When I joined Liverpool as a teenager, it was very intimidating. I’d only seen these players on TV, and suddenly I was getting changed next to Alan Hansen and Ray Clemence, who were already superstars. Sammy Lee took me under his wing a bit, and I became good mates with Ronnie Whelan. We played in the reserves together and then broke into the first team at the same time.
The coaching staff were very good at schooling you in the Liverpool Way. Even though I was signed for a world record fee for a teenager the coaches just said “go and learn your trade in the reserves, you will make mistakes, but you’ll get away with them, so when it comes to the first team you’ll learn from them and you won’t make as many mistakes”. Football’s a bit different today because you’re paying big money for young players and want them to come into the team straight away, but they gave me confidence and made me believe in myself, so I was ready.
I didn’t know I’d have such a successful partnership with Kenny until I actually broke into the first team. We played a lot of five-a-side in training and weren’t on the same side. He was like a God, so I didn’t really speak to him. When I finally got in, he told me where to run, and he never had to tell me again. He had the vision, and I had the pace. It’s a cliché, but the first couple of yards are in your head and, combined with my speed, that always gave me three or four yards on the defender. As soon as he used to receive the ball and turn—and nobody turns like Kenny—I’d know that the ball would be going between the defender and the goalkeeper and I was off. That’s how good Kenny was.
People always ask me if I have a favourite goal, but I don’t. The answer is always the same, my job was to score goals, and I scored 346 of them for Liverpool. I got the same satisfaction from each one, whether it was from one yard or 20 yards. I was just obsessed with scoring goals. Score one, I want two. Score two, I want three.
I do have a favourite game though, the 1986 FA Cup Final. When I was a kid in the backyard, I would pretend I was at Wembley scoring the winning goal. By ‘86 I’d won the League, I’d won the European Cup, I’d won the Milk Cup, I’d won everything but the FA Cup. And in 1986 I scored two goals against Everton, and we’ve done the double. I say to the kids now have a dream and one day that dream might come true. Mine did.
1983-84 was my best season individually. I scored 47 for Liverpool, two for Wales and then a penalty in the shootout at the European Cup Final in Rome, so, I call that my 50 goals season. I won the Players’ Player, the Football Writers’ Player and the European Golden Boot, it makes me very proud looking back, and I think that will take some beating from a Liverpool player.
Diego Maradona was the best player I played against. Juventus beat Napoli at home, and I scored, but then we went to Napoli, and they beat us 3–1 and I thought he was an absolute genius. He was so good he didn’t even need to look at the ball, he was just looking at these tackles flying in and riding them, manipulating the ball away from danger, it was a joy to watch. Napoli wanted to sign me to play with him after the 1983–4 season, but Liverpool were having none of it. Defending wise, Franco Baresi was fantastic. He didn’t have any pace, but I never got past him, his reading of the game and ability to sense danger were something else.
As soon as I saw Robbie Fowler I knew he was something special. He was only small, but even then he scored three or four goals a game with his left foot, he got into the right positions, played off defenders shoulders, and you could see that if he stayed away from injury he was going to be a fantastic player. I looked after him when he broke through like Dalglish did with me. When you first get in you’re so excited you’re running all over the place, and I just told him what Kenny told me. You’re a striker, stay there and score goals.
I love Jürgen Klopp’s positive energy. He transfers it to the players and the supporters, and the impact is there for everyone to see. The work rate he demands from every player reminds me of the great teams I played in. You can have the quality, but if you don’t work hard you won’t play for Jürgen Klopp. The football he plays is also very intelligent, he’s got players with good football brains, and the way the forwards and midfield interact and switch positions means the opposition simply can’t cope. It’s beautiful football…
Being Liverpool’s record goal scorer is something I’m incredibly proud of. When you’re playing, you just get on with it. But when you stop playing and think about it and look at the goals you scored, you can actually say ‘yeah, I was a great player’ because I don’t have to do it anymore. As long as I’m alive I don’t think my record will be broken because it means 15 years of service. It’s very special to me.
I spent three and a half weeks following Wales around France. I’m a Director of the Wales FA Trust, and ten of the squad came through the system we put in place. I may have never got to a tournament as a player, but seeing Wales qualify was another dream realised. It’s up there with the best experiences of my life, I followed the team as a fan and to see all the other fans there, nearly 60 years since we last qualified, was brilliant. It won’t be long until Gareth Bale breaks my goals record, either. I want him to; it means Wales will be doing well. He’s one of the most expensive players in history, so he’s not a bad player to lose it to…
This interview originally appeared in Issue 8 of MUNDIAL. Rushie had just been on a flight from Singapore and was quite tired, but we got there in the end. Image supplied by Offside Sports Photography.