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Achilles Ferguson's Everton Heel

By Mike Owen :  14/04/2009 :  Comments (10) :
It is well known that Alex Ferguson lost the last time Manchester United played Everton at Wembley. Many of you will have attended the 1995 FA Cup final when he was outwitted by Joe Royle and vintage Southall.

What has been overlooked is the last time Fergie faced an Everton team in a semi-final. He lost that as well. For Everton in a semi or a final is the great man's Achilles Heel.

Cannot remember the semi he lost to Everton? It was watched by millions of Britons on peak-time television. It was played on a neutral venue. It was a tense affair, with the result hanging in the balance until the closing stages when Evertonians first saw Fergie fuming, of which more later. But suffice to say the final score was 2-1 to Everton, putting us through to the final.

I am of course referring to the 1970 Champions Series of Quizball ? a wonderful programme that ran from 1967 to 1971. It was broadcast at around 7pm once a week. There were only three TV channels to choose from then, two if you did not have BBC2, so any programme shown at that time midweek pulled in a huge audience.

Quizball was groundbreaking because it enabled the general public to see another side of footballers ? their level of general knowledge ? and a glimpse of their off-field demeanour.

Also, bear in mind that, in those days, there was very little in the way of live televised football. It didn't matter which clubs were involved, Quizball was a programme I rarely missed. Many a game of Three-and-In on the garages was abandoned to run in and see Quizball.

Clubs taking part were asked to provide four people. There were usually two players, a celebrity supporter and the team manager. Often the latter did not appear, but our Harry did. Catterick has always been portrayed as a shy, retiring type. But he must have loved Quizball as much as me because he was an ever-present. I am sure I can remember him coming across as quite cheery on the show.

Catterick had also featured, even scored our only goal, in our 1967 Quizball team that went out in the first round to Kilmarnock whose guest supporter was none other than future Mastermind host Magnus Magnusson.

After this ignomy, Catterick had wielded the axe for the 1970 games, dropping guest supporter Kenneth Cope. Although, due to his starring role as a white-suited ghost in the TV detective series Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, the club might have thought Cope had died.

In 1970, Alex Ferguson was a centre-forward for Falkirk who had been invited on Quizball because they had just won the Scottish Second Division Championship. Fergie must have already known quite a bit about Goodison Glory because in the same dressing room was ex-Everton player Alex Scott. Also in the Falkirk first-team squad was John McLaughlin, who was soon to join Everton, and Andy Roxburgh, a future Scotland manager and Fifa bigwig.

The Falkirk team for the Quizball semi-final comprised Ferguson, Roxburgh, midfield player Bobby Ford and comedian Chic Murray. They must have been over-awed by our line-up: Catterick, Radio One disc-jockey Ed Stewart and former grammar schoolboys Brian Labone and Joe Royle. Write-ups in the 60s about the wonderful Labby always remarked how he could have gone to university if he had so desired. Stewpot had read out thousands of requests as Junior Choice host over the years and so his geography was donva.

Stewpot had scored the only goal of our previous game when we beat FA Cup winners Chelsea who fielded John Hollins, Charlie Cooke, David Webb and posh comedian Lance Percival.

It may have been the astute management of Catterick that got us through to the final, as the Quizball rules required a Catt-like cunning. There were four ways to goal: Route 4, which involved correctly answering four easy questions: Route 3, three not so easy questions; Route 2, two difficult questions; and Route One, one dead hard question. Complete the route and you scored.

The player that won the opening kick-off question would be asked to choose a route to goal. The opposing team had one chance to tackle the player going to goal by pressing a buzzer prior to the player answering the last question. If they got it right, they won possession. If they got it wrong, the challenge was unsuccessful and a goal was scored. The Route One question was not subject to tackle.

It was dead exciting. And the studio audience brawls were legendary. Actually, I made that last bit up. I cannot even remember if there was a studio audience. My memory fails me such that I cannot give you a stirring, blow-by-blow account of Fergie's semi-final defeat by the Goodison Mensa. Nor can I tell you what questions were asked and who said what. I suppose it would be a bit sad if I could. But I can give you someone else's account of the enthralling, closing minutes.

The Sunday Times in 2004 did a where-are-they-now feature on that Falkirk team and writer Neil White mentioned how Fergie tasted semi-final defeat at the hands of Everton. White wrote:

"Andy Roxburgh and Alex Ferguson combined brilliantly for Falkirk, but the relationship was stretched to breaking point when the club?s success brought them to the attention of the producers of the BBC?s Quizball programme.

"They (Falkirk) were trailing Everton with one question remaining, with Roxburgh in the hot seat. With his teammate clearly struggling to name the winning jockey at that year?s Grand National, Ferguson tried his best to whisper the answer, but he was cut off when Roxburgh blurted out: 'Lester Piggot.'

"It was, of course, the wrong answer. Fergie?s fury at Roxburgh?s response ? Piggot was the nation?s leading Flat jockey and would never ride the sport?s most famous steeplechase ? simmered for the remainder of the broadcast and well beyond. 'Even now, Fergie?s a great man for general knowledge and he knows a particular amount about horse racing. He almost fell off his seat at my answer,' recalled Roxburgh from Nyon, Switzerland, where he is Uefa?s technical director. The Falkirk supporters took defeat in better spirit than Ferguson, greeting Roxburgh?s return to Brockville with a chorus of 'Lester Piggot'."

So, after Everton's 2-1 win over Falkirk, what happened in the final? Well, Stewpot scored twice ? possibly the proudest moment of his broadcasting career ? and Labby scored a hat-trick against a Celtic team featuring Billy McNeill, Jim Craig, Willie Wallace and actor John Cairney. The only problem was Celtic scored seven! It could have been at that moment that Catterick lost the dressing room.

But the moral of the story is: Fergie doesn't win semi-finals or finals against Everton.

Reader Comments

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Rich Griffiths
1   Posted 14/04/2009 at 22:24:14

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It may be Wembley fever, but I loved this piece. Halcyon days indeed. COYB!
Joe McParland
2   Posted 14/04/2009 at 22:35:53

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Only one question to be answered. Can we beat fergie yet again?
Tony Heslop
3   Posted 15/04/2009 at 08:35:53

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Yes we can beat them.
Route 1.
Micky Norman
4   Posted 15/04/2009 at 08:47:04

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Brilliant piece! i can’t decide if you are a genius of Hawking proportions to remember all that stuff or just the saddest anorak on the internet but it was still great. I seem to remember a pal of mine having a Quizball board game. It was crap.
Chris Hockenhull
5   Posted 15/04/2009 at 09:47:44

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Thank the lord for this piece!! For years I have mentioned this to others who never recall Everton?s involvement in Quiz Ball. I thought I'd dreamt it as I spent most of my years around that time in a dream. But I vividly recall Harry Catterick ?scoring? by naming all the colours of snooker balls and being mightily impressed by it all. I think it was ? in total ? the most I ever remember Harry ever speaking on the telly whilst he was manager. Ahh those were the days but things have changed. Great piece, Mike!
Martin Berry
6   Posted 15/04/2009 at 22:30:34

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Here are the results!!
Mike Owen
7   Posted 16/04/2009 at 14:06:11

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Go to the bottom of the link Martin has provided and you can click on the different years. So, Mickey, yes, I am perhaps one of saddest anoraks on planet. I don?t know who has put the results up on that website, or where they got them from, but I have no reason to doubt them.

Chris, it?s great you could remember that Catterick Q&A. It now rings a very vague bell, or am I kidding myself? What tickles me most on the Quizball site is the guest supporters.

Finally, I wonder if staging a Quizball game has potential as a fund-raiser.

Chris Hockenhull
8   Posted 17/04/2009 at 12:55:30

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Mike - This Quizball thing has me hooked. Have now looked at the ’official Quizball site’ and it just takes me back to it all - in an era when I was totally obsessed by all things footy. I am amazed by 2 things - 1) Who in god’s name pulled all this stuff together and 2) The range of the ’guest supporters’ from yesteryear is wonderful i.e. Dave "Little Things" Berry/ John Arlott/ Percy Thrower/ Tommy "You Lucy People" Trinder/ Ted "OK Reg - Let her Go from the Everest Double Glazing Advert" goes on and on. Best memory is Sam Leitch the original Football Focus ’Anchorman’ when it was barely a 10 minute no film used slot on Grandstand. And he would always link in things in an odd manner like "When Everton beat West Brom on October Three" (Does any of this bring back memories.
But was Ian Wallace the late Bury born ex King Crimson drummer who became the only musician Dylan has sacked twice - surely not???

Lets bring Quizball back I say!. And does anyone remember Everton on the Superstars special in 1978 where George Wood picked a fight with Geoff Capes???

God I wish I hadn’t started all this now. All your fault Mike!!

COYB for Sunday
Keith Wilson
9   Posted 17/04/2009 at 20:52:04

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Great peice Mike and all......

Keep the faith
Dennis Stevens
10   Posted 20/04/2009 at 12:12:43

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How accurate the original poster has proven to be ? "Fergie doesn?t win semi-finals or finals against Everton"!

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