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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.
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.”
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.”
PHIL NEVILLE will hold talks over his Everton FC future next month as he ponders extending his Goodison commitment.
Neville reaches the end of his present contract at the end of the season with David Moyes having previously intimidated he would gladly offer the club skipper another 12-month deal.
However, the 36-year-old has deferred talks with Goodison officials until March.
And while Neville strongly believes he can play on “two to three years”, it is thought the utility man will only do so at Goodison provided he can remain effective at a high level.
Neville – who could make his 300th Everton appearance against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday – has made no secret of his desire to move into coaching and management.
Last year he helped coach England Under-21s for a game against Belgium and intends to complete his A licence coaching badges this summer.
Moyes has already tied up a 12-month extension for 35-year-old Sylvain Distin while Everton remain hopeful of completing a new deal for England international Leon Osman.
Everton make the short journey down the East Lancs Road on Sunday aiming to strengthen their claims for Champions League qualification by recording a first win at Old Trafford in more than 20 years.
The Goodison outfit stand just three points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, but so tightly bunched is the top half that only 12 points separates Chelsea in third from West Bromwich Albion in ninth.
And Moyes believes every point will count in the final 13 games.
“The Premier League at present is a really closely contested division with not a lot between many sides in the table, and that’s been noticeable in many of the games in recent months,” he said.
“I’ve always felt that 40 points should be the first target of the season. We now have to try and push on and keep picking up more points as we go along.
“To stay in the top part of the table is going to be a big task for us, but I am confident in the way the players are performing and our history suggests we do pick up good results in the second part of the season.”
Moyes added: “It’s been good to get Kevin Mirallas and Darron Gibson back playing some football and it will be really important that we get Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman back as quickly as we possibly can.
“There is no doubting that we have a challenging end to the season and that’s why we will be taking it one game at a time. And we’ll need all our players to be available.”
Marouane Fellaini took his tally to the season for 11 goals with the brace that earned a dramatic 3-3 draw against Aston Villa on Saturday.
Fellaini netted in the 4-4 draw at Manchester United last season and also scored the only goal in the opening weekend win over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side back in August.
And the Belgian said: “Every game against Manchester United is a good game. It’s a big challenge but everyone wants to play Champions League so it is important to keep going and win every game.”