Barry Ferguson admits after Boozegate affair: 'I felt like I'd killed someone'
29 August 2009 12:07
Barry Ferguson's achievements stand before him. He is arguably the finest Scottish player of his generation.
He is also Rangers' record appearance-holder in European competition. His personal trophy cabinet sags under the weight of countless pieces of precious metal. He is one of few current footballers to boast an MBE.
Ah, but those are achievements in Scottish football, observers of the English Barclays Premier League might say (in typically arrogant fashion, Scots might respond).
Ferguson arrived at Blackburn six years ago with a £7.5million price tag and a glowing reputation. He stayed for little more than a season then traipsed back up north of the border, few totally convinced about his talent. But Alex McLeish knew.
Birmingham City's boss mounted a passionate defence of Ferguson's spell under Graeme Souness when quizzed last week.
The evidence so far is that the ex-Scotland captain brings a welcome calming presence to St Andrew's following his £1.3m summer move from Ibrox. Anyway, the midfielder is well able to stand up for himself.
'I know people are looking at it,' said Ferguson, who will play for Birmingham at Tottenham today.
'They are saying, 'He had 20 months there, he was out for eight, so what did he prove?' I felt I was doing well but I picked up a bad injury at Newcastle. You can still see the scar on my left knee. And that's all they remember. After that, they saw I went back to Rangers.
Barry Ferguson in action for Blackburn Rovers
Premier League previous: Barry Ferguson in action for Blackburn Rovers
'I don't want to defend myself or sound arrogant but when Souness left, Mark Hughes wanted to build the team around me.
'I was offered a contract extension. If the people at Blackburn thought that, I must have been doing something right.
'But then Rangers came back in. I think, perhaps, that people need to understand I'd been there since I was eight. Initially, I had left under a cloud because they were struggling financially.
'I had an emotional tie. When they came calling again, my first thought was, 'I want to go back up the road'. But perhaps I went back too quickly. I can't say I regretted going back. I won trophies, reached the UEFA Cup final.
Barry Ferguson with Birmingham team-mate James McFadden
Happier times: Barry Ferguson with Birmingham and former Scotland team-mate James McFadden
'I've played in the most European matches ever and that's something I'm quite proud of. I knew really that the Premier League is the best league, though, from my time at Blackburn.
'I turned up at Birmingham and the boys have been winding me up about it - saying I'm playing in the big time now.
'But don't make the mistake of thinking it's easy up there. It's one hundred miles per hour stuff. It's different. But not easy.'
The interview has been agreed on the basis that the incident four months ago with the Scotland national team won't dominate.
A late drinking session in the team hotel after a heavy defeat caused uproar. As did the antics that followed.
It is difficult to fudge the issue because it forms, partly, one of the reasons why Ferguson has decided to move south and try his luck once more.
To his credit, he fronts up. 'I'm not the first guy to make a mistake, am I?' he said. 'I accept I made those mistakes and I felt it was handled well by Rangers, who did it man-to-man.
'But that didn't happen with Scotland. I was told I wasn't playing again by a piece of paper. I thought it was poor. If you have a problem with a guy, go and speak to him face-to-face. That's what my dad brought me up to do.
'Now people realise what went on. I've said my piece. I've got to be honest, after everything that happened at the time, I did wonder whether I wanted to carry on. I've got other interests, business interests, that I could have concentrated on away from football.
'I felt like I had killed somebody. Obviously, I had done something daft. Stupid even. But it felt worse than that. My family went away for the week, my wife and kids. I spent a week by myself in the house. I got up at 7.30am every morning. Thirty minutes later, I'd go out for a run, when it was quiet.
'I just wanted to be myself and think things through. By the end of the week, I surprised myself. I enjoyed my own company. At the end of it, I realised that I want to play as long as I can. I came to the conclusion that it would be wrong if I'd only played until I was 31, 32.
The then Scotland captain making a remark after being dropped for late-night drinking
Scandal: The then Scotland captain making a remark after being dropped for late-night drinking, an act that saw him banished by the SFA for good
'Mind you, this all happened when I was 31. When I was 21, I was involved in a fight after an Old Firm game. That was equally daft of me. If there's anything to learn, don't be anywhere near me when I'm 41.'
Ferguson had other offers. But working with McLeish, his former boss at Ibrox, was the one he wanted to take.
'I got into my car and drove about. I went out to Solihull, where I was told might be a good place to move, just to get a sense of it. It looked and felt right.
'I was sad to leave Rangers. I don't care what anyone says, that football club is a major part of my life. But now I've got to get away from it. Birmingham is my life now.
'And I am really loving my time here. Glaswegians tell it how it is, for better or worse, and I kind of get the feeling that's the way that the Brummies are too. I like that.
'My family sense that I'm more at ease. Everyone has commented on it. Football-wise, I'm like a kid in a sweetie shop. I've never played at White Hart Lane before. It will be a first for me. I can't wait.'
What does he plan to do when his three-year contract is over? 'I was going to take my coaching badges with the Scottish Football Association,' he replied.
'What do you think? I'll be the first professional ever to fail?' After four difficult months, Barry Ferguson is learning how to smile again.