It was the Sunday afternoon of 27 August 2006 and I had been in Australia for seven months or so. I had reached the city of Sydney by that time.
I wasn’t such a great fan of the city – away from the stunning beauty of the Harbour and the Opera House it was noisy, bustling and impersonal, a bit too much like London perhaps. But I wasn’t exactly suffering – it may have been wintertime in the Southern Hemisphere but it was still as warm as it was at home in summer. During my time ’down under’ I had followed Celtic’s matches – usually broadcast live on Setanta – in the various supporters’ clubs dotted across the country and Sydney’s club was more than fine. I made friends with a few of the club’s members and was speaking to one of them when she asked me what I planned to do that afternoon.
“I was going to go along to Aussie Stadium to watch Sydney playing Central Coast… I’d quite like to see an actual live match.”
“You’ll be cheering on Sydney I hope.”
“What, wi’ big Butcher in charge you must be joking…”
“Wait ‘til you see who runs the show with Central Coast.”
By the time I sat down in the cavernous stadium , clad in the hoops and fresh from giving an interview to discuss the draw for the Champions League made the previous Friday I had largely forgotten her warning*.
And then the teams came on to the field to limber up and I was in the presence of evil. There, laying out the cones and with his eyes still too close together, was Ian Ferguson. Not the Ian Ferguson who played for the Huns and with somewhat greater distinction for Dundee United in the early to mid eighties, but the one-time bleached blond, pockmarked monstrosity who had played for Rangers from 1988 until, I think, 1999. Him, famous for scoring for St Mirren in the 1987 Cup Final and being thick and horrible and unable to spell his own name. Terry Butcher or no Terry Butcher in charge I was rooting for Sydney after all. Apart from maybe Alex Macdonald, Ian Ferguson was my least favourite Ranger of all time.
Ian Ferguson was signed by Souness in early 1988 after an orchestrated campaign to shift him from St Mirren – who’d just won their first Scottish Cup in 28 years – to Rangers who were, even before Murray, outspending Celtic and the rest of Scottish football put together. Ferguson showed such professionalism and loyalty to his employers that he more or less went on strike at the Buddies’ refusal to just shift him to his boyhood heroes at the first sign of interest from Souness.
Rangers spent just under a million in finally prising Ferguson away from Love Street but initially the moved seemed to have backfired as the ugly, leering young star struggled for form and Celtic romped to the title, including a 2-1 win at Ibrox that was a lot easier than the scoreline suggested. Alas for Ferguson he singularly failed to impress many in the remainder of his time at Rangers but despite his consistently mediocre displays he still managed to win umpteen medals – finishing up only one behind Bobby Lennox’s record of 11 league winners’ medals which is a depressing statistic.
Reputedly not the brightest of men, stories abounded of his lack of brain including one gem that arriving in a swanky Italian restaurant he’d ordered a capuccino believing it to be a meal. A joke which appeared in Hail! Hail !- a short lived rival to this blatt- recorded that he’d had a brain transplant but the brain had rejected him. At least I think it was a joke.
Whilst most of us wish we could erase him from the memory, few who saw him in the flesh will forget his snarling, nasty, thick face and his penchant for getting involved after some melee that had not directly involved him. At the end of the infamous match of March 1997 Paolo DiCanio had to be restrained by most of his team mates from seeking retribution from Ferguson who encouraged him to ‘come ahead’ safe in the knowledge that the Italian was being restrained by two of his team mates. What would Annabel Goldie have said?
Above: Paolo di Canio considers using Ian Ferguson as a cutlery holder before offering to snap him in two. Cue a summit…
As mentioned earlier Ferguson ended up in Australia firstly as a player and then as a coach . In 2009 he landed the job as coach/manager of the newly formed North Queensland Fury – who actually played in green and white- leading them to an undistinguished seventh. The club is now defunct.
Ian Ferguson was, I believe, elected to Rangers’ Hall of Fame before they went into liquidation -an unworthy award to a man who got far more from his career than his modest talents deserved though one which surely says a lot about the club for which he fought so hard to play. One day he’ll get what he really deserves.
*I was not employed as a professional pundit but had merely been stopped by the SBS camera crew because I was in the Hoops .