Friday, 7 December 2007

Ian Rush - Chester's Most Famous Export

Arguably Chester's most famous export, and you would have known just how successful Ian Rush would turn out to be just by watching him dramatically break into Chester's first team in 1979/80. A young Rushie first caught the eye of Chester youth coach Cliff Sear whilst playing his football at schoolboy level around Deeside. Sear immediately spotted his great potential and before his fifteenth birthday he had signed schoolboy forms with Chester before gaining an appenticeship at the beginning of the 1978/79 season. "I spent the summer of 1977 helping to paint the old main stand at Sealand Road!"

Rushie spent his first season in the reserve and youth teams under the guidance of Cliff Sear. "I scored a few goals that season, but nothing to get excited about. I used to clean the boots of the first team centre half Bob Delgado, probably the chirpiest character at the club." But playing for Chester and earning sixteen pounds a week was the heady heights for a kid who had to start his career in hand me down boots. But the St Asaph born lad quickly became Britain's most expensive teenager when Bob Paisley paid £350,000 to sign him from Chester. That after Rushie had broken into the first team with style notching his first senior goal at Gillingham - a right footer from all of eight yards out "It wasn't the most spectacular goal I ever scored, but I still get a kick just talking about it. It's one of my most cherished memories." Rushie went on to score seventeen goals in thirty four games that season. "I remember I was given an emotional farewell at Chester, where double the normal crowd were in the ground for my last game and hundreds of youngsters invaded the pitch at the end to cheer me off"

Ian Rush's departure from Sealand Road for Anfield was a relatively quiet one. He went to Liverpool as an 18 year old in April 1980, as he recalls "It was March that Liverpool first wanted to sign me, and I turned them down! I felt that I was nowhere near good enough to play for them". But Rush had certainly got himself noticed by the end of the 1980-81 season. His debut was against Oulon Palloseura of Finland in the successful European Cup campaign of that season, but many remember him from the 1981 League Cup Final replay against West Ham. Although he didn't score, his pace was breathtaking and he came very close on more than one occasion. The season ended on a high for Liverpool, and the Ian Rush legend was in the making.

Rush's first Wembley goal came in the following season's League Cup Final, this time against Spurs. It also saw his first Championship (he was to win five in all), and the beginnings of perhaps the most prolific striking partnership in British football - Rush and Dalglish. How could defences cope with the mastery and trickery of Dalglish, combined with the ruthlessness of the predator Rush. I n truth, they rarely did, allowing Rush to go on to score an incredible 345 goals in a Liverpool shirt in a massive 649 appearances.

It is hard to pick out the highlights of such a phenomenal footballing career, there are just so many!! How could anyone forget the sheer weight of goals scored in the early years? The dramatic return to Anfield in 1988, a transfer coup to rank with the best of them? Or the 1989 Cup Final where Rush came of the bench to score twice and win Liverpool the Cup? Best of all perhaps, the 1986 Cup Final, the first Mersey Final. Outplayed for much of the first half, Bruce Grobelaar almost coming to blows with his defence, only for Rush to come good in the second half to destroy the team he supported as a boy. The double went to Anfield for the first time, Everton piped to the post twice, and the second best goalscorer of the 1980s having to settle for a Wembley goal and a runners-up medal.

What was the appeal of Ian Rush? It was his modesty, his incredible workrate (the first line of defence), his desire to play football, a desire that ironically led to his departure from Liverpool to Leeds United in the summer of 1996. It simply wasn't enough for Ian Rush to sit on the bench and pick up his wages at the end of the week. He wanted to play first team football, to feel the buzz on a Saturday afternoon in front of seething crowds, to do what he did best.

On one of the coldest nights of the season in February 1997 Ian Rush came home. It wasn't the homecoming all liverpool supporters had hoped for - Rush was only a second half substitute, but the reception was fantastic (as it had been earlier in the season at Elland road) and like the predator he was Rush was desperate to score. Despite Leeds being 3-0 down by the time he came on he fought hard. I personally remember watching him on satellite television fight for so long before, never giving up, never admitting defeat. How many at Anfield would have denied him a consolation goal on that cold winter's night at Anfield?

All in all Rushie had a glittering football career, his haul of 44 FA Cup goals (39 of them for Liverpool) is a 20th century record while his five-goal total in FA Cup Finals (two in 1986 and 1989 and one in 1992 all on winning Liverpool sides) is an all-time best by an individual. Rush shares with Geoff Hurst the League Cup scoring record of 49 and was the first player to win that competition five times, completing his nap hand as Liverpool captain against Bolton in 1995. He scored 10 times in 18 Wembley outings for the club.

He also collected five Championship medals, one European Cup and was awarded the MBE. Rush scored an all-time Mersey derby record of 25 goals against Everton, won Europe's Golden Boot with 32 League goals in 1984 when he was also double Footballer of the Year and captained Wales, for whom he scored a record 28 goals in 73 games. After leaving Leeds United he later played for Newcastle United, and near rivals Wrexham and Sydney Olympic.

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