By Richard Bowdery
Ian Rush was a man on a mission, although it took him a little while to get going.
The tall, gangly 17 year old made his debut for Chester FC on the 28 April 1979 as a midfielder! But his goal scoring potential was spotted early by Liverpool who signed him in 1980 for £300,000, then a record fee for a teenager.
After signing for the Merseyside giants he suffered something of a goal drought which lasted eight games. In his ninth start for the first team the dam burst when he scored his first goal for the club and his record breaking career began.
Such was Rush’s prowess in front of goal his teammates described him as their first line of defence. They reasoned that if the opposition was tied up defending against the threat of Rush scoring, the Liverpool goal was not in any danger. Makes sense when you look at it like that.
Yet in those early days you would be hard pushed to get a Liverpool fan, especially one of their older fans, to stand up and say that the new kid on the block would overtake Roger Hunt’s record of 286 goals in 492 appearances.
All that changed in the 1981/82 season with his tally of 30 goals in 49 appearances. Not only did it announce his arrival in the only way a striker knows how, it also captured the Kop’s heart. The Liverpool number nine was on his way to becoming a club legend.
But those 30 goals palled when compared with his 50 goals for club and country (two for Wales) in the 83/84 season which earned him Europe’s Golden Boot award. He was the first British player to win it.
Then in 1986 came the shock news that he was moving to Juventus; which resulted in a ‘Rushie must stay’ campaign. Despite the campaign’s best efforts Rush left Anfield and it looked as if Roger Hunt’s club record was safe. But looks can be deceptive.
To the relief of many Liverpudlians, Rush’s Italian sojourn ended after just one season and he made a sensational return to Merseyside.
He is reported as saying that: “Moving to Turin was like living in a foreign country.” What did he think: that Turin was just south-east of Bootle? I suppose when you can score regularly at the highest level, as he could, you’re apt to forgive his geographical faux paux.
However, was everyone was pleased to see him return? Rush lookalike John Aldridge, who had been bought in to fill the void left by the goal machine, now had to share top billing.
After two and a half years, the pairing of Rush and Aldridge up front came to an end when Liverpool accepted £1.1m from Real Sociedad for their number eight. In Spain he continued his goal scoring prowess and became a firm favourite among the Basque fans.
The question remains: would he have gone if Rush hadn’t returned? Probably not.
Rush continued as if he had never been away, scoring goals for fun right up until the 95/96 season when he left Liverpool on a free transfer to join Leeds United.
After leaving Leeds his footballing journey took him to Newcastle United, Sheffield United, Wrexham, and Sydney Olympic (in Australia).
But it is his 346 goals scored in 660 appearances for Liverpool for which he will always be remembered in the red half of Merseyside.
Is Rush’s record in danger of being overtaken? In an age when players in the top flight probably move more frequently between clubs than ever before, the answer must be no. But if Liverpool can hold on to their inform striker Luis Suarez – at the time of writing he has scored 81 goals for the club – who knows?
As Charles Dickens wrote in his novel Pickwick Papers: “Never say never.”