Friday 22 November 2019

Ian Rush: I thought it was gone but magic of the Cup is back

Ronnie Moran: 'No way will we lose this'
Ronnie Moran: 'No way will we lose this'

Ian Rush

The words of the man talking to me are softly spoken. Yet there is intent in his eyes and conviction in what he says.

"Believe in yourself, Ian," he tells me. Then he looks around the rest of the room. "Believe, men. Believe."

It is 1986. The room I'm talking about is at Wembley. It's a hot day. FA Cup final day. This was what I dreamed of from the moment I woke up one morning as a 10-year-old and switched on the TV to watch Sunderland beat Leeds in the 1973 FA Cup final.

Winning the Cup was my dream, not the League. Yet I never did it. Chelsea or Brighton always seemed to beat us. I had a taste for it, okay.

When I was starting out as a pro at Chester, I went to St James' Park with Chester and scored in a 2-0 win. There were 30,000 people there. I looked around when I left the pitch and said, 'I want this every week'.

And from that day forward, I upped my game. I doubled my workload. I wanted to play in front of bigger crowds. I wanted the glory and the FA Cup provided it.

Or so I thought. From Chester I went to Liverpool. We won the European Cup. We won Leagues. We won the League Cup four times. But the FA Cup? No. It escaped us.

ELITE

Even though we were consistently the best side in England, and were regarded as part of the European elite, we could never get the trophy I wanted most of all.

And then this day, we were at Wembley, a week after being crowned League champions, and we were 1-0 down.

Walking into the dressing room that day, I felt deflated. Everton were leading. Gary Lineker had scored and they had played so much better than us. Was my dream fading away again?

"No," said Ronnie Moran. "No way will we lose this."

He was the assistant manager but because Kenny Dalglish was playing in the game, Ronnie gave the half-time team-talk.

It was brilliant. He didn't bark. He didn't scream. He reminded us we were the champions and spent five minutes speaking common sense. He didn't build Everton up. Instead he told us that we would win if we improved our performance levels by ten per cent.

We did. Shortly after half-time, I scored the equaliser. Up until that point, and indeed until a year later, I had this remarkable record whereby any time I scored a goal for Liverpool, coincidentally we never lost the game.

Really it is nothing more than a quirky statistic but because it was repeated so often, it got into people's heads. Opponents got freaked out by it. Our players got inspired. And after speaking to Peter Reid and Kevin Ratcliffe in the following months and years, it became clear that it negatively affected Everton that day.

"We were beaten by an equaliser," they said. "If it was anyone else who scored then maybe not. Maybe we would have gone on and won. But your goal killed our confidence."

I'd get another. We'd win 3-1. I'd win the FA Cup and know what glory was all about. The competition had it like no other.

And then it went. The glory, that is.

It disappeared. Manchester United withdrew from the 1999-2000 FA Cup and a bit of history went with them. The Champions League grew in stature and in prize-money. Finishing fourth became more important than winning the Cup.

Later, the money for finishing seventh or eighth in the Premier League appealed to owners more than a day out at Wembley. Then the calendar was changed. FA Cup final day was no longer played on the last Saturday after the regular league season.

And I felt awful. This was the competition I loved the most. I happened to score five times in finals, a record which still stands. My last game for Liverpool was the 1996 FA Cup final. I won the Cup three times. Those medals mean the world to me.

And somewhere, somehow, the glory was taken away.

It sickened me.

Then earlier his month, it seemed to come back. All these third round matches appeared on TV. There were shocks. There were comebacks. There were great matches. It was like the way it used to be.

MARKETING

Yeovil versus Manchester United. Brilliant. Bottom versus top. The marketing was superb and the buzz came back.

I felt it again this week when the TV schedules came out. So many matches were being screened. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Clubs were taking it seriously again. And you can see why.

Everyone knows that only two teams - Manchester City and Chelsea - have a chance of winning the League. Most of the Premier League teams - 15 - know their club will never win the League.

The Cup is their chance of success. Finally, it seems people are believing in the competition again. And no one is happier about that than me.

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