Wednesday, 17 October 2018

October 29, 1983: Rush and Woodcock

If David Coleman was right, and indeed goals do pay the rent, then there would have been plenty of happy landlords on Saturday October 29, 1983. Up and down the country, defences dozed, forwards frolicked, and nets bulged, as 135 goals were scored in the 44 league matches played in the top four divisions.

Two men in particular would grab the headlines, both of them scoring five goals on an extraordinary afternoon. Ian Rush and Tony Woodcock were under an injury cloud leading up to their exploits; Les Sealey and Nigel Spink must have wished afterwards that those particular fitness tests had been failed.

First to Anfield. Luton Town arrived in a positive frame of mind. Fourth in the table and with three league wins on the bounce, the Hatters were at least talking a good game before the daunting prospect of facing the champions.

“We are out to show we are no flash in the pan team and good enough to rub shoulders with the elite,” defender Paul Elliott stated. Unfortunately for Elliott and his team mates, they would soon find out just how good the elite were.

Liverpool’s hero of the afternoon almost didn’t make it on to the pitch. Suffering from a virus in his groin, Rush had missed the midweek dismantling of Brentford in the Milk Cup, and was only cleared to play at the last minute.

Within 75 seconds minutes, Rush had pushed any injury doubts to one side, scoring his first before adding another just three minutes later. Completing his hat-trick in the 36th minute, the Liverpool striker had already assured himself of the match ball. “The lads say I’ve got so many I can open up a sports shop,” Rush joked later.

Kenny Dalglish got in on the act, as Liverpool went to the break 4-0 up, with Luton thankful that Les Sealey was in fine form, despite the Liverpool Echo describing him as “on the wrong end of a coconut shy in the Luton goal.” There would be more pain for Sealey in the second half, though.

Adding two more to his tally, Rush later expressed his delight. “I came here not expecting to play but at 5 o’clock I’d got five goals. It was unbelievable.” The first Liverpool player to score five in a top flight match since 1902 was slightly modest in reflection. “I had only five touches and happened to be in the right place. The lads did all the work.”

Luton manager David Pleat admitted that Liverpool’s display was “painful, but brilliant to watch.” “I thought they had 15 men on the field. Whatever you try to confront them with, they counter. The only time I was worried was when I left my seat for the dugout – in case I missed any goals.”

On a normal day, Rush’s achievement would have dominated the column inches. But approximately 100 miles away from Anfield, Arsenal’s Tony Woodcock was doing his best to share the limelight. At one point, it even looked like there would be a little bit of Arsenal history repeating.

Woodcock’s season had been a stop-start affair. Pulling a hamstring whilst training with England at the start of October, he would limp out of Arsenal’s Milk Cup match against Plymouth and miss nearly three weeks recovering. But the rest appeared to do him some good.

Returning to action against Nottingham Forest, Woodcock scored twice in a 4-1 demolition of his former club. The press may have been focusing their gaze at the goal drought of summer signing Charlie Nicholas, but a week later, Woodcock diverted their attention (briefly).

Aston Villa were woeful on the day – “The worst I've seen since I've been here,” in the words of their manager Tony Barton – but Woodcock was unstoppable. Scoring four goals in the first 38 minutes, it appeared as if Woodcock was threatening to replicate Ted Drake’s seven at Villa Park for Arsenal in 1935.

When Woodcock added another early in the second half, the man himself admitted his astonishment. “When the fifth went in early in the second half, I thought to myself ‘God, this can’t go on. Everything I touch is a goal’.”

Arsenal would eventually run out 6-2 winners – Brian McDermott scoring the other – and Woodcock’s sharp shooting helped the club win £1,000 for the Canon top goal scorers in October (pipping Liverpool and Manchester United on away goals).

“He has just given some of the best forward play I have seen anywhere, anytime,” Arsenal manager Terry Neill enthused. The Arsenal boss must have hoped that his infuriatingly inconsistent team had turned a corner in Birmingham. But the team coach crashing into a wall when leaving Villa Park gave a better indication of the rough times in the near future.

Despite the problems ahead at Arsenal, Woodcock would end the season with 21 league goals. Liverpool’s fruitful season saw Rush find the net 47 times in all competitions. If Fantasy Football had existed in 1983/84, there may have been a good chance that Rush’s name would have been the first on your team sheet.

“Boring Arsenal? It is a tag we have never liked and never thought of as fair,” Woodcock explained, after his enjoyable afternoon in Birmingham. There was very little boring about October 29, 1983. Admittedly it was no September 25, 1982, but the high five achieved by both Rush and Woodcock made that particular Saturday special enough.

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