In our previous Cult Heroes article, I commented that Eric Cantona’s disciplinary record made Joey Barton look like a mild mannered altar boy. The focus this week switches to another notorious Premier League bad boy, Everton legend Duncan Ferguson.
While we know that Cantona served a lengthy ban from the pitch due to his infamous kung fu kick, Duncan Ferguson actually served a three month prison sentence for assault, while playing for Rangers. Unlike Joey Barton and Steven Gerrard, Ferguson at least had the common courtesy to carry out the assault on the pitch in front of the cameras for our own entertainment. Regrettably, he is best remembered in Glasgow for the assault in what was a short and disastrous spell at the club. The Glaswegians had broke the domestic British football transfer fee record by paying £4 million to Dundee United for Ferguson’s services.
Ferguson had broken into the Dundee United team at the tender age of 18, in November 1990. In his first full season with the first team he was the top scorer with 16 goals. He bagged 15 goals in the 1992-93 season. In what should have been the start of a long and fruitful international career, he represented Scotland four times while still a Dundee United player. Ferguson was undoubtedly one of the brightest prospects in British football at the time. His eye for goal coupled with his 6′ 4′ frame and impressive physique gave him the attributes needed to play the role of the traditional British centre forward. Dundee United reportedly turned down offers for Ferguson in the region of £3 million from European giants Bayern Munich, as well as Leeds United and Chelsea.
Rangers made the best offer and Ferguson signed for the Ibrox outfit in July 1993. The big Scot had a horrendous spell with Rangers. His was restricted to featuring in just 14 league games in two seasons because of suspensions, injury problems and the inevitable lack of form that comes with them.
It was during Ferguson’s first season at Rangers that he was given a three month prison term for assault. During a match against Raith Rovers, Ferguson headbutted Raith defender John McStay off the ball. The referee and his officials missed the incident so Ferguson stayed on the pitch. The Scottish FA didn’t however, and banned Ferguson for 12 matches. This was his fourth assault conviction, but the only one he served jail time for. Hilariously, his other convictions were due to his involvement in two separate taxi rank scuffles and an assault on a fisherman in the tiny Scottish town of Anstruther. Far more amusing than the usual egotistical-footballer-punches-someone-in-nightclub incidents that seem so popular these days. Ferguson accused the SFA of failing to support him during his stay in prison and vowed to never play for Scotland again. He only ever played for his national side seven times, scoring one goal.
In October 1994, a struggling Everton side signed Ferguson on a three month loan contract, which they quickly turned into a permanent deal. His arrival had an immediate impact on the Toffees. On his debut as a permanent player, he scored against city rivals Liverpool in a 2-0 victory. Many regard that win as a catalyst for Everton’s renewed good form which steered them clear of relegation. He scored eight goals in 23 appearances that season. He also won the only silverware of his career that year when Everton famously beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final. Such was Ferguson’s importance to the team that Everton had rushed him back from injury for the final, although he was too unfit to start he did appear from the bench. Ferguson had been a part of a title winning Rangers team but did not play enough league games to be awarded a medal.
The following season was blighted by injuries for Big Dunc, as the Everton fans affectionately nicknamed him. Everton only missed out on qualifying for European competition on the very last day of the season. It was a season to forget for Ferguson as he only made 20 appearances. However, the next two seasons brought a fitter Ferguson and he scored 11 times in each season respectively as well as being awarded the captaincy in 1997.
In 1998, Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit signed a cheque for £7 million to bring Ferguson from Merseyside to Tyneside. For all his talk about sexy football, Gullit potentially had the ugliest, dirtiest British strike partnership of all time with Ferguson partnering Alan Shearer up front for the Geordies. The pairing looked set to blossom with Ferguson scoring twice on his debut against Wimbledon. Alas, it was not to be, as he only played in seven league games before injury struck him down again. He stayed another year with Newcastle, but his injury woes remained and Newcastle decided to sell him back to Everton for £3.5 million, half the fee the Toon Army originally paid for him.
Ferguson had had a good scoring record for Everton, especially against rivals Liverpool which endeared him to the Toffees to no end, and he played with a passion and intensity that the Goodison park crowd really appreciated, yet there were doubts that the £3.5 million deal represented good business considering the player’s injury problems.
Those doubts proved to be valid when Ferguson only played in 12 games for Everton that season. Despite his lack of game time, he still managed to weigh in with six goals to help a relegation threatened Everton avoid the drop. He equaled this goal tally the following season, although he appeared in 22 games. In the 2002-03 season he required surgery and only played for Everton seven time, not getting on the scoresheet once. The next season he returned to some sort of fitness, although his role was now more of a super-sub. The year that Everton finished in 4th place ahead of Liverpool, 2004-05, Ferguson made a career best 35 league appearances. Although many of these appearances were from the bench, he contributed six goals to the campaign that earned Everton a Champions League qualification place.
And so Ferguson entered the final year of his Everton contract, with his team looking at the prospect of Champions League football. Fairytale ending, right? Wrong. Everton failed to make the group stages and Ferguson played in 33 games in all competitions scoring just one goal. Ouch. I reserve the right to put it so bluntly, because I’m a Liverpool fan and Ferguson always seemed to thrive in Merseyside derbies. Otherwise, I would’ve wished him a fitting end to a career that was unfortunately plagued by injury problems. I was glad to see the back of him, but in a way sorry too, because Ferguson headbutting and punching players is a damn sight more interesting than Tim Cahill feigning punches at a corner flag.