When Sky Sports News visited USM Finch Farm recently it was really good to see an interview with Duncan Ferguson. It was something in my time at the club which didn’t happen very often. In fact, the only time even I got to speak the the big Scot on the record was a 30 second ClubCall interview, set up by the late great Howard Kendall when he made him Club Captain in 97/98. Well worth the 25p (although the intro was two minutes long)!
However, it was the big Scot’s departure in Walter Smith’s first season which sticks in my mind to this day, a time when everything was changing at Goodison Park.
It was during the dying embers of Peter Johnson’s chairmanship following a season in which we escaped relegation by the slimmest of margins, that there had been much speculation about Big Dunc’s future. And as one of few valuable and more importantly, saleable players, there was a fragility about his continued love affair with the Blues.
Duncan had been linked with Newcastle United a few times in the weeks leading up to a game against the Magpies on a cold November evening for Sky’s Monday night football, and rumours were rife that the deal wasn’t far away!
During the first half I was bombarded by the press as those rumours reached fever pitch that a deal was possible. Duncan was unavailable for the game which just added to the speculation. During the halftime break I went downstairs to the tunnel to see if I could find anything out, as press officer in those days I was a few down the list in getting to know what was going on! Walter passed me in the tunnel and I frantically asked if he knew anything. He stared at me and walked past to the dressing room without replying.
On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have been bothering him at that stage of the evening, but such was my need to find out more to ease some of the pressure in the press room.
Duncan was a legend, a talisman, and everybody wanted to know what was happening. As I made my way back to the press lounge I met then Chief Executive Michael Dunford on the stairs, he appeared like an oasis in a desert of confusion.
“Michael, the press are going crazy, is Duncan leaving”? I enquired pleadingly,
“Absolute rubbish Mr Myers” came his reply.
Music to my ears, not only as a press officer but also as an Evertonian. I didn’t want Dunc to leave along with the many thousands of Blues inside Goodison that night. I raced like a kid who’d just been given some money for sweets, up to the press room and proudly repeated the news I’d just been given, only with much more vigour and purpose.
Feeling quite chuffed with myself, I decided to walk back down and watch the second half from my usual perch at the top of the tunnel As I reached the first floor I noticed the door on the small Chairman’s office was slightly ajar. Being conscientious I thought ‘that shouldn’t be open like that’ and went to close it shut but then I heard the faint mutterings of voices coming from inside. As I peered in, expecting to see maybe a cheeky member of staff having an unauthorised break, I was met with the sight of Duncan and Ruud Gullit discussing a deal to whisk the big man away to St James’ Park!
I was devastated, almost to the point that I went numb! It was clear this was happening and by the time the game was into injury time Duncan was getting in a car on Goodison Road and making his way up to Newcastle to complete the deal! A few “in the know” fans had gathered around the reception area. They knew what was happening and were pleading with him not to go.
I was dreading going back to the press room, I knew I had to take the manager up to the same media. I had, only an hour ago, told the complete opposite story, albeit in good faith at the time.
Walter dealt with the media superbly, as he always did, whilst I was the unwilling villain of the piece. The fact we had won the game 1-0 was of no consequence at this time, and the next morning there was an impromptu board meeting called at Park Foods to talk over the previous evenings events. After all the commotion Walter and I drove back to the relative sanctuary of Bellefield training ground. However, in a final kick in the teeth for me, all wasn’t calm in West Derby! As we arrived the manager went straight to his office and I went to investigate the source of some shouting I could hear coming from the reception area.
When I got there I was met with the sight of a middle aged woman sitting in the receptionist’s chair shouting at the top of her voice “I’m not moving till Duncan comes back.”
“You maybe here sometime,” I replied.
After a few cups of tea and an hour of chat about all things Everton, I managed to calm her down and send her on her way with a chocolate eclair and a shirt we wouldn’t be needing – it had a number 9 and Ferguson on the back!
Peter Johnson relinquished the ownership of the club soon after and things changed for the better. I understood the pressure Michael Dunford was under that night and why he had put me in such a difficult position. He was a total professional and would never say a deal was done until it was, and at that point in proceedings it wasn’t. (mind you it might have helped if he’d explained that at the time).
It was really strange seeing Duncan paraded at Newcastle in the black-and-white stripes and in front of the Geordies, but as it turned out and under the new Chairmanship of Bill Kenwright, Duncan made a spectacular return to Everton a couple of seasons later. A good decision, considering his recent successes with the youth set-up and now as first team coach under Ronald Koeman. Its been a pleasure to see him progress into such a professional coach and he remains a special presence around the club.
I’ve always admired Duncan as a person. He is a generous, passionate and above all extremely loyal man and I can see a long career in coaching and management for him.