Testimonials are typically a time to look back and wistfully reminisce. So after it was announced Everton would be hosting a belated one for former striker Duncan Ferguson against Villarreal, it was no surprise to see a poll running on the club’s official website recollecting some of the current first team coach’s best moments in a blue shirt.
They included vital goals and rousing performances, as you would expect. But in addition, the time he grasped Leicester City’s Steffen Freund around the neck, when he punched Paul Scharner and a confrontation with ex-Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, were all down as options.
From afar, this may seem peculiar, but for Evertonians it’s no surprise; Ferguson was a divisive figure amongst the football firmament, but not at Goodison Park. For all the aforementioned unsavory incidents, the barrel-chested Scot is as positively etched in this generation of Toffees’ memories as the Everton crest tattooed on Ferguson’s upper left arm.
“Big Dunc” came to the club with a degree of infamy already attached in 1994. Rangers, who had paid a British record fee to land the powerhouse forward from Dundee United, let the Stirling-born striker head on loan to Everton after Ferguson had head-butted Raith Rovers’ John McStay. It was an incident which the Scot would eventually serve a three-month prison sentence for after later making his move to Merseyside permanent.
The aforementioned earlier incidents also blotted his Toffees career, which was interspersed with an ill-fated two-year spell at Newcastle United. As did injuries, with Ferguson spending plenty of time in the treatment room throughout his playing career—“in for a week, out for a month” the Liverpool supporters used to sing about the Everton talisman.
So, it begs the question, why is he such a deistic figure for those of a blue persuasion? After all, according to Toffeeweb, the striker only scored 72 Everton goals in 272 appearances, 81 which came from the bench. He also picked up a whopping eight Premier League red cards, currently the joint-most in the division’s history, per statbunker.com.
Yet, there are few Everton supporters in any walk of life with a bad word to say about their former No. 9.
“As a young lad growing up in Croxteth, Duncan Ferguson was a hero of mine,” said England skipper and Evertonian Wayne Rooney to the Everton website, who will play in the big man’s testimonial. “…had he not asked me to play I would have gone and supported him on the day as I am sure most other Evertonians will.”
“We just class him as one of the lads,” said current player and fellow Toffee Ross Barkley, per Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo. “But you do have to be respectful because he is a coach and obviously he is a legend – everybody knows that.”
First of all, Ferguson was an excellent player. His stunning aerial ability was a hallmark of his game, but Big Dunc was a brilliant technician too. The Scot was a quality target man, an understatedly intelligent operator and had a sweet left foot. Indeed, former manager David Moyes claimed Ferguson was the finest finisher he had at Everton.
Those qualities were on show in earnest when Ferguson tore the Reds apart in the 1994 Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, when scoring a stunning brace against Manchester United at Old Trafford during the 1995-96 season and as the former Dundee United man helped the Toffees to the FA Cup in 1995—the club’s last major honor.
Listen to an interview with David Moyes about Duncan Ferguson and more:
After leaving for Newcastle in controversial circumstances in 1998 and returning two years later, there were more memorable moments. Off the bench late in his career Ferguson was capable of making major impacts and if Everton were toiling, it wouldn’t take long for the Gwladys Street to call for the Scot to enter the fray. “Get Big Dunc on, Moyes!” was a popular shout in those days.
But there were still complete performances in the twilight of his career, the most iconic of which was capped by a diving header on a spring evening at Goodison Park in a 1-0 win against, again, United in 2005, 10 years on from his winner against the same opposition. It was a goal which gave Everton the final push they need in pursuit of an unexpected top four finish and a trigger for one of the most atmospheric evenings the famous old ground has ever had.
There were traits that set Ferguson aside from other footballers too. On the one hand, he had a silent authority and a well-earned reputation as a hard man, meaning there were very few defenders who would go out of their way to fire up the indomitable striker.
But there were human attributes the striker displayed too, something scarce in the mechanistic make-up of most modern players. The passion that overcame him when scoring goals, the outstanding but often anonymous charity work he would do away from the game and his favorite pastime of homing pigeons, to name but a few.
Sometimes the two shades of Ferguson, human and hard man, became intertwined.
In a game against Dynamo Bucharest at Goodison Park in 2005, Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta was left convulsing on the floor after a horrendous challenge from an opposition player, while Gabriel Tamas was accused of spitting at a Ferguson’s compatriot James McFadden. Tamas left the stadium with a black eye for his troubles; no prizes for guessing who gave him it, per the Birmingham Mail.
Before that, in 2001, Ferguson was subject to a burglary by two men at his Rufford home. The Scot copped the pair and although one escaped, the second couldn’t free himself of Ferguson’s clutches and spent the following three days in hospital for his troubles, per BBC.co.uk.
It’s incidents like these which endeared Ferguson to the Everton faithful. Although he overstepped the line on more than one occasion, the striker was the general in a Toffees team which contained too many cowering in the trenches. He was fallible and frustrated, just like the supporters were, but rarely did Ferguson shirk responsibility.
Like the average blue-collar fan, football wasn’t the be-all and end-all for the striker either, he had other more significant priorities. “It’s been a job and a way in and a way to money,” said Jim McLean, Ferguson’s first manager at Dundee United, per Jamie Jackson of the Guardian. “…I said to him time and time again: ‘The game means far too much to me, I know that. But it means fuck all to you.'”
There are few that have followed the forward’s career closely who will deny he should have enjoyed more success. Ferguson had all the tools to go to the very top of the game and was let down by both his body and his temper throughout his playing days. But his legend at Everton would never have been forged on the back of trophy wins and goal tallies.
Having spent ten years of his career on Merseyside, Toffees supporters have always been thankful of the endeavors he put in during one of the club’s most tumultuous recent times. While his name still rings out around Goodison Park on match-days, Sunday will be the perfect opportunity to express further deserved gratitude and hear calls to “get Big Dunc on” one final time.
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