Duncan Ferguson’s footballing career was not short on controversy or memorable moments.
The player known to all as ‘Big Dunc’ inspired devotion from fans and prompted more than one manager to tear their hair out in frustration. His talent was never in question, but the same could not always be said about his work-rate.
Rangers paid Dundee United £4 million to secure his signature in 1994 but it was at Everton, where he made over 200 appearances in two spells on Merseyside, that he became a household name.
Then there was his run-ins with the law, which culminated in an infamous stay at HM Prison Barlinne, the grim Glaswegian jail known as ‘The Big Hoose’.
But before all that, Ferguson was a highly-rated schoolboy footballer whose transfer from one Stirlingshire club to another would cause consternation more locally.
Born in Bannockburn, Ferguson would sign in the early 1980s for ICI Juveniles, the Grangemouth-based boys club today known as Syngenta. It was while playing for ICI that he was first spotted by Dundee United scout - and former Falkirk High School teacher - George Skelton.
Ferguson would eventually switch to ICI’s local rivals, Carse Thistle, from where he would sign on at Tannadice, upon Skelton’s recommendation, as a professional and begin his remarkable career.
But the switch to Carse was a move that left ICI coach Willie McIlvaney feeling bereft. It meant the Grangemouth club would miss out on any bonus payments when Ferguson made the inevitable step-up to the pro ranks.
The story is retold in a new book by Scotsman sports writer Alan Pattullo, entitled ‘In Search of Duncan Ferguson - The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma’.
“What McIlvaney considers a flagrant piece of poaching on Carse Thistle’s part did not help relations between the clubs,” writes Pattullo.
Carse were a Stirling-based side founded in 1973 by the late Richard Taylor, a well-kent face in central Scotland footballing circles, known to all as Dick. He began the club after spotting an advert in The Falkirk Herald looking for teams.
But it was back at ICI that Ferguson’s talent was first evident.
“To be fair, Duncan was not a bit of trouble,” McIlvaney told Pattullo. “He was great at training, a real athlete. I remember we had a sponsored run one night to raise funds. He just kept going. He wouldn’t stop. He must have gone on for miles that night.”
McIlvaney adds that Ferguson was good for ICI, despite his move to Stirling-based Carse.
“He’s the only one that really made it. You could see he had it in him, even then.”