Duncan Ferguson: Of blue noses and Barlinnie
On the date of the scheduled replay the striker was due back in court for sentencing after being found guilty of assaulting Raith Rovers’ Jock McStay while playing for Rangers in a league game in 1994.
As one newspaper report noted: “If he is not sent to prison, he faces a 400-mile air dash to Wembley straight from court for the rerun against Manchester United”. Even if he was sent to jail – and, spoiler alert, he was – Everton planned to lodge an appeal, which they duly did after their star player was handed a three-month sentence by sheriff Alexander Eccles in Court 15 of Glasgow Sheriff Court five days after the Goodison Park club’s FA Cup win. He eventually served 44 days in Barlinnie.
What an extraordinary season this proved for Ferguson, who turned 23 years old midway through it. It began with him coming off the bench to score for Rangers against Motherwell in a 2-0 opening-day win and ended shortly after being introduced to Prince Charles in the line-up before Everton took on Manchester United at Wembley. Ferguson had been sent on loan to Everton from Rangers that autumn in a twin package loan deal with Ian Durrant.
Reflecting his belief that he wouldn’t be hanging around long – Ferguson was committed to making things work at Ibrox – he arrived for his and Durrant’s unveiling press conference wearing a scarlet-coloured blazer. On Merseyside, this is the equivalent of turning up in a green suit to sign for Rangers. The cool feelings were mutual, initially at least.
Most Evertonians were more excited at the prospect of Durrant re-igniting his career than they were by the arrival of someone already living up to his nickname of Drunken Disorderly. That said, Paul Rideout was surprised Durrant, who he knew from his own spell at Rangers, had agreed to even a temporary move to the bottom of the Premiership. “Jesus Christ, Durranty, what the f**k are you doing here,” he asked prior to their first training session together at Bellefield, Everton’s then training ground. “Do you not realise the state we’re in?”
It’s often forgotten that it was Mike Walker, pictured, who brought Ferguson to Everton originally. But he was sacked after a 0-0 draw v Norwich. Ferguson was already looking like a suspect recruitment after failing to open his account for Everton in his first six appearances.
Then arrived the night, in the words of new manager Joe Royle, when he “became the legend before the player” after heading a 56th-minute opener at the Gwladys Street end in a famous 2-0 win over title-chasing Liverpool. The legend was later burnished by news he had been charged with a drink driving offence in the early hours of the previous morning.
Royle had considered taking him off at half-time. A kick from behind from Neil Ruddock then lit the fire inside Ferguson. “He got angry and became unplayable,” Royle later said. Another towering header, this time a winner against Manchester United the following February, saw Ferguson rip off his shirt and swing it around his head before then flexing a milky white bicep. He was rapidly becoming known as the man for the big occasion.
He also specialised in getting into trouble. A first red card of a record eight had come the previous month against Arsenal when he threw a punch at John Jensen. The campaign was Ferguson’s entire career in microcosm since it also included a frustrating period out with injury. A hernia problem almost cost him his FA Cup dream. With the Scot having only returned to the squad the previous weekend, Royle, in a psychological ploy as much as anything else, put Ferguson on the bench. He was sent on in the 51st minute to replace the injured Rideout, who had headed what proved the game’s winner.
Ferguson contributed only fleeting menace, including barging into Peter Schmeichel at one point. Unlike when Andy Gray did something similar 11 years earlier in the FA Cup final win for Everton over Watford, no goal came from this old-fashioned centre-forward play. Not that Everton needed another goal in the end.
Supporters celebrated Everton’s first major trophy for eight years – and their last to date – while wearing blue noses, 25,000 of which were distributed by the Liverpool Echo after they tracked down the only supplier of plastic, Comic Relief-style noses to a factory in Leicester. Ferguson popped one on in the celebrations afterwards.
“To lose any final is painful but to lose to a team as ordinary as Everton is just not acceptable,” wrote Sir Alex Ferguson in his autobiography. He blamed United’s capitulation – they had surrendered the league title the previous weekend to Blackburn Rovers – on Eric Cantona’s long suspension following a flying kick at a Crystal Palace fan earlier in the season.
Ferguson did reserve warm words for Royle and Neville Southall, who was “inspired”. The goalkeeper was a complete one-off. Everton later decamped to London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel. Duncan Ferguson partied as hard as anyone. He donned a kilt and danced bare-chested on the tables. Such wild abandon was understandable since he knew the walls were about to close in on him.
The teetotal Southall, meanwhile, got in his car and drove home to north Wales having just become the most decorated player in Everton’s history. All he wanted, he said, was a cup of tea and then bed. But he did permit himself some amusement. “Halfway home I saw a broken-down car full of Manchester United supporters,” he recalled in his autobiography, The Binman Chronicles. “I thought, ‘Shall I pick them up? Yeah, we beat them and we won the cup; I’ll pick them up.’
“I bet of all the people in the world I was the last person they wanted or expected to drive them to the nearest garage.”
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