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THE name Duncan Ferguson was never going to threaten Hampden’s Hall of Fame from the moment he set foot inside Barlinnie.
After becoming the first British player to be jailed for assaulting a fellow pro, Big Dunc found it was his rap sheet that would define his career – and any hopes of being hailed a great of the Scottish game were consigned to history.
The 44 days spent in jail in 1995 for butting Raith Rovers defender Jock McStay saw Ferguson hold the SFA to account for a lack of support amid the added insult of the 12-game ban that followed.
The infamous on-field assault took place in April 1994 as Rangers took on Rovers at Ibrox.
The former Dundee United striker felt betrayed by the SFA and soon left for England where he became a cult hero at Everton and Newcastle.
Having racked up £20million in transfer fees during his career and earned himself an SPL gong and an FA Cup winner’s medal in the process, he finally retired in 2006.
But Ferguson admits his decision to turn his back on the national team remains his biggest regret as it ruined his chance of becoming a Tartan Army legend.
Now 41, Ferguson’s trademark giant, gangly frame ambled towards me at Everton’s training ground and the Goodison youth coach extended the hand of friendship and a hug to a man he hadn’t spoken to for 20 years.
He said: “I don’t like the attention and haven’t done many interviews. People write stories about you and you gain a reputation and that’s that.
“I have spent an entire career trying to shake off a reputation I earned in one day.
“That’s the way it has been for me but I have never been someone who gets that bothered about things I can’t control.
“Any problems I had during my time in England were all on the park and were part and parcel of football but my situation with Scotland has stayed with me throughout it all.
“It’s a massive void. I have thought about it a lot over my career and people who know me will tell you I wanted to play 100 times for my country.
“I wish I’d broken the all-time cap record and scored more goals than the lot of them.
“I could certainly have gained the caps as I made my debut when I was just 20 and was still being asked to play aged 34.
“It was my last year at Everton in 2006 and it was probably the last time I spoke to Ally McCoist. Walter Smith was the Scotland manager and he asked Coisty to see if I would come back.
“That was 14 years after my debut and it remains a huge regret of mine that I didn’t win 100 caps for Scotland.
“I could have said ‘yes’ but because of the situation with the SFA I dug my heels in. I still believe I was right to do that.
“That doesn’t change my belief that I could have won 100 caps as I was capable of being in that squad over the 14 years.
“As it happens I have only seven caps. To me that’s unbelievable but what can you do?”
With just seven international caps for his country, his haul of 70 Premiership goals more than underlined his ability to terrorise the best defences.
But remarkably it isn’t enough to stop cynics pointing an accusing finger at a “wasted talent”.
Ferguson insists he still wears the scars of battle but half agrees with those who believe 360 games in his 16-year career is a poor return.
But it’s countered by a goals tally that has yet to be bettered by any Scot who has made the switch south of the border.
It’s a topic that forced Ferguson on to the defensive as he flashed a grimace across the club canteen and came out fighting.
He said: “It’s fair comment that people will look at my career and say I didn’t do this or that and I missed lots of games. I did have injury problems and I have scars all over my body to prove it.
“I had about a dozen operations which scuppered parts of my career and my development.
“There was a pattern of getting fit then injured then getting fit again and there were also a few susensions thrown in.
“So I never quite managed to get that run of consistency in my career. It was always stop, start.
“Obviously it is there to be thrown at me that I didn’t play that many games. It depends what people mean by branding me an underachiever.
“If it’s the case that I’ve scored more Premiership goals than any other Scot then where does that leave the rest of them?”
After failing to land a new deal at Everton in 2006, the striker decided to retire rather than take up the offers from other clubs.
But the anguish of being shoved out the door of his adopted home at Goodison saw Ferguson do a Lord Lucan and leave Britain to hide out in Majorca.
He said: “When I finished as a 34-year-old I’d been playing since I was nine. I started off with my local team and football becomes your whole life.
“There is a lot of pressure which starts to build up through your career as it develops.
“When I knew I was coming to the end of my career, when I knew I wouldn’t be an Everton player any more due to injuries and things, it hit me hard.
“I just couldn’t see myself going to another club and giving the same as I was giving for Everton. If I’m being totally honest, I also wasn’t quite the same player. I had deteriorated and was starting to get a bit frustrated.
“Moving to Majorca was me just detaching myself away from the whole thing. I didn’t even have a mobile phone. If someone wanted to reach me, they had to go through a handful of people.
“It was about getting away from it all. I had my wife and three kids and this was the chance to spend time with them.
“Football had given me the chance to do that. It was a fantastic 20-odd years I’d had but it hit me like a train to know I was no longer going to be an Everton player.”
EVERTON FC deserve to be third in the Premier League – hot on the heels of Manchester City and United – but must develop a more ruthless streak if they are to realise their true potential, claims Peter Reid.
The former Blues midfielder, who was part of the club’s most successful ever team, argues that David Moyes’s men should be 10 points better off than they currently are in the table.
Everton are in fifth place with 37 points after a strong first half of the current campaign, but Reid believes they should be on 47 – a tally which would see them lagging just one point behind mega-rich City and with only eight less than the Red Devils.
But Reid insists that the Toffees must beat another of his former clubs, Southampton, on Monday if they are serious about finishing in the top four this term.
He said: “Let’s not forget, Everton really should be higher up the league than they are.
"I remember the game against Newcastle where we should have won, Reading away where we should have won, Fulham away where we should have won – I think there were points in all those games Everton deserve to have but don’t.
"As well as they are playing, they’ve got to be more clinical in killing teams off and I’d wager that if you ask David Moyes he’d agree his side should have up to 10 points more.
“The next opportunity to build on their tally comes at Southampton on Monday night – but that won’t necessarily be a straightforward task.
“To come from 2-0 down to earn a draw at Chelsea on Wednesday was a terrific result and it was no surprise because they’ve made themselves really tough to beat of late.
“That said, if Everton truly have designs on the top four – and I mean this with every respect to Southampton, another of my former clubs – it’s a game from which they should really be looking to get maximum points.”
The former England international maintains that Nigel Adkins’s men have plenty of attacking threats to give Moyes pause for thought at St Mary’s on Monday.
“The main threat to that could be the Scouser up front, Rickie Lambert,” he said. “He’s a really good finisher and he’s done fantastically well to come up through the leagues and establish himself not only as a Premier League player but a Premier League goalscorer too.
“I like the look of Adam Lallana as well but fortunately, from Everton’s point of view at least, it looks as though he’ll miss out through injury.
“It’s a smashing club Southampton and I remember my time down there with a lot of fondness.
"There was one game we played live on television against Newcastle and Matt LeTissier was on fire, scored two absolutely brilliant goals and we won 2-1.
"I think I only had seven games in total but we got a few important points out of it and it was a shame when it came to an end.”
THE long walk along the Finch Farm corridor towards David Moyes’ office can be daunting for even the boldest of players, depending on why they’re about to disturb the scheming Scotsman.
Whether it’s to enquire about why they’ve been dropped, discuss a new contract, or simply add their input to a tactical debate, footballers tend not to relish challenging sit-downs with the man in charge.
That’s why at most clubs the role of captain is about much more than just wearing an armband and barking orders on the pitch.
The skipper can be a mediator between the dressing room and coaching staff, diplomat, counsellor, negotiator and motivator.
While club captain Phil Neville was recuperating from knee surgery this season, Phil Jagielka was tasked with stepping into his shoes and the England defender admits he loved every minute of it – even if he is still fully coming to terms with everything the role entails.
“I’ve never been one to be keen to walk into the manager’s office myself and I’m no young whipper snapper,” says Jagielka, reflecting on the occasional need for a captain to help younger players approach the gaffer.
“I’ve always found it easier talking to the assistant or the captain because the manager has often got enough to think about and the last thing you want to do as a player is create more problems for him over something that’s not that important.
“But the manager pulled me in and said when Phil (Neville) is not going to be here you have to step up to the plate and be my captain. Me and Phil are different characters but at the same time we’ll both try and do our best when we do the job.
“As most of the lads will tell you I’m pretty loud as it is so it’s not as if I’ve suddenly had to higher the decibels.
“I’d like to think the lads can speak to me as much as they need to, that’s important. It’s something I need to carry on adapting to and hopefully as the captaincy comes my way on a more permanent basis it’s something I’ll look forward to.
“I feel like if any of the lads wanted to know what I think before, perhaps they needed to approach the manager, I could push them in the right direction.”
Jagielka admits that for the six-game spell when he wore the armband he enjoyed the variety of roles involved in the task, even if he never felt like the outright skipper.
“I wouldn’t say I had the full scope of the role because Phil is our captain, and walks about the place as our captain even when he’s injured. If there are any problems he’s the one who always sorts things out.
“But obviously stuff like notes to the matchday programme, talking during team meetings and during a game was a role I’ve had to get used to.
“I talk as much as I need to when I’m on the pitch anyway, but it was just a case of remembering to grab the ball boy or ball girl when we go out and take them to the centre circle.
“It’s little things like before the match, you lose five minutes of preparation time because you have to go into the referees room, but it’s nothing to write home about or that gives me sleepless nights.
“I was the vice-captain at Sheffield United so it was a role I was a little bit familiar with, even though I was quite young.”
The 30-year-old admits he has never been shy to air his opinion in team-meetings anyway.
“I always get told to shut up by the rest of the lads during the meetings!” he says. “I’ve always had my opinion whether it’s at defensive meetings or full team meetings, and maybe that’s partially the reason why I was chosen for the role.
“You don’t just get made captain because you’ve been here a certain amount of time. It’s a role that is chosen carefully.
“But there’s plenty of experience in our defence and it’s an open discussion. It’s not just for the vice captain or captain. Sylvain (Distin) would be a perfect captain too – a great guy off the pitch, you can come and see him.
“We’ve got plenty of little leaders amongst us which helps the day to day running.”
PHIL JAGIELKA hopes Everton can take advantage of the pressure on Southampton boss Nigel Adkins when they travel to St Mary’s on Monday.
The Birkenhead-born Saints manager has had to regularly deflect speculation that he is working on borrowed time this season, even though he has guided his side away from the relegation places after a recent run of good results.
However, Jagielka said: “When you spend £12m on Gaston Ramirez I suppose there’s pressure. They haven’t spent big other than that really but spending money generally brings pressure. Also there’s a bigger TV deal for next season so if you manage to stay up it’s very lucrative.
“There’s people who run clubs who don’t care about losing money, and there’s people who do care about it – and if you were an owner that didn’t like to lose cash you’d put pressure on your coaching staff.
“But we’ll have pressure to go and win there after not beating Swansea too.”
Jagielka has kept tabs on Adkins’ career since his playing days at Sheffield United, when the Saints boss was first appointed caretaker boss at nearby Scunthorpe United in 2006 – a role he was given after previously being the club’s physiotherapist.
Southampton’s gung-ho start to life in the top flight saw them concede as often as they scored, but Jagielka believes the Blues face a tighter contest against a shrewder outfit with half the campaign now gone.
He added: “They’ve decided to tighten up shop a bit recently by playing a couple more defensive midfielders than attacking ones. But it’s about how we perform and we’ll hopefully come away with the points.”