Alan Pattullo: Bankruptcy adds twist to Duncan Ferguson tale

Duncan Ferguson, pictured in midweek at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in his role as Everton first-team coach, was declared bankrupt at the High Court in London. Picture: AFP/Getty

Duncan Ferguson, pictured in midweek at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in his role as Everton first-team coach, was declared bankrupt at the High Court in London. Picture: AFP/Getty

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From being the subject of the biggest transfer between two British clubs to bankruptcy. From Glasgow’s Sheriff Court to the High Court in London, where Duncan Ferguson, jailed in 1995 for three months after head-butting Jock McStay, has had a petition for bankruptcy against him rubber-stamped.

This action, brought by HM Revenue and Customs, means the former Scotland international footballer’s eventful life is now provided with another twist. It is (yet another) cautionary tale for footballers, perhaps even for our times. XPRO, a charity set up for the welfare of former footballers, has calculated that an incredible 40 per cent of professional footballers end up being bankrupt within five years of playing their last game.

This is another bitter life experience to act as a reminder that there is often another side of the coin to the fame and adulation bestowed upon footballers

At least Ferguson, who retired in 2006, has avoided being included in this bleak statistic. However, this latest news is a clearly regrettable situation for him personally, especially given the current Everton first-team coach’s stated ambition to become a manager.

With Roberto Martinez’s job at Goodison now among those considered to be under threat, it is reasonable for a chairperson or owner to ask this question when assessing options: if Ferguson cannot manage his own finances, then how can he expect to control a first-team squad full of strong-willed and yes, well-paid, footballers? Ferguson was once one of them, of course.

As recently as a decade ago he was still on the books at Everton. By this stage, his last season at Everton, he was being paid less than he had been, but even after agreeing a pay cut in order to receive another year’s deal from Everton, he remained among the club’s top earners.

At one point in his career he was on a reported £38,000 a week. Not an amount to raise eyebrows now, perhaps. But back then he was among the top earners in the English 
Premiership.

He left Everton for Newcastle United for nearly £7 million, and returned less than two years later for around £6m, the move having initially faltered over Ferguson’s insistence that he be paid a loyalty fee of £250,000 to go. After all he hadn’t asked to leave.

He had agreed to join Newcastle for £38,000 a week for five seasons. It’s fair to assume that when he returned to Everton, it would not have been for too much less than that, something that rankled with some fans. At one stage a newspaper calculated that the injury-prone player’s few goals were coming at a cost of £400,000 each to Everton.

It was quite a startling step up from days when he complained that his bed in the lodgings he’d been given while at Dundee United was too small for his 6ft 4in frame. He was paid so little, in line with United’s then policy to reward achievement and also their punitive disciplinary code, by which players were fined for leaving drink cans lying around, that manager Jim McLean once pressed some money into his hand to buy Christmas presents.

He didn’t need to know how to handle money then because he didn’t have any to handle, although Ferguson’s generosity when he did get it perhaps anticipated these current troubles. Ray McKinnon, now manager at Raith Rovers, remembers the teenage striker buying champagne for all the young players after a win bonus.

But perhaps the most startling way of illustrating Ferguson’s new reality is to consider how, in July 1993, Ferguson became the most expensive player to be transferred between two British clubs when moving from United to Rangers.

Notably, of course, the deal, worth £3.75m but rising to £4m on appearances made, was struck between two Scottish clubs. The move was the lead item on ITV’s News at Ten that evening.

Ten years ago next week he was sent off for the eighth and last time in his English Premiership career. Ten years ago come May he scored his last goal, with his last kick in professional football. Then came a period of seclusion 
in Majorca, where he was involved in setting up a soccer academy, the success of which must now be questioned, if it was ever up and running at all.

He explained his shock return to football as being because he was fed up lying on a beach, while he missed the “smell of football”. He also mentioned he has to provide for his wife and three children, which, even then, some found strange, since they’d imagined he was set up for life after four big-money moves in his career.

But things aren’t so straightforward, clearly. Ferguson, like anyone, was susceptible to the financial downturn that unfolded after 2007, having built flats on land he owned in Formby, a well-to-do village in Merseyside. There have also been many cases recently of footballers bearing the brunt of bad financial advice, including investing in complicated film company schemes.

So this is a further twist in the Ferguson tale, another bitter life experience to act as a reminder that there is often another side of the coin to the fame and adulation bestowed upon footballers.

As recently as August, Ferguson lapped up the applause of nearly 35,000 paying customers at his testimonial between Everton and Villarreal, with the gate receipts going to several charities, including the Lily Centre, a cancer support centre.

But as is the case with anyone hurriedly filling out self-assessment forms ahead of Sunday’s deadline, generosity does not win a reprieve from the taxman.

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