This feature is part of Virtuoso
If “comparison”, as former United States President Theodore Roosevelt said, “is the thief of joy”, it’s a wonder that so many football fans are so obsessed with it. Pitting footballers from different eras against each other in particular is as pointless as it is unavoidably enticing. But football – tactics, skills, rules, speed and physicality – proliferates, and certain attributes in one particular era may have less weight in another.
One of the greatest factors that crop up when comparing eras is the speed of the game. While it is true that, in general, the pace of matches in bygone eras was slower, no doubt in part due to inferior fitness and the absence of the back pass rule, there remain many glorious exceptions.
Old footage of Real Madrid legend Paco Gento destroying right-backs in the 1950s and 60s revealed an otherworldly, scarcely comprehensible speed by the left-winger. And try suggesting the quickness of thought and movement showed by Johan Cruyff in the 1970s would be out of place in the modern game. But when it came to pure unadulterated pace, few defenders in the 1980s could keep up with Liverpool goal-machine Ian Rush.
Indeed, not many strikers of any era were as devastating as the Welshman was in a one-on-one situation with a goalkeeper and, on 6 November 1982, Rush displayed his range of skills to savage effect against international colleague and Everton great Neville Southall. Thirty-five years on, the speed of his movement to take him beyond defenders and goalkeeper would be perceived by younger audiences an anachronism, perhaps more befitting the present day chaos of the Premier League.
Going into the first Merseyside derby of the 1982/83 season at Goodison Park, Rush had yet to truly catch fire in a campaign that would ultimately see Liverpool sleepwalk to the title. In 12 previous league matches he had managed four goals; hardly a bad return, but perhaps frustrating for a striker in a team that had averaged two goals a game. Everton would bare the brunt of his frustrations in a manner that would quickly become familiar to them.
The first goal came after only 11 minutes, set up superbly by the elegant and deceptively pacey Alan Hansen. The centre-half intercepted Andy King’s pass in his own half and skipped past Steve McMahon’s challenge before splitting Everton’s back four to leave the onrushing number nine, quintessentially playing off the shoulder of the last man, bearing down on Southall. Rush didn’t need to control the ball, sweeping it first time past the advancing goalkeeper with his supposedly weaker left foot.
It was only his second goal against Liverpool’s fierce rivals. Everton fans would be left shell-shocked by the end of the afternoon, as they would over the next decade or so, by Rush’s goal-scoring mastery.
On the pitch, panic gripped the Toffees’ stars. Minutes after his goal, a mistake allowed Rush, again showing his searing pace, to set up Kenny Dalglish for an easy chance, which he skied over the bar, before the Scotsman had a flying header disallowed for offside. The relief for the home team was brief. Glenn Keeley, on loan from Blackburn, was sent off for pulling Dalglish and the match as a contest was over. It was just a matter of how many Liverpool, and Rush, would get.
The Blues held out till the break, but six minutes into the second half Rush doubled the lead, once again receiving a pass from the majestic Hansen before seeing his left-footed shot deflected past Southall. The dam had burst as Mark Lawrenson scored four minutes later, from Dalglish’s cross, to secure the three points beyond any doubt. It was time for Liverpool to bring out the party tricks, and they did so with pitiless efficiency and speed.
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On 71 minutes, Dalglish slipped Rush through a ragged Everton defence, and with the hat-trick beckoning, the 22-year-old hit Southall’s right post. So quick were his reactions they almost caught out the cameraman; the rebound slammed home from a tight angle. Rush had scored a derby hat-trick for the first time since Fred Howe grabbed four for the Reds in 1935. But he wasn’t finished, and Howe’s feat would soon be equalled.
As an exhausted Everton trudged towards the final whistle, Sammy Lee sprinted from his own half and again put Rush through on goal. The hat-trick hero, his legs a blur of acceleration that the Everton defenders could barely see, ghosted past Southall to tap home his fourth and Liverpool’s fifth. Instant immortality was bestowed upon Rush, who remains the Merseyside derby’s top scorer to this day.
Against Everton that windy afternoon at Goodison, he graduated from a lanky, speedy striker with an eye for goal to a club legend. A week later, for good measure, he smashed another hat-trick past Coventry as Liverpool marched towards their 14th league title in Bob Paisley’s farewell season.
Rush went on to command a trophy-laden career that made him Liverpool’s greatest goalscorer, and his record of 346 goals in all competitions is unlikely to ever be broken. Everton, in particular, would grow sick of the sight of Liverpool’s derby specialist. But never more than the day when Rush scored four.
By Ali Khaled @AliKhaled_
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp