Duncan Disorderly: When Ferguson Lost His Head Against Raith Rovers

Ferguson lashed out at John McStay during a Scottish Premiership fixture between Rangers and Raith Rovers on this day in 1994
08:35, 16 Apr 2022

When Duncan Ferguson lashed out at John McStay during a Scottish Premiership fixture between Rangers and Raith Rovers on April 16th, 1994, few would have believed the fate that awaited him as he became the first professional player in Britain to be jailed for an on-field incident.

The result may seem insignificant when looking through the record books, just another home win as Walter Smith’s Rangers side eased themselves towards another Scottish League title with a convincing 4-0 at Ibrox.

But though few of the 42,000 spectators watching realised it at the time, one seemingly minor flashpoint in an otherwise forgettable match would be remembered long after the points had been secured.

That’s because Duncan Ferguson - who had signed for Rangers the previous year for a record fee of £4 million - got involved in a tussle with an opponent and despite not even receiving a yellow card, would eventually wind-up in a Glasgow prison.

The result of Ferguson’s actions that day was as much to do with the many misdemeanours that had occurred previously in his off-field life as what took place in the 35th minute against Raith Rovers.

Two previous convictions for assault, as well as one for breach of the peace and another for drink-driving, meant the new arrival from Dundee United was already on probation when he and McStay squared up after battling for a loose ball.

There seemed to be no ill-feeling between the pair prior to Ferguson appearing to catch the defender with a head-butt and though McStay immediately fell to the floor clutching his face, referee Kenny Clark took no action despite being just feet away.

Apart from the usual push-and-shove the game quickly resumed and after the final whistle, little was made of the incident by either side’s manager, but unfortunately for Ferguson, the incident had been captured by television cameras.

In an unprecedented act that would have implications way beyond football, for the first time in Scottish legal history, the Procurator Fiscal prosecuted a player for assault on the field of play, and a year later, Ferguson, who was playing for Everton at the time, received a three-month custodial sentence.

He was also handed a prejudicial 12-game ban by the SFA and, despite being overturned on appeal, he vowed never to play for his country again, retiring from international football with just seven appearances to his name.

“There had been no needle or anything said, just a typical scuffle on the park,” Ferguson’s victim John McStay later revealed.

“It was a bad enough blow to go down and my lip was cut. The most disappointing thing was the ref saying he didn’t see it.

“When it went to court he said if he’d seen it he’d have sent him off.”

Ferguson was eventually released from Barlinnie prison having served just 44 days and later claimed he should not have been made an example of - describing the incident as "nothing.”

Talking to Everton fan channel Toffee TV in 2019, Ferguson opened up about the fracas and his stay in prison.

"It was wrong me being there, it wasn't fair." he insisted. "I shouldn't have been in there and I think a lot of people understood that.

"The fans got me through it, a lot of them wrote to me. It was unbelievable all the letters and the support that I got.

"I got all the letters when I was in there and obviously you have got a lot of time on your hands when you're in there to read through them all.”

While his bitterness lingered and his protestations have continued, the incident did little to harm his club career with two stints at Everton either side of an £8 million pound move to Newcastle United before embarking on a long coaching career at Goodison Park.

Sadly the same can’t be said for McStay, who would miss Raith’s famous League Cup win over Celtic the previous autumn before drifting in the lower reaches of Scottish football having been released following the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 1994.

He initially joined Falkirk before stints with Hamilton, Ayr United, Clydebank, Clyde and Albion Rovers, not to mention a spell playing in Ireland with Glanafton Athletic.

After hanging up his boots he got a job as a caretaker at Celtic Park of all places where he was regularly reminded of that infamous altercation across the city, often struggling with bouts of depression as well as going through a divorce. .

“I was only 28 when it happened,” he would later explain.

“It felt as if I was maybe in my 30s, at the end of my career. I was only 28. And that was it. Done.

“The more I think about it, the more bitter I feel. Why did that happen at that time? 

“Would that have happened had it been sorted out on the pitch?

“That’s what a lot of people were saying at the time, if the referee had sent him off it wouldn’t have come to all that. 

“Who knows?”

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