ECHO Everton Reporter Greg O’Keeffe concludes his EXCLUSIVE interview with Duncan Ferguson as the iconic Goodison Park striker reveals how fan letters helped him through jail and why he’s given up his pigeons to focus on management.
DUNCAN FERGUSON’S love affair with Everton might have started on the football pitch in the euphoria of a derby victory – but it was cemented in a gloomy prison cell, with the big man at his lowest ebb.
The striker had settled into his Merseyside home and was beginning to build a career in the Premier League in October 1995, when a supreme court judge condemned him to three months in Glasgow’s notorious Barlinnie jail.
Ferguson, who had been sentenced for butting an opponent during a game while he was at Rangers the previous year, had to put his career – and his life – on hold.
But he had already won the hearts of Everton supporters, and will never forget their support at his darkest hour.
Within days of his sentence beginning, letters of support from Merseyside began to arrive by the sack-load. Ferguson was humbled and uplifted at once.
“The volume was incredible and I tried my best to write back to them,” he says.
“We did a wee letter and I tried to sign every one of them. The support I got from Evertonians was unbelievable.
“It’s a shock to the system when someone says you’re going to nick.
“But when you go into one of these places and you’re getting letters from kids who support you it doesn’t half lift you.”
An enduring bond had been created. Throughout Ferguson’s career he remained an Evertonian; a gladiator of the people.
The striker chose to mark his final ever game for the club, when he scored a dramatic 90th minute penalty to secure a point against West Brom at Goodison, by going for a drink in town that evening.
But instead of shutting himself off in an isolated nightclub VIP section, Ferguson headed for a humble city centre pub.
“Yeah I was in the pub with the fans after my last game and I just felt like one of them,” says Duncan recalling that bitter-sweet evening. “I was there with them in the city, and I played hard for the club. I always had time for the fans, whether it was an autograph or a photo.
“Scousers are a different class. Salt of the earth, good working class football people. It’s a great community and a great city. There’s a neighbourly feel and close families.”
Ferguson has less time to enjoy a quiet pint now, and is instead focusing on pouring all his energy into his chosen career as a coach and future manager. It is an ambition he is pursuing with typically full-blooded vigour, and one which has already seen him make some significant sacrifices.
A fan of pigeon racing since childhood, he has bid his feathered friends a reluctant farewell.
“I’ve given them up to do the coaching,” he says.
“I had them in Majorca with me but I’ve had to leave it because coaching is every day, full on, and this is my life now.
“I’m trying to work as hard as I possibly can to become a good coach. I loved the pigeons from when I was a kid and I was always in clubs. I even brought them down to Liverpool. It was my hobby but there’s no time for it anymore. I’ve got to crack on.”
Working with Everton’s academy youngsters clearly gives Ferguson a buzz, and the hard-man has now become a nurturing mentor.
But what advice would he give to an 18-year-old version of himself?
“Lifestyle,” he responds quickly. “Live your life properly, be a professional. Keep your diet right, keep away from the late nights. It’s those lifestyle choices that you only get with experience as you get older.
“The problem is you see the kids and they think ‘he’s an old fella’ but at least the kids know that I’ve been there. I’ve been where they’ve been – but they’ve not been where I’ve been.
“It’s things I heard when I was a kid but maybe didn’t take notice of – just emphasising what a big chance it is. I think it’s better when it comes from a player and someone who’s seen the things I’ve seen.”
Two young Evertonians whose future career paths Ferguson will watch with extra attention are those of his sons; Cameron, nine, and Ross, seven. “Cameron will be 10 in March and he’s here with the U-10s,” says Ferguson with pride.
“He enjoys his footy. They’ve got him up front at the moment although it’s difficult to put kids in positions at such a young age. He’s left footed and he’s a big lad. He’s going to be as big as me, if not bigger.
“Ross comes in on a Wednesday night and trains with the goalkeepers.
“He’s only just started so he’s not in a team but he enjoys it. He loves Tim Howard.”
It is with a youthful sense of enthusiasm and joy that a striker once wrongly perceived as moody and recalcitrant embarks on the daily task of working alongside Kevin Sheedy at Finch Farm.
“I love coaching the kids, just being out in the fresh air helping them, playing football,” he says.
“I couldn’t help joining in for the first six months, they had to stop me. They had to tell me to pull out because it’s not the done thing to be taking shots and running away celebrating when you’re supposed to be coaching. I felt like I was still a kid really. Being at the club where I want to be, it’s perfect. It’s a dream.”