Our search for the best saves on The MadScientist’s 1992/93 Database for Football Manager 2022 carries on, diving into the story of some of the most interesting teams and players of the era and telling you why you should manage them. We leave continental Europe and fly back to the British Isles; this time we land some 160 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, to meet a young man who almost missed his chance and who’s character could make him every rival’s worst enemy, or his own.
Bravely and (Un)Responsibly
Duncan Cowan Ferguson, better known as Big Dunc, was born in a working-class family in Stirling, Scotland, on December 27th, 1971. A youth player for Carse Thistle, he signed with Dundee United in 1990. It wouldn’t take long for him to make his impact, but that almost never happened.
Weeks before his debut, Ferguson almost quit football completely. Angry at the club for giving him a fine after he left to visit home midweek and showed up late at training, he walked away from the sport. In the pre-Bosman era, with no social media to push the scandal and under the authority of legendary manager Jim McLean, there weren’t many ways out.
Ferguson’s stand off would last just ten days. “I was wrong. I was annoyed at the idea of not being paid, but it was my own fault,” he later said to the local press. “I have been in trouble before, but it will not happen again”. Brash as he was, and harsh as the regime at The Tangerines was, it was one of the best places to be for a promising Scottish footballer.
Jim McLean had led the club to a golden era during the 1980s. With a policy to focus on youth players and development, he had won Dundee United’s first major honour capturing the Scottish League Cup twice in 1979 and 1980. Three years later, they won the Scottish Premier Division in 1983 and reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1984. Their standout performance, perhaps, would be the path to the UEFA Cup Final in 1987, only losing to IFK Gothenburg in the final. It was the era of the New Firm rivalry with Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen, when both north-east sides took the challenge to the traditional Glaswegian powerhouses.
Duncan Ferguson’s debut would actually come as a substitute for another promising prospect in Christian Dailly, and against one of said Glasgow powerhouses, in Rangers, who hosted United at Ibrox. Coming on at the 59th minute, the young player showed he wasn’t about to be intimidated by the 37,000 crowd, as he headed the ball on to Darren Jackson to assist in the opening goal.
Unlike many a young debutant, he wasn’t an unknown quantity for the Tangerines’ faithful. “Normally when a young player makes his debut and I am in with the Press at a match I get asked questions about them but I think most people seemed to be aware of Duncan already”, recalls Tangerines’ historian Peter Rundo. “You kind of knew what to expect when he came off the bench that day”. It wasn’t an accident; Ferguson (and Dailly) had dominated competition in their age group, winning the BP Youth Cup (Dundee United’s first) in 1990, beating Hibs on penalties at Easter Road. Ferguson quickly established himself as a first team regular, scoring four goals in thirteen matches that season, before jumping to sixteen in thirty nine the following year.
However, his relationship with Jim McLean would deteriorate perhaps even quicker. On one occasion, the Tangerines’ boss sent him with John O’Neill and Andy McLaren to paint a wall at the gym. When Assistant Manager Paul Sturrock came by to check the progress on the work, he found a large graffiti that explained the players’ position: JIM MCLEAN IS A C*NT. The three were fined a few weeks’ wages, but the damage was done.
Then there was Big Dunc’s pub going. He was always getting in trouble, being fined by the courts for having butted a policeman, punching, kicking a Hearts fan on crutches, even placed on a year’s probation for another assault charge, something that would eventually land him in big problems. “The first injury I ever had was when I broke my big toe. I broke it in a fight in a pub called The Rock in Menzieshill in Dundee”, would later Ferguson himself claim. “It never got fixed and to this day I think everything came from that big toe and that fight in The Rock…when I was 18.”
McLean was, as Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh, getting too old for that. At 55 years old, the Scottish legend was entering the twilight of his career as a manager. After 22 years of service to the club, he perhaps lacked the energy to deal with his new prodigy. “Duncan Ferguson could have been as good as Andy Gray. But his heart has never been in football in my opinion. It’s been a job and a way in and a way to money”, he later said. “Even from 13 years of age he was absolutely outstanding. He was obviously exceptional in the air, his pace and control very good. But his hunger, desire and attitude towards the game were never 100%.”
Ferguson ended the 1992/93 season with 15 goals in 33 games as Dundee United finished in fourth place in what was Jim McLean’s final season as manager. They had one further fallout after a transfer to Leeds United fell through, before Big Dunc was sold to Rangers for £4 million, which set a new British transfer fee record.
It was while playing for the Ibrox club that the Stirling-born lived perhaps his most infamous incident. On April 16th, 1994, with Rangers already 4-0 up against Raith Rovers, Ferguson and defender John McStay battled for a loose ball. McStay complained the Rangers man was grabbing him, and they squared up, something Ferguson ended quickly, headbutting his rival. It went unpunished by the referee Kenny Clark, but Ferguson (who was already on probation), was charged with assault.
He would get a three month jail term, of which he would serve 44 days, in Barlinnie prison. “It was wrong me being there, it wasn’t fair”, Ferguson later 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.”
The incident ended up ending Ferguson’s international career. His debut had been just over a year before, on March 24, 1993, hitting a bicycle kick in a friendly against Germany. However, after he was given a 12-game ban by the SFA, Ferguson felt betrayed and he vowed never to play for his country again, retiring from international football with just seven appearances to his name.
Later that year, he moved to Everton on loan. The Toffees were at the bottom of the table early in the 1994/95 season, and manager Mike Walker was desperate for solutions. He made his debut that very monthin a 1-0 defeat away to Crystal Palace, and would fail to score in his next four games, after which Walker was dismissed.
It all seemed lost until Everton appointed ex-club legend Joe Royle as manager. He saw Ferguson’s potential and the big man paid him with goals. None, perhaps, more important than his first, a header from an Andy Hinchcliffe corner. After the match ended, he was mobbed by the Everton fans. It was love from then onwards, and they would go on to win that season’s FA Cup.
Several episodes would grow Ferguson’s image (or infamy) as a tough guy in Merseyside. Perhaps, no more so than when two burglars broke into his home in January 2001. He confronted them and successfully fought them off, managing to detain one of them. He was later praised by police for acting like he always acted on the pitch, “bravely and responsibly”. Or perhaps just the first.
Dundee United in the 1992/93 MadScientist Database
Welcome to Scotland, my friend. The 1990s would be a period of resurgence for the league. As the English league continued to reshuffle following the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough, the Scottish Premier Division was a good place to be. Rangers continued to dominate throughout the decade after Graeme Souness and Walter Smith reinvigorated the club, and the Scottish National team would see qualification to four out of the five major tournaments being played that decade (USA 94 being the missed one).
For Dundee United, it’s reconstruction time. The 1980s are over and the days of the New Firm are gone, but they’re still a capable team, with some young talent coming through and plenty of potential. Let’s take a look at the full picture.
Economy and Facilities
Unlike many of the clubs we’ve spoken of so far, Dundee United are in a bit of a pickle economically. There isn’t a lot of money in the bank and the club is projected to lose many for the three following seasons. What’s more, facilities are pretty average, so any money you do make should be invested very quickly.
It’s more of the same with the stadium. With just slightly over 14,000 capacity, Tannadice sits right in the middle of the road when it comes to Scottish Premier Division stadiums, and a long shot from Ibrox or Celtic Park. A lot of improvement to do there.
Luckily for any would-be Dundee United manager, the board understands there’s a long road ahead. Qualification to the Cup Winners’ Cup in the first season could bring you some relief economically, and they ask no more than a repeat next season. Requirement of a great Scottish Cup run might just be the hardest bit of all, but surely not a sacking offence should you fail.
From then on, like in most leagues where one or two teams rule supreme, the board is looking for the Tangerines to become Scotland’s “third team”, perhaps taking the upper hand against New Firm rivals Aberdeen.
At just 20 years old and already with the mentals to impose himself against the top defenders in the division, Big Duncan Ferguson should be the foundation of your team going forwards. Don’t take him for a one-trick pony; he’s got technique and creativity to run your team.
He’s wanted by Liverpool and only has two years left on his contract, so you would do well to secure him and put your club in a position to keep bidders away.
An indefatigable runner, Bowman is bound to become the heart of your midfield. Work ethic like few players and an engine to pull it off, he’s also versatile, excelling at both ends of the field.
Not only that, but he’s a natural leader and a player your squad listens to. However, with him sitting at 28 years old you wouldn’t be too cautious to start planning ahead for life after him.
Another of Jim McLean’s old guard, Malpas is a brilliant defender on the left, and still capable of stretching play from the back. His most valuable asset, however, is his personality. A Model Citizen and a very respected player and leader inside the dressing room, he’ll be vital in shaping the new generation of Tangerines.
He’s one of the best paid players in the squad, so you’ll be wise to sign him to a lower deal before he becomes too expensive in the twilight of his career.
We’ve looked at some very powerful clubs financially; we’ve also looked at others quite not so strong. In Dundee United we have perhaps the least equipped side that we’ve reviewed so far. With just over €100k in transfer and wage budgets, to reinforce Dundee United we’ll have to work with a type of business we had yet to look at, the loan market.
With just 17 players in the first team (and a further 7 in the under 18s), the first of Dundee United’s challenges is managing such a short squad. One of your first needs will be a player that can play on both wings. He may just be 17 years old, but Robbie Savage is just that.
You’ll have to teach him the left wing, but being ambidextrous, he’ll be a performer from the get go. United will ask you to cover his wages, but that’s manageable, and they’ll even add an optional fee should you want to keep him around. The only down note is that, since he’s 17, you won’t get him until January.
The defensive midfielder is another position that could do with some reinforcements. For a measly €46k a year you can add the Derby County man to your side. Determined, hardworking and energetic, he won’t take a starting spot, but he’ll provide much needed rotation options.
The Magpies are looking to get rid of him, so they’ll ask for a mandatory fee of just €11k. An absolute bargain.
For such a vital player as Big Dunc will be for any Dundee United manager, you don’t really have a replacement option for him. Big Czech Jan Koller will fix that for you. Nowhere near as refined or developed as Ferguson, but he’ll be good understudy.
Sparta Prague expect no wages collaboration for him, and will even include an option future fee for €1.2M. It’s quite far from Dundee’s possibilities at the start, but who knows what could happen.