A lifetime ago your scribbler watched in rapture as Liverpool bestrode Europe like the beguiling conquerors they were. Us fans were hard-wired to expect success and we gloried greedily in a dizzying succession of trophies built around a silver spine of top flight titles. At the heart of those teams were some remarkable players but Ian Rush was the lethal spearhead of the attack for almost all of the 80s -- that most imperial of decades for the Anfield men. In his famous number 9 shirt, this prodigious footballer scored 346 goals for the Reds in 660 appearances. Three hundred and forty six goals. Think about that.
With his lean frame topped off by that iconic moustache, Rush was a model of efficiency and work rate, defending from the front when the opposition were in possession and using his speed, strength, positional sense and finishing flair to convert the endless chances created for him by beautifully adroit footballers like Kenny Dalglish, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes. Two footed and clinical with his head, there was literally no type of goal Rush couldn't score. The man was quite simply the finest goalscorer on the continent at that time. These were halcyon days and Rush was the name on Europe's lips.
By contrast with today's multi-media coverage and extreme press intrusiveness, Rush's era tended to be typified by prim reporters with BBC accents eliciting bland clichéd answers from wary or shy footballers. Players were over the moon if they won or sick as a parrot when they lost. They tended, especially at Liverpool, to take one game at a time and "I've just hit it...and it's gone in" was the limit of the technical analysis goalscorers tended to provide. Ian Rush was very much in this mould.
These days, having been employed by the club in a succession of ambassadorial and coaching roles, Liverpool's record scorer is a tad more loquacious and self-possessed when the reporters and their cameras come calling. In a recent interview with the Echo, he was positively garrulous on the topic of how the Reds have fared thus far and the tremendous possibilities remaining for the season. Indeed, the Welshman is so upbeat and expansive that it seems as though he has been imbued with the spirit of Brendan Rodgers.
"We are still the outsiders to win the title but the fact we’re still in the race at this stage of the season shows how far we’ve come under Brendan," Rush told the Echo. "You have to start believing that winning it is possible. We have to be looking up rather than down. Before maybe we were looking over our shoulder and thinking fourth, fifth or sixth, but now with the position we’re in we should be targeting fourth place and upwards. We’ve still got Man City, Chelsea and Tottenham to play at home. Even if we don’t win the league, we will have a big say in who does win it."
Over the course of his absurdly successful career, the European Golden Boot winner scored in three FA Cup finals, his goals making the difference on each occasion, as he and his teammates raised the famous old pot. His haul of five goals over those games remains a record, so naturally he has an affinity with the competition. Rush's disappointment, after Sunday's defeat, was keenly felt but in traditional style he was quick to refocus on the targets that remain.
"Going out of the Cup was frustrating because we did more than enough to win the game," the club legend confirmed. "We played really well, created chances and a big refereeing decision went against us. We were the better team and it was just unlucky. We all wanted to do well in the Cup but that’s gone now and we need to concentrate on the league. Hopefully losing in the Cup will prove to be a blessing in disguise. All our focus is on the 12 league games. Others have bigger squads than Liverpool but they also have the Champions League to concentrate on and that will take it out of them."
Wily old-stager that he is, Rush was anxious to point out the cleverness of the manager in his approach to the media. He noted with approval that Rodgers had not gotten drawn into the petty sniping and bickering that seems to have increased a thousand fold since the return of Olympic-standard crowd shusher and eye-gouger-in-chief, Jose Mourinho. It is ironic that a lack of the kind of forbearance under media pressure shown by Rodgers is which partially scuppered the second tenure of his predecessor, Rush's old chance provider, Kenny Dalglish.
"I like the fact that Brendan hasn’t got involved in all the mind games," he said. "The message has been ‘we’ll just concentrate on ourselves, try to play our best and finish as high as possible.' People have been saying Liverpool are in the frame but we are doing our talking on the pitch. The pressure is on Chelsea and Man City as they are the favourites and we can continue to play with freedom."
Nobody knows the psychological importance of dominant home form and a passionate supportive Anfield crowd better than Ian Rush. Most of his goals were scored over a period of unprecedented success partially driven by a supreme domestic record. The form of Rodgers' side on their own patch has been most impressive thus far and the fact that rivals have yet to play at Anfield is driving the giddy hope of many that something truly special might yet be attained this year.
"We’re starting games quickly and that makes a big difference," he insists. "An early goal always gets the crowd going. If you’re going to be successful then you need to be winning your home games. Now teams are coming to Anfield fearing what’s going to happen. They are thinking ‘we can’t really attack too much because we will get done’. Trying to just defend isn’t working for visiting teams either as we have learned how to break teams down.
"Brendan has got the players believing in themselves and you can see that confidence levels are high. We’re playing attacking football which is exciting to watch. The crowd sense that belief at Anfield and they really get behind the team. If we go into those games against Chelsea and Man City knowing if we beat them we could go above them then I think the crowd will make a big difference for us."
Beginning with Swansea, Liverpool will face twelve more opponents this year. If Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez can show even a modicum of the sang froid Rush possessed in front of goal, there could yet be the most glorious of endings to a campaign that has taught us all that it's okay to dream and to enjoy our football again.