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Duncan Ferguson

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Duncan Ferguson, (born December 27, 1971 in Stirling, Scotland) is a Scottish football player currently unattached to a club.

Ferguson began his football education at Carse Thistle F.C. before being signed to Dundee United F.C. in 1990 on his first professional contract. From that time he has played for Rangers F.C., Everton F.C. and Newcastle United F.C.; his career often punctuated by controversy and injury.

When not blighted by these mishaps, his strength and stature made him a potent target–man. These characteristics have earned Ferguson a reputation as one of the most difficult players to defend against in the English Premier League. Players such as John Terry and Sami Hyypiä have both named Ferguson as their toughest opponent. This dominating style and a poor disciplinary record has often seen him attract the ire of referees.

Ferguson is not considered a prolific goal–scorer, instead he is valued for his capacity to hold the ball in defiance of opposition players, permitting others to be brought into the attack. This is coupled with an aerial prowess that is enhanced by his uncommon height and an unusual level of skill for a man of his size.

During his career, Ferguson has won the FA Cup with Everton in 1995, competed in the UEFA Champions League in 2005, also with Everton, and participated in the UEFA Cup in 1999 with Newcastle and 2005 with Everton. He has been capped for Scotland seven times but has made himself unavailable for selection in his national team due to a dispute with the Scottish Football Association.

Playing career

Dundee United F.C.

Ferguson made his professional bow for Dundee United against Rangers at Ibrox Stadium on November 11, 1990 and emerged on the winning side with a scoreline of 2–1. This proved a fruitful beginning and by season’s end he had become a first team regular, making nine appearances and scoring one goal in the league.

He achieved greater impact in the Scottish Cup that year. An impressive effort of three goals from five matches aided Dundee United in reaching the 1991 cup final. Once there, they lost to Motherwell F.C., 4–3 after extra time. Despite this, Ferguson had clearly established himself as a player of some value and finished the two successive seasons as the club’s top scorer.

The form he displayed at Dundee United also saw him win a call–up to the Scottish national team. Ferguson accrued four caps during 1992 and 1993, playing in three friendlies and one European Football Championship match. Unfortunately, these outings yielded no goals for the striker.

During his time at Dundee United, Ferguson had an often confrontational relationship with his manager and chairman, Jim McLean. This culminated in his 1993 sale to Rangers, for a then British record fee of £3.75 million by McLean’s managerial successor, Ivan Golac. This windfall aided in the cost of redeveloping Dundee United’s home ground, Tannadice Park.

Rangers F.C.

Walter Smith was the man responsible for bringing Ferguson to Rangers in 1993. Smith had begun his managerial career at Dundee United under Jim McLean, just as Ferguson had begun his professional playing career for the same man. While Smith had left Dundee United to assist Graeme Souness at Rangers, he eventually took over the managerial role in 1991. The paths of Ferguson and Smith were to cross numerous times from this point.

Duncan Ferguson
Personal information
Date of birth December 27, 1971
Place of birth Stirling, Scotland
Height 1.93 m
Nickname Big Dunc
Position Striker
Youth clubs
1989–90 Carse Thistle
Professional clubs*
Years Club Apps (goals)
1990–92
1992–94
1994–98
1998–00
2000–2006
Dundee United F.C.
Rangers F.C.
Everton F.C.
Newcastle United F.C.
Everton F.C.
77 (28)
14 (2)
116 (37)
30 (8)
115 (22)
National team**
1992–97 Scotland 7 (0)
* Professional club appearances and goals
counted for the domestic league only and
correct as of 09:42, 12 February 2006 (UTC).
** National team caps and goals correct
as of 09:42, 12 February 2006 (UTC).

Given the weight of expectation that Ferguson’s form and epic transfer fee generated, disappointment would be hard to stave off. Ferguson made little impact at Rangers, coupling indifferent displays and persistent injury woes, he played few games and scored fewer goals. Luck was also not on Ferguson’s side: In his first six games Ferguson hit the post three times and saw a goal against Partick Thistle F.C. incorrectly disallowed. He was also played out of position by Smith, often as a left winger and on one occasion even as a left back in a match against Levski Sofia.

In contrast, season 1994–95 saw Ferguson start in fine form. Gary Pallister and David May of Manchester United F.C. endured a torrid time in a pre–season victory playing against Ferguson and this was followed by a last–minute winner against Motherwell F.C., brought about by a Brian Laudrup assist. Four days later Ferguson scored a hat–trick in a 6–1 win over Arbroath. The next game saw Ferguson pressure a Partick Thistle player into scoring an own goal, leading to a 2–0 win for Rangers.

A Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens FC left Rangers 2–0 down after the first leg. Smith elected to gamble on a partnership of Ferguson and Mark Hateley up front, in an effort to overcome the deficit. The two players were poorly suited to playing along side each other; they often ended up competing for the same ball. Despite Ferguson having outscored Hateley in the first five games of the season, Smith was in need of a scapegoat and levied the burden on Ferguson.

The most significant moment of Ferguson’s time with Rangers came on the pitch, but had little to do with football. It was during 1994 that his on–field altercation with John McStay of Raith Rovers led to Ferguson’s incarceration within Barlinnie prison.

Everton F.C. (1994 – 1998)

In late 1994, Everton were struggling under the stewardship of Mike Walker and looking for options to reinvigorate their faltering season. The solution enacted was to take two Rangers players on a month long loan–deal by the names of Ian Durrant and Duncan Ferguson.

The deal failed to secure Walker’s tenure which saw the managerial role handed to Joe Royle. Royle decided to let Durrant return north to Rangers but elected to sign Ferguson permanently in a £4 million deal.

While still on loan, Ferguson contributed a goal in the 2–0 Merseyside derby victory at Goodison Park on 21 November 1994. The significance of the derby to Everton’s fans ensured Ferguson’s popularity, which was then further reinforced as the club worked their way out of relegation contention.

Further plaudits were heaped upon Ferguson as he proved instrumental in helping Everton progress to the semi–final stage of the 1995 FA Cup. Despite recovering from an injury at the time, he was given a substitute appearance in the final against Manchester United F.C., a game that saw Everton victorious and provided Ferguson with his only honour to date in a 1–0 result.

The subsequent, 1995–96, season was less successful for Ferguson. A persistent hernia problem was to see him unavailable for large amounts of time. More difficult was his time spent in Barlinnie prison as punishment for his earlier fracas with John McStay. These events precluded Ferguson from developing a potentially fruitful understanding with Andrei Kanchelskis.

From here, Ferguson continued to be the focal point of Everton’s attack. In 1996–97 he helped maintain the club’s top–flight status but also suffered another injury setback, this time requiring surgery on his knee. Howard Kendall returned to manage the club in 1997–98 and decided that season to reward Ferguson with the captaincy of the team. It was during this season that Ferguson removed himself from contention for the Scottish national team.

After a poor 1997–98 season, Kendall made way for Walter Smith, reuniting Ferguson with his Rangers manager. Smith maintained the incumbent strategy of bypassing the midfield and, instead, lofting the ball straight to Ferguson. This one–dimensional approach was beginning to tire and results were suffering as teams became more adept at containing Ferguson’s game.

Irrespective, Ferguson’s value had drastically increased since his arrival at the club. This potential windfall was too tempting for Everton chairman Peter Johnson to resist. Without the approval or knowledge of Smith, Ferguson was sold to Newcastle for £8 million in 1998; the deal alleviated the financial pressure being exerted on the club but the surreptitious nature of the transaction caused extreme anger within the ranks of Everton supporters and was a contributing factor in Johnson subsequently stepping–down from the chairman’s position.

Newcastle United F.C.

Upon bringing Ferguson to Newcastle, team manager Ruud Gullit was swiftly rewarded. Ferguson scored a brace on debut against Wimbledon F.C. at St James’ Park. The final result was a 3–1 victory to Newcastle and the tantalising prospect of Ferguson and Alan Shearer forming a formidable strike partnership.

Though it was not to be: Ferguson again found himself struck down by injury and appeared only seven times for Newcastle during the 1998–99 season. His extended absence lasted from late December until April and curbed the early promise of his Tyneside career. Likewise, the first half of 1999–00 was dominated by injury for Ferguson, his first extended run of health and form came only in 2000 when he managed to establish a fruitful understanding with Shearer.

Injury would once again impede Ferguson’s career though and he was unable to participate in the final seven league matches of the season. These injury woes made his position at Newcastle untenable and he was eventually sold back to Everton by Sir Bobby Robson for £3.75 million; almost half the price he was bought for from Everton 2 seasons earlier. His final outing as a Newcastle player was against Chelsea F.C. in the FA Cup semi–final loss of 2000.

Everton F.C. (2000 – 2006)

As Bill Kenwright took a controlling interest at Everton, the club found themselves devoid of fit strikers. Kenwright’s passionate support for the club, even prior to his ownership, was displayed by his curious choice of bolstering an injured strike force with a player who had been injured more often than not over the previous two years and whose chief quality appeared to be nostalgia. Despite this anomaly, Ferguson was re–signed to Everton in 2000 by Walter Smith.

True to expectation, Ferguson’s second game upon returning to Everton saw a recurrence of his injury problems. Regardless, he managed to participate in a reasonable thirteen matches in the 2000–01 season and provided a crucial six goals in that time. This was enough to justify the return and once again keep Everton from the ignominy of relegation.

That a player could find himself so besieged with injury was baffling for all concerned and many efforts had been made at diagnosis and long–term repair. The eventual discovery of Ferguson’s compressed sciatic nerve brought a degree of understanding to his inability to maintain fitness. Medical suspicion was that Ferguson had been harbouring the condition for the previous four years, undiagnosed, and that this would have caused extreme discomfort and pain from simply running, much less competitive football.

The next two seasons were largely anonymous for Ferguson with the player battling to recover from his sciatica and rediscover his best form. Now in his late twenties, age was beginning to play a factor in Ferguson’s effectiveness. Once in his early thirties and participating in the 2003–04 season, Ferguson again started to add value to the Everton team but he was eclipsed by the emergence of Wayne Rooney.

During 2004–05, manager David Moyes began to utilise Ferguson effectively as a substitute. The striker’s contribution from the bench was pivotal in Everton’s campaign that season and his tally of five league goals lifted Everton to a fourth–placed finish. Many of his late goals altered match outcomes and led to a “super–sub” mantle being applied to Ferguson. A particular highlight was his match–winning goal against Manchester United, reminiscent of ten years prior when Ferguson scored against the same team to give Everton victory. The intervening period had seen Manchester United unbeaten by Everton in the league.

The 2005–06 season saw Ferguson regain the coveted number 9 shirt; the number he has tatooed inside the Everton crest on his left upper arm. However, the 2005-2006 season was somewhat less fruitful for Ferguson with goals proving elusive and frustration dominating his displays. This led to Ferguson speculating on his own future, going so far as to consider retiring mid–season due to his indifferent performances. Moyes was successful in convincing Ferguson to remain but the player was used only sporadically.

The dubious notable of Ferguson’s 2005–06 season was his sending off against Wigan Athletic F.C. for violent conduct. His confrontation with Paul Scharner and subsequent fracas with Pascal Chimbonda resulted in a total match–ban of seven games and saw Ferguson’s Premier League red–card count reach eight, equalling Patrick Vieira’s ignoble record.

On 7 May 2006, against West Bromwich Albion F.C. and at Goodison Park, Ferguson was named as captain in the game that marked the end of his Everton career. His 90th minute penalty kick was saved by Tomasz Kuszczak, but he subsequently scored from the rebound, netting his final goal for the club.

Personal

Burglaries

In 2001, Ferguson was the victim of a burglary attempt by two men at his then home in Rufford, Lancashire. Ferguson confronted the pair and was able to detain one of them who subsequently spent three days in hospital. The second man managed to flee but was eventually caught. Both men were sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment for their actions. Later because of their actions, both men won an "Honorable Mention" from the Darwin Awards.

Two years later, in early 2003, Ferguson again fell victim to a case of burglary. This time there was only one intruder, Carl Bishop of Walton, Liverpool. The crime took place in Ferguson’s Formby home and, again, Ferguson elected to confront his intruder. He restrained Bishop until police arrived and Bishop admitted intent to steal but levelled accusations of assault against Ferguson which did not eventuate into a criminal charge.

Barlinnie

Ferguson has frequently found himself in trouble with the law. This has led to four convictions for assault; two arising from taxi–rank scuffles, one an altercation with a fisherman in an Anstruther pub and the most infamous: his on–field assault of Raith Rovers defender John McStay in 1994 while playing for Rangers.

For the indiscretion of head–butting McStay, Ferguson was punished with a three month sentence in Barlinnie Prison of which he served forty–four days in 1995 while contracted as an Everton player. In addition, the Scottish FA imposed a twelve–match playing ban on Ferguson which is widely considered a primary factor in his decision to withdraw from international football. Oddly, Ferguson played a further two matches for Scotland after these events which would suggest that his reasons are more complex than popular opinion is able to account for.

In contrast to the Scottish FA, Everton were highly supportive of the player. Ferguson’s manager, Joe Royle, visited him in prison and the club argued successfully that any playing ban imposed in Scotland was not enforceable in England, thus enabling Ferguson to play immediately after his release.

Upon conclusion of his sentence he was feted onto the field of play by both club and supporters. This created some sense of anger as many observers believed that such actions condoned Ferguson’s misdemeanours and were thus a poor reflection on the club and game. Ferguson’s idols took the opposing view; that the player had endured a highly unpleasant experience and deserved support in his efforts to return to normality.

This episode of Ferguson’s life inspired the musical piece Barlinnie Nine, composed by Osmo Tapio Räihälä. The name comes about by way of Barlinnie prison and Ferguson’s shirt number; nine. Of his work, Räihälä said: “I got the idea for it when he was facing jail and had just become something of a cult figure for Everton. It takes into account the contradictions in him: he has an aggressive side but there is a lyrical undertone to him, as the fact that he keeps pigeons shows.”

Barlinnie Nine was premiered on April 20, 2005 by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, in the Finlandia Hall, Helsinki. On this same day Ferguson scored the only goal in a 1–0 victory over Manchester United at Goodison Park. It was the first time in ten years that Everton had beaten Manchester United in a league encounter and both matches were decided by a Ferguson goal. The significance of this was not lost on Räihälä who said: “There I was describing Duncan as a failure in Finland, and thousands of miles away at Everton he rises like a phoenix from the ashes to score against Manchester United. If there are gods of football up there, this proves they have got a most twisted sense of humour.”

Honours

  • FA Cup (Everton F.C., 1995)

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