The word legend is often bandied about inappropriately in football circles, with fans elevating the status of their favourite players to one that should really only be reserved for true footballing greats.
There are always certain players whoever, who by the very nature of their presence, are idolised almost instantly and one such player made a welcome return to Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon.
Duncan Ferguson was a guest of honour at the game against Manchester City and was presented to the crowd prior to kick off. Receiving a rapturous reception from the Everton faithful, the big Scot, who forged a reputation as a hard man during his playing career, seemed visibly moved by the welcome, delighting the crowd by bowing to all four stands and punching the air in typical Ferguson fashion.
It was a special moment. A former talisman reunited with the fans who took him to their hearts and created a bond that Ferguson has never forgotten. His love affair with Everton began when he was signed from Glasgow Rangers, initially on a three-month loan deal in 1994 before signing permanently. Everton’s crippling financial situation saw the player sold against his wishes for £7 million in 1998.
Ferguson’s career was blighted by a succession of injuries and to a certain extent, a questionable temperament. The suggestion that he did not really care for the game and subsequently put little effort into training or preparing his body for matches was seemingly borne out by his injury record and the fact that most of his best performances came against the so-called ‘top teams’.
But Ferguson was an enigma and individual moments of brilliance, coupled with his brute strength and power, made him a formidable opponent on the football pitch. The sight of him racing the entire length of the Goodison pitch twirling his shirt above his head after towering above the Manchester United defence to score a trademark header will live forever in the memory; when Big Dunc was on his game, Goodison was rocking.
Despite all this, many eyebrows were raised when it was suggested Everton were to resign the player in 2000 for £3.75 million. Yet despite the cynicism, resulting from his wretched appearance record for Newcastle, when the player returned to Goodison to sign on the dotted line, the car park at the Park End swarmed with fans and it was impossible not to get caught up in the magic of the moment; the ‘Big Man’ was coming home.
It was the same on Saturday as Goodison celebrated the return of one of their heroes. Watching the match from the Main Stand, he will no doubt have been delighted with the 2-1 victory and more significantly, two headed goals from Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman that he himself would have been proud of.
In 2007, Ferguson was quoted as saying ” During my time at Everton, Goodison Park came to feel like a second home, with the supporters of the club, and the people of the city becoming a second family to me.” The fans certainly relished the opportunity to welcome him back.