He was the enigmatic Goodison hero who shunned the media limelight, but became an icon to a generation of adoring Evertonians. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, Duncan Ferguson has given an exclusive interview to the ECHO – and reiterated why his bond with the Toffees remains as strong as ever.
DUNCAN FERGUSON walks purposefully into the room, settles his imposing frame into a chair and folds his arms.
Peeking just under the sleeves of his training top is the blue etching of that famous tattoo – a number nine inside the Everton crest – which was but one element that contributed to the near semi-mythical aura generated by a footballer who remains sacrosanct to many on the blue half of Merseyside.
There’s no doubting it. At 41, the big man is still lean, still mean and still has more presence than a dressing room full of modern sound-bite-eschewing, production-line standard, footballers.
But then he smiles. He sits back, unfolds his arms and smiles, and it’s clear that Ferguson, now a highly-rated coach at Finch Farm, is ready to reveal the other side to his character. It’s the nurturing, considered, articulate side which has quickly marked him out as a coach with the ability to go far.
As an assistant to another Blues legend, under-18s coach Kevin Sheedy, the former Scotland international is thriving, and clearly revels in the role of tutor to a generation of future Everton standard-bearers.
But before we talk about those yet to grace the Goodison turf, there is the matter of a two-part, decade-long Everton career which saw Ferguson write his name into the history books alongside the prestigious band of revered former number nines.
It all began in 1994 with a loan spell, which Ferguson believed was simply a chance to enjoy a temporary reprieve from the difficulties which had dogged some of his time at Rangers.
“When I left Rangers they said to me ‘Go on loan for a few months and then come back’ and that was what was in my mind,” says Ferguson, recalling the switch to Merseyside arranged by Mike Walker.
“I’d never been to the city and hadn’t been to Everton before. But it wasn’t long, maybe a couple of weeks, before I was thinking ‘You know what? I don’t want to be going back up the road – I’m happy where I’m at’. It didn’t take me long at all to get that feeling.”
If Ferguson was quickly at ease, it was nothing to the feelings he experienced on that fateful night when his career south of the border really took off. Monday, November 21, 1994 was a transformative evening for the Scot.
The Sky Sports cameras were in L4 and Liverpool were the opponents at Goodison Park. For Ferguson, who set the ball rolling with the first of a two-goal victory over the Reds, it was the start of something special.
“You could definitely say it was life-changing,” he recalls. “It was a fantastic moment. I’d played a few games already and hadn’t scored but that was the turning point. It was when I knew I was at a massive club and to score my first goal in such a massive derby was special. It made me even more part of the club.
“I just remember the roar when it hit the net. It’s not until you look back at the tapes that you realise what you did afterwards – I think I ran away and slid towards a part where there were no fans! The split second after you score you’re not really in control. It was very emotional and that wall of noise is great.”
That result began a surge which led all the way to Wembley the following May, and served to stoke Ferguson’s reputation as a crowd favourite who played his part in restoring the club’s pride after the relegation worries of the preceding years.
But it also gave the combative striker a taste for what would become his favourite fixture – the no-holds-barred contest of a Merseyside derby.
“I enjoyed the competition of them – right from my Dundee United days, or at Rangers, or Newcastle,” he says. “They were great games to be in but the Merseyside one was something else. I felt I competed well. I always tried to put myself around and felt I gave everything I had. It’s about giving that extra bit.”
Ferguson went on to score 69 goals for the Toffees over the course of his two spells, but his career was hampered by a succession of injuries. Undoubtedly the repeated frustration of missing out hit the forward hard, but he has little time for the suggestion it ever caused him to fall out of love with the game.
“I’m not sure if I played as if I didn’t love football?,” he says as if offended by the notion. “I was playing it since I was seven and if I didn’t love it I’d have done something else. When I put my shirt on I gave everything. I’ve got the scars to prove it – too many really. I had about a dozen operations.
“I didn’t play as many games as I wanted to play and should have played. If I’d played twice as many games there would have been more goals. I think part of it was the way I was built, I just picked up injuries. It is what it is though; I can’t get away from it.”
Ferguson was so immersed in life at Everton that he never considered playing on at another club after his contract was not renewed in 2006, although he nevertheless found hanging up his boots difficult.
Such was the fraught transition into retirement, Ferguson decided to opt for a new start by moving his family to Spain, although even in the Majorca sunshine, he admits the Blues were never far from his thoughts.
Those thoughts, for a man who has long preferred to avoid interviews, stayed private – so did he experience much surprise from others when he returned to the UK with the intention of becoming a coach, and in the future a manager?
“I’m not sure what people thought,” he says. “Obviously with me leaving the game and going abroad for a number of years maybe (there was surprise).
“I went away and spent some time with my family but it was always something that was in the back of my mind, ‘How am I going to get back in the game? I want to get back into the game with Everton’. It was just that process then and how would I do it?
“I don’t want to keep on harping on about it but everyone knows this is the club I love and always want to be at.
“I’m made up to be working with the Academy. When I first came in I was working with all the different age groups and I still do sometimes. But at the moment I seem to have settled with assisting Kevin Sheedy and the U-18s.”
Ferguson is settled and happy back at Everton, but having recently passed the UEFA A coaching licence he is also dreaming of a management role at some point in his future.
“I’m taking my pro licence now which will qualify me to become a manager,” he says. “I’ve passed my UEFA badges and I started the big one last month. At the moment I’m taking it step by step and enjoying it. Where I’ll go in the future time will tell.”
So with his eyes firmly on the future, Big Dunc is ready for whatever challenges it brings. But being back on his old stomping ground means his memories of a special playing career are rarely far away.
“I have looked back,” he says. “When you finish and the kids say, ‘Dad did you play a wee bit?’ and you put on the DVDs.
“It was a fantastic thing to be playing for Everton and for people to want to speak to you or a kid to look up to you. People shouting your name on the terraces. Incredible.”