Remember Mike Walker? I know – it makes you shudder doesn’t it?
Back in the Autumn of 1994, Mike Walker was Everton manager and Everton were rock bottom of the Premier League. I turned up at Selhurst Park to see the Blues take on fellow strugglers Crystal Palace (it’s nice to know that some things never change) and watched Everton back up the previous week’s 2-0 home reverse to Coventry City with a 1-0 defeat to the workmanlike, but hardly stellar, Londoners. Things looked grim – really grim – but a couple of players caught my eye.
The two Glasgow Rangers men on loan played without the burden of gloom that envelopes a team still searching for its first win of the season deep into October. Iain Durrant looked like the skillful midfielder he would prove to be in a career marred by injury. But, standing head and shoulders over the rest in every sense was Duncan Ferguson – a player more known for his fearsome reputation than his play, at least this side of the border.
Early on, just in front of the Everton faithful (very faithful) in a crowd of fewer than 15,000, the big man took a difficult ball, killed it, turned, got his head up and played a cross into the box that was, most likely, miskicked for a throw-in by Daniel Amokachi. I turned to my brother and said, “We’ve got our very own Marco Van Basten!” That, of course, was a bit of an exaggeration but, pre-Ibrahimovic, pre-Drogba, pre-Peter Crouch FFS, the Big Man With A Good Touch was a rare sight in football. I was impressed.
One month later in Joe Royle’s first game as manager, Ferguson was to lift us off the bottom of the table with a Derby Day win over Liverpool cementing his place in the pantheon of Everton centre-forwards. But for many Evertonians, the image that sticks in their minds, is the goal that defeated Manchester United, a goal that secured three vital points, as Royle’s men clambered to mid-table.
It was this goal that created Duncan Ferguson as Goodison icon. There’s the long corner, the towering header and the manic celebration, shirt off and round the head, as first the Gwladys Street and then the Main Stand are saluted, team-mates left in his trail. He scored far fewer headed goals than he should have – but the myth is too powerful to be broken by mere facts.
A few weeks later, at Loftus Road, Andy Hinchcliffe’s last minute free kick delivered a thriller of a 3-2 win as the late season charge to Everton’s last silverware gathered pace. But before the match, in the huge and scary General Smuts’ pub, a cavernous, smoky room was packed with Evertonians singing their songs. And, when it came to Duncan Ferguson, to the tune of “Go West”, off came the shirts and round the heads they went. He wasn’t even playing that day.