Before the Fire existed, before the internet, I was one of those sad, lonely faces buried in the agate of the sports section, combing through local bowling league and sprint-car results to find the rarest of reports, soccer scores from Europe. I'd trail down the results for the outcomes from one club in particular: Liverpool Football Club.
I'm not sure why. The Beatles? Bill Shankly was a socialist? The roots of the decision are lost in time. When the internet came around, it didn't take long to discover fan forums where a score like "Liverpool 1-2 Leeds" went from a simple descriptor to the starting point of a wide-ranging, profane and learned discussion. I learned about Heysel. I learned about Hillsborough. I learned about five European Cups, and 18 league titles, and seven FA Cups. And I learned, inevitably, about Ian Rush - the poacher's poacher, and the Reds' all-time leading scorer, with (eventually) 346 goals in 660 appearances.
So, it goes without saying I jumped at the chance to interview the great man, even if the intent was pure log-rolling: Liverpool are playing Olympiacos at Soldier Field on July 27, see. Even big clubs in the Premier League title race - especially clubs in the Premier League title race - need to thump the tub here in the USA, and get those tickets sold. It's all about building a brand, or something.
Shankly probably wouldn't approve, but he'd understand. Doing our bit for commerce, or something. We're all in this together. And in that spirit - guided, as always, by the exotically limited menu of topics on offer - I had this brief, lovely conversation with the most prolific goal-scorer in the history of one of the oldest, most decorated clubs in the world.
Hot Time: Have you been to Chicago before, Mr. Rush?
Ian Rush: Mr. Rush?
Who are you talking to? Ian.
I've been to Chicago once before, I think, but years ago. Didn't really get a chance to see the city - we were on our way to Evansville (Indiana); I know some friends in Evansville. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the city.
HTIOT: The club is playing fantastic football - how is the mood in Liverpool right now?
IR: It's incredible, the feeling. It hasn't felt like this in town since the early 90s, to be honest. Liverpool's an incredible football - eh, soccer - soccer town.* The fans are always optimistic at the start of the season, and this year the team hasn't given them any reason to come down. The city is buzzing and it's wonderful to see. ...
Anfield's back to a sellout every week. It's a hard ticket to get. And the entertainment in the side is incredible. I mean, [Luis] Suarez, Steven Gerrard, yes, but now Coutinho, [Daniel] Sturridge, [Raheem] Sterling. It's quite a group of players we have.
HTIOT: When you watch this Liverpool team, do you feel any tactical or stylistic connection to the previous generation of great Liverpool teams you played on?
IR: This team now is entertaining to watch. They get forward, get right at you, or try to. When we played, winning one-nil was never enough. We'd get one, we're straight away thinking about two - get two, thinking about three. We felt like, we give up two goals, we'll just go out and get three.
That's what Brendan Rogers has brought to this team - that attacking style, that entertainment. He's got great players playing well, playing attacking football. That's how we played. It's inspirational.
HTIOT: The timing of this friendly is just a couple of weeks after the World Cup, which I'd assume means that the players on those rosters still won't be with the club. What young players, Academy players, should Liverpool supporters look for in this game against Olympiakos?
IR: We do have great players that will be in the World Cup - I mean, Suarez, Gerrard, so many - and you should see most of them with the team in Chicago. From Liverpool's point of view, the World Cup is not important. It just isn't important to Liverpool.
Brendan Rogers has made it clear that the players are expected to be there [in preseason] to prepare to take the next step, whatever that is - if we don't win the league, then win it, and if we do win it this year, then get better. The names that are healthy should be there.
Of course, Brendan will bring not just the first-team squad. We'll have 24 to 26 players along on this trip, including some academy players. I don't want to name academy players, as it's not exactly fair to them - still a few months out, and the pressure to make the next step doesn't help young players. But Liverpool supporters will be able to see them in July - a few of the top lads will come along, if not with an eye toward first team football this year, than maybe a year or two down the road.
* Mr. Rush corrected himself constantly when he'd mention ‘football,' changing it to ‘soccer.' I didn't want to interrupt and tell him it was okay. It was charming, despite the PR coaching it implies.