John Peel: My name is John Peel and since I was about seven or eight years old I’ve been a Liverpool supporter. And meet lots of Liverpool supporters who have never been to Liverpool and probably couldn’t find it on the map. But my dad worked there, the family business was there, and I worked there briefly myself, and lived just across the river. So I grew up with Liverpool and my earliest memories are of being beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in the cup final in 1950, for which I’ve never forgiven Arsenal really. And I can remember when they [Liverpool] were in the Second Division, which is when I was doing my national service. And I think 16th was the lowest that they sank at that time, and it was a bad time for me, no question about it. And then I moved out to live near Ipswich and had a family, and all of the children have got Liverpool associations in their names. Like William, who is 16 and not interested in football at all – in fact, actively dislikes it – is called William Robert Anfield. And my daughter Alexandra is Alexander Mary Anfield. Thomas, who is 12 and he is the only one who shows any signs of being good at football, is Thomas James Dalglish. And Florence is 10, and she is Florence Victoria Shankly. And I have always said, and this is true, that if we had a fifth child, the name Rush would come into it. So when I was asked to interview someone who I would wish to interview, I asked Ian Rush to come down, and he has done this. So cheers, Ian.
Ian Rush: Cheers.
JP: This is a great honour for me. Really. I actually didn’t sleep last night. It’s true, you know. Is football what you always wanted to do, even as a kid?
IR: Yeah, I think. To tell you the truth it’s most probably the thing that I could do. Because all my brothers, they played football, and they went off to work in the steelworks. My dad was a steel worker.
JP: Which steelworks was that?
IR: Shotton Steelworks. It’s closed down now.
JP: That’s right. I could see that across the river from where I lived.
IR: Yeah. And my dad, you know, worked in there, and so automatically my brothers went there, and I thought I was going into the steelworks.
JP: So were your parents supportive when you decided to get into football, originally?
IR: Yeah, they just let me get on with it. I remember my dad… I played for Wales under-15s, but the Welsh FA had no money then and you had to buy your kit then, and it was five pounds. It was a lot of money, you know, for my dad then. But my dad just said, “Yeah, you go down and get it.” (???) And I’ve still got now the kit at home now, the first Welsh kit. Because you felt you weren’t going to play for Wales again.
JP: I can understand that.
IR: I still have the Welsh kit, because he stayed in for a week, so he could buy me the Welsh kit. He was as proud as me. He put it up in the cabinet and all that. From then on, Chester came in and said, “Do you want to go in as an apprentice?” And really I didn’t have to think twice. I thought, “If I’m not going to make it, I can still go in the steelworks.” And I was a professional then at 17, and just things went so quickly then. Then the Shotton steelworks was closing down. People were getting made redundant at that time, when I was being a professional at 17 or 18, and then I felt how lucky I was, because maybe I could have been out of a job then.
JP: Yeah, right. You seem to be a fella, I’ve always got the impression that you are a fellow who sort of keeps himself to himself a bit. How did you – it’s an awful question, one of those things that journalists always ask when they can’t think of anything else to say – but how did you feel when you left Chester to come to Anfield? You must have been scared out of your wits.
IR: I didn’t want to go, to tell the truth, at first. Because when Liverpool first came in for me, I refused them. And all the other players in Chester couldn’t believe it. They were saying, “What are you doing turning down Liverpool?” It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go there. It was because all my family were in Wales and I was a shy person and I just didn’t really want to go and see what it was like. And it wasn’t until Bob Paisley and the manager of Chester then, Alan Oakes, came and took me around Anfield that I thought how much bigger the place was and I thought, “I’ll give it a go.”
JP: It must sadden you at times that you have never really had the opportunity, because Wales have not been lucky in international football, that you have never had the opportunity really to show what you can do on the international stage.
IR: I think that is probably one big ambition now – to play for Wales in a major tournament, the World Cup or the European Championship. But people say, “You must be sick that you haven’t played.” Yeah, but I’ve had so many times with Liverpool I can count myself lucky that I’ve played for such a great club like Liverpool. So in the end, if I had to pick one, I think Liverpool is where you bread and butter is and there’s a lot of other players that have not had as much success as me at the club level or playing for Wales.
JP: Very few that have had that much success, in fact.
IR: Apart from that, you know, really if I did actually qualify for a major final with Wales, I think I can sit back and tell my kids I’ve had a great time in football.
JP: Well, I must admit, when I was about 15, 16, something like that, and I was at a very smart and expensive boys boarding school, where supporting a professional football team was regarded as very poor stuff indeed, if somebody had said to me – and this is true – if somebody had said to me, “You can play for Liverpool but you’ve got to die when you’re 30,” I think I’d have taken that. I mean, so the idea… I used to go around, when I lived in America – I lived in America for seven years – and I came back for Christmas in 1961, 1962, something like that, and they were doing a lot of work at Anfield…
IR: I wasn't born then.
JP: And I went and sneaked in through the construction and I got a bit of turf, and I had it in this locket around my neck all of the time.
JP: And as I say, it would have been, just to have played for Liverpool once would have been…
IR: Were you any good at football?
JP: I was very poor. I was very enthusiastic. The one thing that I could do, because I just used to practice all the time – when people said, “Where’s John?” I’d be out playing football, just kicking a ball against the wall. Of course the romantic story is that you then go from there to play for your country and become a great hero. I just kicked a ball – I was great at just kicking the ball against a wall, but not much else. The one thing that I could do was kick a ball fairly hard and accurately, so I used to take all the corners and free kicks and stuff like that, but I was never good at anything else.
IR: Most probably could get a game for us now then.
JP: I always used to say rather flippantly that I could never get a game with Liverpool but one or two of the London clubs might give me a match or two. But even now, though, when I go out and have a kick around with my son and his mates, I still feel great. You know, you feel kind of graceful and liberated and so on. And without being fanciful, presumably you must feel the same.
IR: Yeah, I feel, you know, when you actually – I’ve got a lad of three and a half now and take him out on the garden, take him on the field, and we just go kicking balls. And you still imagine that you are still playing – even though you have played in cup finals, but you still imagine that you are playing in cup finals.
JP: Do you think most players feel like that?
IR: Yeah. The problem is that when you actually do play in a cup final, it all goes by so quick that you don’t know what’s happened, and it doesn’t sink in.
JP: It doesn’t go by that quick if you are on the terraces, I can tell you.
IR: Yeah. But then you watch it like 20 times after on television – if you win, that is – and about the 20th time, oh, you’ve scored in an FA Cup final, there’s 100,000 people there and so many million watching.
JP: Listen, I scored a winning goal at Wembley. I played in a couple of charity matches there. And this was like warm up matches before youth internationals, so there was a good crowd there. And we did that thing before the match of sitting in the dressing room. It was like TV people against radio people, just playing side to side, you know. And you’re saying, you know, “If you get two goals up, back off a bit and make a spectacle for the kids,” and so on. But of course once you come out, you are standing there in the tunnel and you think, “This is really me standing here.”
JP: “I know it is messing about, but it’s me standing in the tunnel.” And you run out, and there you are, you’re at Wembley, and there’s a big crowd there. And of course as soon as you realize you’re out there you think, “All this business about if we get two goals up, we’re going to back off” – I mean, to hell with that.
IR: So what happened?
JP: So actually in the first one I played in we won 3-2 and I scored the winning goal, and I burst into floods of tears, me. And everybody was saying, “What’s the matter with you, you silly old fella.”
IR: Well, not many people get the chance to play at Wembley.
JP: That’s right. So, you know, I could say that I’d scored the winning goal at Wembley. One of the things that interests me about football now – many things do – but I can remember like in the 70s, which wasn’t all that long ago, it was kind of a joke that at Anfield when they were giving out teams, the announcer always used to say, “The Liverpool team as printed in your programme.” Injuries - I mean, there seem to be many more injuries now, much more serious injuries. I mean, are people being over-trained or what?
IR: I think what it is is the game is a lot faster now, and I think in he 70s it relied on skill and everything, were now teams that we are playing I think rely on fitness. Whether they are skillful or not, they are in the team basically because they can run all day.
JP: It’s more about brute strength than skill. Yeah, I think that is what is happening now and the skill factor is I think maybe going out a bit. And I think that is why the continentals are a lot better then us technically, and I think a lot better than us, because they rely more on the skill factor than more the fitness factor.
IR: Because I, I mean, I don’t often get up to Anfield these days, which I very much regret, and I do go to the occasional away match. But mostly I see Ipswich play, because I live near Ipswich and I can get up for a Saturday afternoon match at Portman Road. But in the morning sometimes I sit and watch the Serie A stuff on the television, and it is beginning to look like a different game.
JP: I think what is happening now with this new rule that has come in, the goalkeepers, can’t pass it back, I think it has taken a lot of defenders – they don’t know what to do now. Because for ten years they have been passing the ball back to the goalkeeper and the goalkeeper has been picking the ball up, but now I think the defenders and the goalkeepers don’t know what to do. There’s a lot of kicking for touch, isn’t there?
IR: Yeah. You know I’ve been in Italy, five years ago, and when we played away from home we played for a 0-0 draw. But now you see, you now 5-4 and 7-3s and that – that’s what’s happened this year. And I think basically it has come down to I think that rule.
JP: So how do you feel about the new rule then yourself? I mean, it works to your advantage.
IR: My advantage really. You know I love the new rule, but I think for defenders and for some goalkeepers, they can get in big trouble. I know a friend of mine – Andy Dibble, who played for Manchester City - he happened to break his leg by the rule. By coming out and a forward was chasing, they clashed, and he’s been out for a bit now with a broken leg. And it’s very unfortunate, but I think that rule can cause sort of problems like that.
JP: Yeah. Talking about friends, it must be difficult to have like regular friends and things if people are always getting moved on and in and out of the team, being transferred in and out and so on. I mean, do you have many friends in football?
IR: Actually, in football most probably my best friend is Ronnie Whelan. We’ve been fortunate, he’s been there 11 years now at Anfield.
JP: He’s injured now as well.
IR: Yeah, he’s injured… And what is happening now is because we came through from the reserves together into the first team at the same time – as you say, people come and go – but we have roomed together for about 10 years now, so really he is most probably the only one I have a serious good relationship. Apart from Kevin Ratcliffe, the Everton captain at the time, playing for Wales and living by me. Apart from them two really, the rest are just there, you know, as friends.
JP: Do you think there’s too much playing for penalties these days?
IR: I think that came into the game from abroad really. They were masters of it, you know, the Italians and the French and that, and it is most probably coming into the English game a little bit. But all credit to the English. I think they are good – even I’ve seen when players have dived, I’ve seen their own teammates say get up and get on with it.
JP: Do you think if it is an obvious dive, do you think that they should be penalized as well?
IR: Yeah. I think they should be penalized, yeah. And I think that is gradually beginning to happen now, but I think it should have happened years ago.
JP: Because I’ve seen players with a reasonable opportunity of scoring actually diving because they think they have got a better chance with that, which is really…
IR: Yeah. I think the main strikers, though, I think if you give a good striker a chance of scoring, they are not going to fall over. They are going to have a shot at goal. Because to be a good striker you have to be greedy.
IR: And I think if you give them half a chance, there’s no way – even if you do get fouled – you just try and stay up, because they want to score that goal themselves.
JP: I know you said in one of your interviews that I was reading that you don’t really pay much attention to the records you set and so on, but you have set a couple already this season. What is the next one? Is there anything else coming up that you know?
IR: I think there’s always something. I’ve equaled the Welsh ones, but I need one more to actually stand number one on the all-time Welsh ones.
JP: People always say that those things don’t mean much to them. I can hardly believe that’s true.
IR: I think you try not to, because if you think of it during the game, you know you are never going to score.
JP: Yeah, yeah.
IR: But actually, until this season I didn’t know – every time I seem to be scoring I seem to be breaking a record this season.
JP: Yeah, very much so.
IR: And it is only when the press come and tell you, but actually when you’ve broken it you can sit back and just give yourself a pat on the back really. But at the time, I always say that the most important thing for me is that the team win.
IR: And if the team are winning and you are playing striker, there’s a good chance that you are scoring. And I think with the team winning, everything comes with it naturally. And I think breaking records, that comes with the team winning.
JP: Yeah. So when you get into one of those periods, as everybody does from time to time, you go for a few matches without scoring, it doesn’t bother you? I mean, how much does that bother you?
IR: It depends how many games…
JP: What I mean is if the team is still winning, you know, and you are still playing your part…
IR: It’s not a problem if the team are winning, because you know very rarely 10 men beats 11 men every week – so you must be doing something. So I think it is more important when the team is not winning and you’re not scoring. So everyone says, “What’s happening here?” – and the strikers are not scoring maybe. Generally it all comes down to confidence. I’ve always been brought up or taught that you’ve got to be prepared to miss. So if you miss five and you score one, you can come off feeling a hero, because you scored the winning goal. The goalie, you know, is not in the same position. If the goalie lets one in, they’ve had a great game, lets one in, then he gets absolutely hammered. The longer you go without scoring, the more you lose your confidence. But as soon as you score one again, it’s a feeling which you most probably can’t describe. The confidence just comes flooding back again.
JP: What would you like to be doing in ten years time?
IR: I’ve never really thought about it really.
JP: There must have been times over breakfast or whatever when you’ve thought…
IR: Well, when I first started playing football I was 18, I thought I’ll be playing until I’m 30, because at that time anyone playing over 30 then wasn’t playing at all. Then as you get older, and I’m 31 now and I’m still playing. But I feel now like I can play for another three or four years….
JP: Well, you’ve got a contract for another three seasons.
IR: Yeah, could go on for three years. I think I’d like to stay in the game in some sort of capacity, but I don’t really know what I’d do. Really I just want to bring my kids up to have something which I never had.
JP: That’s fine. So do you think any chance of the championship this season?
IR: Well, I actually felt if we’d beaten Everton we’d have a great chance of winning it. I think the problem is that there’s one from five or six, apart from Norwich. People keep saying, “They’re not going to do it, they’re not going to do it.” But they are eight points clear now, so they can afford to lose a few games. They’re going to be there at the end of the season and apart from Norwich we are still in touch with the second place, who I think is Blackburn or someone, so I feel – well, I’ve just got to hope Norwich lose a few now. It’s in Norwich’s own hands now, but if Norwich lose a few, I believe we’ve got to get a run over the likes of Christmas and just after that, when you play two or three games in a week.
JP: Yeah, my favorite season was about – I’m very bad on years, but there was a season when Liverpool were about 12th or something at Christmas and everybody had already started writing their kind of “Sun Sets On Anfield”; “Glory Days Return,” to whoever was top. And there was that kind of march thing, and you just think the teams above them must have been thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” Just winning and winning and winning, and ended up I think three points clear or something at the end of the season.
IR: That was my first championship medal that. Because we were 12th and I remember one – I think it was the Daily Mirror or … The Daily Mirror – “The Empire Is Crumbling” and all that. And I think it was Graham Souness came in and put it up on the noticeboard and says, you know, “Look at that.”
IR: And from then on we just kind of won. I think we won 16 games on the run or something.
JP: It was an incredible run, because it was like my favourite – whatever year it was… What year was it?
IR: I think it was 1981.
JP: My favourite year anyway. Because as I say, everyone had written the team off.
IR: Right, I remember that. And I remember Bob Paisley saying then probably the most satisfying championship he has ever won. Because we had a lot of young lads in then, like myself and Ronnie Whelan and people like that coming in, and the likes of Ray Kennedy were still there and Phil Thompson, and I think he was satisfied because he knew that for another like five or six years he still had a championship-winning team at Liverpool.
JP: OK. Well, thank you very much for coming in and doing this, Ian. It has genuinely been an honour for me, having seen you from the terraces on so many occasions. Thank you very much.