This personal analysis of the enigmatic Everton striker and talisman, Big Dunc, by Guy McEvoy was originally posted to ToffeeNet back in January 1998.
A PERSONAL ANALYSIS by Guy McEvoy
|Guy McEvoy is a dedicated Evertonian who tries to attend every senior Everton match. His greatest service to ToffeeWeb and other Everton fans around the world is his unparalleled production of Match Reports that are simply excellent. In this piece, Guy McEvoy turns his analytical eye to the phenomenon of Duncan Ferguson as an Everton icon.|
THE GREAT FERGUSON DEBATE
The Ferguson debate opens up again: I think the problem that most people
who criticise Ferguson have with him (and I include myself in this group)
is his 'legend' status.
We all need heroes. In a sorry world where no-one in 'real life' is whiter than white as newspapers are so quick to expose we are often left to turn to sporting stars to find our heroes. For football fans that means footballers. You are lumbered with finding one from whichever team fate has thrust upon you and for us, that means finding our heroes from Everton FC.
DUNCAN FERGUSON THE INSTANT HERO
never asked to be a hero. He became one through a freak set of
First off, he scored his debut goal in a derby. That is a serious way to endear yourself to Evertonians.
More significantly, he came with 'hard-done-by' baggage. Scousers love the scally image. He's a lad like a lot of the Everton fan base, from an urban working class background, who's a bit of a scally and gets very hard done-by by the law. Three months in prison for an incident the like of which you'll see countless times in parks up and down the country every Saturday afternoon. It was injustice in the extreme, the lad can't be all that bad - after all he keeps pigeons. We all wrote to him in prison, he wrote back to each and every one of us. I still have the signed Photo on my wall. Again, hero forming stuff.
At the same time another crucial component fell into place. 'Go West' by the Pet Shop Boys (or the Village People to be exact), was just at that moment catching on as the tune to chant at Football grounds. By an accident of birth Ferguson's name has the exact right number of syllables to fit the song perfectly. It is the ideal football chant. Even those who go to one game a season can learn the words and join in. It sweeps Goodison, sounds fantastic, is sung all the time and can only add to the expectation from him.
He then, in the midst of a seemingly going nowhere season, scores a crucial goal against Man United (costing them the title), takes his shirt off swirls it round head in one of Goodison's most enduring images of the decade.
The merchandise industry builds up around him, every Evertonian with a new shirt gets 'Ferguson' printed on their back. T-shirts on sale outside the ground focus on his image in an almost Cantona like fashion.
We wanted, or needed a hero. Put all these chunks together and you get the 'legend' that is Duncan Ferguson. Our hero had come.
FERGUSON THE REALITY
Those of us who watch Everton week in week out, home and away, soon started
to become perplexed and angry at the hype machine behind him. Week
in, week out he under-performed. For long, long periods in matches,
particularly last season, he would wander round with his sleeves pulled over
his hands looking like a little schoolboy too cold to be bothered
Those of us who's money was draining away to watch this 'legend' started to make noises of discontent. But the hype machine was too solid behind him. "All he needs is the right service" I would hear in the pub week in week out. It got to the point what I was ready to chin the next person to utter that phrase.
The service on offer didn't seem to be stopping, for instance, Gary Speed managed a whole ream of headers and goals... And that from midfield! Even the season before, the supposedly mediocre Graham Stuart scored a bag full of goals (from various positions Stuart always had to shift to suit the team not have the team constantly shift to find a way to suit him like Duncan does). If we got the kind of service that these people seem to be expecting then we wouldn't need Ferguson. We could just stick a bloody lamppost in the goal-box and the crosses would be so good they'd just bounce in off it every time!
He wasn't performing, but it couldn't be his fault could it? He needed wingers to make him perform. So we had two of the worlds finest wingers: Limpar and Kanchelskis. But we quickly found that what seems an obvious recipe for success in your mind doesn't always happen on the pitch. The idea of these two knocking in crosses all season that he would nod in and obviously leave us with the championship just never happened.
Despite his under performance no-one at the club dare drop him. The team was constantly altered in an effort to find a way to accommodate Ferguson. New players were dropped quickly before they settled because it wasn't happening for them but Ferguson was on the pitch week after week regardless of his previous match performances. Players like Amokachi were let go as they weren't performing with Ferguson. It all had to be geared round him. Not his fault, he didn't ask for the hype, but he had it. And whilst we did our all to accommodate him and turn hype into reality, the football club I love and live for was sinking to the depths of mediocrity and worse.
The season-ticket holders finally started to suss it out at the end of last season. Whilst Ferguson is still the number one name printed on new shirts when the new kit came out it was apparent that he was no longer the automatic choice.
As a little of the hype has come off him I wonder if it is any coincidence that this season has seen by far the most consistent good football from him.
He is a good footballer. He's fine on the ground (note 'fine'. He's better than most non-Evertonians give him credit for, but not as good on the floor as some vocal blue-tinted Evertonians go on about) and he's obviously very good in the air. As such, all in, take away the hype and he's an asset to the team.
I strongly believe though, as one who's watched it happen first hand, over the last couple of seasons, BECAUSE of the hype that accompanies him and the effect this has had on managers team selection his presence was detrimental.
BIG DUNC THE VICTIM OF "IMAGE"
'Image over content' is a theme of the nineties. The marketing men
rule. I expect 'image over content' to be used by the marketing men
to get me to buy certain fizzy drinks over others, or choose certain clothes
brands over others, or to even alter my preferences for music or whatever.
When it comes to consumer goods I'm as gullible as the next man. But
when it comes to my football team the hype merchants can fuck off. Everton
means more to me than most people will ever be able to grasp. We, as
a club a developing a classic case of 'image over content'. Yes, I
need the club to give me a hero, but if we forge glory then the heroes will
be found amongst that. To do it the other way round and attempt to
give us the hero before the glory is moronic and dangerous and a passport
to the oblivion of the lower leagues.
Joe Royle famously said "Duncan Ferguson was an Everton legend before he was ever an Everton player". Prophetic. This season he is finally becoming an 'Everton player'. In the last game of 1997, against Bolton, he was simply World Class.
He is again at a cross-roads where he can go one of two ways. He can either become mediocre again and use that game as the seasonal piece of evidence (like Man Utd and Liverpool last year) of what he can do to justify his place in the squad when he under-performs. And we can then drift down to Division One.
Or he can strive to put in that amount of effort week after week, we can then comfortably escape relegation, put in a decent challenge for the cup, and he'll finally justify the amazing blind faith thousands of us Evertonians have invested in him over the past three or four years.
For all our sakes I sincerely hope he goes for the latter.
© 1998 Guy McEvoy