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As sports go, football is probably the one with the most faking, gamesmanship and general shithousery associated with its playing. But with all of that play-acting and carrying-on part of its fabric, there rises an opportunity to break the mould.
Writer: Andy Afford / Illustrator: Dan Wilkinson
As football goes, being regarded as a ‘bit of a hard nut’ means only that you don’t throw yourself to the floor at the slightest of contact or feign copping for a near-fatal headbutt when an opposition player as much as looks in your direction.
Defensive players are more often than not seen as the tough guys. Enter striker Duncan Cowan Ferguson.
Scottish to his back teeth, with a propensity for knocking them out, ‘Duncan Disorderly’ started his professional career with Dundee United, before signing for Rangers during the 1993/94 season for a club record £4 million.
A 14-game stint in Glasgow saw him then signed by Everton, but not before Ferguson found himself the only footballer to ever go to prison for an on-field assault. It occurred when headbutting Raith Rovers’ John McStay – Ferguson later described it as a ‘graze’ - during a Scottish Premiership match in April 1996, played at Ibrox. For it Ferguson did 44 days in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison. He stated for the record, "The guy I assaulted never complained, 40,000 fans never complained and 200 police inside the stadium never complained.” Before going on to speak further about how being on probation for “a few other assaults”, and “a couple of scuffles, as kids do” had somehow unfairly counted against him with the judge. Even going as far as saying the Supreme Court appointee – him not being a Rangers supporter – whilst also knowing that loveable Duncan was on parole, was tantamount to a fit-up. This particular ‘injustice’ being served despite the centre-forward, already having picked up convictions for two counts of assault, breach of the peace, and drink-driving.
An FA Cup winner with Everton in 1995, Ferguson also holds the record number of red cards in the Premier League. Securing eight when 80 might have been equally as attainable.
In 2001, during ‘Big Dunc’s’ second spell at Goodison Park, burglars Michael Pratt and Barry Dawson made the mistake of breaking into the wrong house at the wrong time. Stirring from his place on the sofa, Ferguson would do such a job in ‘disarming’ one of the intruders that he ended up administering his own form of medical assistance in keeping the intruder alive. Ever saintly, “I got a grip of one of them and that was when I got angry,” said Ferguson. “I unloaded; I really did. I really followed in, to the point where I thought I'd killed him. I had to try and resuscitate him then. So you go from a point of unloading on the fella to helping him.”
As if that wasn’t unlucky enough for the criminal community, a second burglary in 2003 resulted in a broken jaw and three missing teeth for the hapless interloper.
Displaying a propensity for violence, football management seemed a logical next step. For the record his four assault convictions – two taxi rank set-to’s - the on-field Ibrox to-do - plus an altercation with a fisherman in an Anstruther pub, all combined to realise a £100 fine for headbutting a police officer - plus £25 for breach of the peace. A £200 bill for the punching and kicking of a supporter on crutches. And the third - doing-over of a mariner on the Fife coast - got him that year’s probation previously mentioned.
Two stints as caretaker boss at Everton has since seen the proud Scotsman take over at the helm of Forest Green Rovers. Ferguson’s turning his back on the national team after just seven caps - for a perceived slight – is another source of personal regret. His international debut – a pre-Euro ‘92 friendly versus the USA in Denver – was greeted with a lacklustre performance by the virgin international. When asked about it by a somewhat surprised manager, Andy Roxburgh, the enigmatic striker replied, “I can’t get up for these park games, gaffer.” Ferguson was 20 at the time.
Fan-favourites come in every style. Few come with the criminal back catalogue of this six-feet four-inch centre-forward from Stirling. Fewer still make it into management.
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