrexham and Australian side Sydney Olympic. Following that latter misadventure, at the age of 39, Ian Rush called time.

The Welshman has had some coaching experience since, managing his old club Chester City for a season in 2004/05. He resigned on a matter of principle after a checkered season and since then has been prominently involved in the game as a media pundit. He’s also taken on a role as a Club Ambassador for Liverpool. It’s an appropriate place for an Anfield legend. Particularly 1 who turned 50 on the 20th of October, 2011.

I’d like to end this post by jumping across to actor, comedian and bluegrass legend, Steve Martin. The funnyman delivered a tweet last night that captured Lance Armstrong’s attention and thus found it’s way to me (This is how the world works for me). Darkly humorous and demonstrating the same sense of timing that the sharp Rush had managed with the goals at his front, it was a brief, non-judgmental reference to current events:

@SteveMartinToGo: Lunch with Gadhafi, cancelled.

Brilliant.

Let’s Always Remember The Good Times

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