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When Peter sold Duncan – an Everton oral history

ferguson at newcastleFaith of Our Families: Everton, an Oral History is the latest in a long line of seminal Everton books to come from the pen of Evertonian author and publisher, James Corbett.

A huge book, telling the story of Everton’s long an illustrious history through the voices of those who made it and those who witnessed it first hand, it is another book that every Everton fan simply must have on their shelves.

The book features over 200 new and unique interviews with Everton players, managers, coaches, reporters, and fans to capture the real story of Everton’s history.

Below, we feature an extract from one of Everton’s more recent controversial transfer deals, the sale of Duncan Ferguson to Newcastle United from under the Everton manager, Walter Smith’s nose.

Not until 23 November 1998, did Goodison witness its first Everton league goal of the season when a Michael Ball penalty saw off Newcastle United in front of the Sky cameras. But behind the secnes another story was unfolding: the club’s talisman, Duncan Ferguson, was being sold.

Alan Myers: The press room was going crazy with the rumours that Duncan Ferguson was being sold to Newcastle. So, I went down and spoke to [the club secretary] Michael Dunford, and I said, ‘Is this right?’ And he said to me, ‘Rubbish, Mr Myers, rubbish!’ I’ll never forget those words. So, I went back up to the press room and I said, ‘It’s absolute rubbish. No, it’s not true.’ Everyone was quite shocked, because I was so strong about it. On the way back down the stairs, there’s a little chairman’s office, sort of a match day’s chairman’s office, which was hardly ever used, but it’s on the first floor as you go up in Goodison Park and I saw the door was slightly ajar, which was unusual for that office, because it was private. I wanted to make sure nobody was in there messing about, so I pushed the door open a little bit more to look in, and sitting in the office was Ruud Gullit, Duncan Ferguson, and his agent, and they were actually signing a contract. And you can imagine how I felt after just literally seconds coming down the stairs, having told the media that it was absolute rubbish. Within 15, 20 minutes, during the second half, Duncan left reception, got into a car across the road by the Winslow and drove off, with people shouting after him, ‘Don’t go! Don’t go!’ It was proper emotional stuff.

Walter Smith: I was doing a Sky interview after the match and the guy asked me a question. He said, ‘There’s rumours here that Duncan Ferguson has been transferred to Newcastle.’ Well it would be the first that I’d ever heard it as a manager, Archie was the same. So I went back into the dressing room where [Newcastle manager] Ruud Gullit came in for a drink. We never mentioned this transfer or anything. And we were going upstairs to get our wives and as we were walking up the stairs Duncan came down.

Archie Knox: His words were, ‘I thought you would have tried harder to keep me.’ And I’m saying ‘Keep you where? What are you talking about?’

Walter Smith: We had no idea.

Archie Knox: He said he’d been transferred to Newcastle. So it was like: we need to go and have a word about this and see what happens!

Alan Myers: There was a press release sent over. Walter didn’t want it sent out, and the chairman was telling me to get it out. I didn’t know what to do for the best, and so I hid in the toilet! Everyone was looking for me, because the chairman was going mad, wanting to know why the press release hadn’t gone out. I was too worried about what Walter and Archie would do to me if I put it out. The trials and tribulations of a press officer! I just literally didn’t know what to do, so the only thing I could do was hide in the toilet.

Walter Smith: You felt foolish as the manager of the club. If Peter Johnson had sat us down and said ‘I’ve made a pig’s ear of this, I’ve got to transfer this player, we need this money’ then I said I would have said ‘Well okay, there’s not a lot we could have done about it.’ But not telling us, that was a different aspect.

Peter Johnson: Walter and I had a slightly different opinion on how it happened and what happened.

Walter Smith: I came back and said, ‘Jesus.’ I don’t think either of us had ever experienced a position like that before. So the next day I was hauled into a board meeting, and I don’t think anybody, even the other board members, believed that we didn’t know anything about the transfer. It was one of those, it was a really awkward circumstance, and left me in a situation where I said to myself, ‘What am I going to do here?’ I’d never been in a position before where I didn’t know what to do, to be quite honest with you. So I said to myself, ‘He obviously doesn’t have enough trust in me to tell me he had to transfer a player.’ That was one thing. Then the overriding factor for us in all the talks, was we had bought quite a lot of players in to play at the club and then at the first sign of a problem you’re being seen to get up and go off.

Alan Myers: I think as it transpired, whether it was right or wrong, the chairman got the blame, which put him in a weakened position – as weak as he’d been – and he had been weak at times. As far as the fans were concerned, and in terms of holding onto the club, I think that was the sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think he realised that the game was up.

Phil McNulty: In the office as that story was developing, you thought, ‘Well, two things are going to happen here: either the manager will go, or the chairman will go.’ The environment around the club at the time, the way people were feeling about Peter Johnson; Walter had only just arrived, so there was a reservoir of goodwill for him. He had brought quality players into the club in Dacourt, Collins, Materazzi, etc. So, the force was with Walter, if you like, rather than Peter Johnson. You sat there at your desk thinking, ‘Well, either he’s going to go, or he’s going to go.’ The town would not be big enough for the two of them. And in the end, it was the chairman who went, which is an unusual turn of events. But I think by that time, Peter probably had enough of Everton and the stress it was bringing him.

Dave Prentice: My acting editor at the Echo, Tony Storey, wouldn’t believe that a player could be sold without the manager’s knowledge. He said, ‘The Echo’s stance on this was the manager must have known. Unless you can prove that to me otherwise that’s what we’ve got to write.’ So I went down to see Walter and said ‘My editor won’t believe you didn’t know anything about it.’ His reaction was sensational.  He just went insane. ‘Get that fucking twit on the phone and I’ll tell him what’s going on!’ And I’m sat there and there’s this absolutely incendiary manager ringing and slamming the phone down, ringing and slamming the phone down. Either he was a sensational actor or he genuinely was so, so angry. In the end I said, ‘Look, I believe you, I believe you. I’ll go back, and convince the editor that you were unaware.’

Alan Myers: The next morning, we had an emergency board meeting over at Park Foods. I went over with Walter in his car, and I went and sat outside until they asked me into the boardroom, and Peter Johnson went in, and within five minutes, Peter Johnson come out and said to me, ‘Okay, Alan, you come with me.’ So, off we went in his car, up to Oxton, his house, and we then sat there – well, I sat there – for about four hours on the settee with nobody. The only person that came in was his housekeeper, and she kept coming in making me tea and biscuits and toast. I’m thinking ‘What’s going on?’ I sat there for about four hours. So, then, Peter showed up again with [his partner] Lorraine Rogers and he said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘They’re not happy, you know, because Duncan’s gone,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ll be in Jersey in an hour,’ and that was the last we saw of him. He went that day.

Walter Smith: We were in that awkward situation. After speaking to the board, and then finally clarifying everything, we played at Charlton the following Saturday, and I met Sir Philip Carter and Peter Johnson, and the chairman said he didn’t tell me, he didn’t want to tell me, he thought I’d hear from other people. Anyway, I didn’t. So that was that, and after a bit of discussion between everybody, Archie and I felt that after bringing a lot of players together it would be the wrong for us to go. And the club was good wasn’t it?

Archie Knox: Great club.

Alan Myers: Peter had a really good sense of humour and I had a lot of time for him. He had a home in Jersey and for some reason the Liverpool Echo was always popular on the island. He told me this story about how he used to go down to the port when the ferry used to come in and pick up the paper. One day he went down in a wooly hat and a big coat. The guy who was unloading the papers threw the bundle onto the quayside and they landed with the sports pages up and there he was on the back page. The fella looks down at the paper and says, ‘This tw&t lives here!’ Peter just mumbled something like, ‘Ah, right!’ and went on his way.

You can buy Faith of Our Families: Everton, an Oral History from deCoubertin books and all good book shops.

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NSNO Staff

Staff Writer at NSNO.co.uk
NSNO Staff writers maintain the news on the site and ensure the site is updated frequently with the latest Everton news. Starting in 2004, NSNO has always been at the forefront of bringing you the latest Everton news and rumours, building a large forum and growing social media presence, which you can follow by clicking the links to the left.
  







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