Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Glenn Ferguson marks 1,000th league appearance in typically grand style

Glenn Ferguson prepares to step onto the pitch for the 1000th time as a second-half replacement for Gary Browne on Saturday

It was a special occasion for the Irish League’s man for the big occasion.

Take a bow Glenn Ferguson, after clocking up 1,000 domestic appearances in Lisburn Distillery’s home clash with Newry City on Saturday.

‘Spike’ came on as a second-half substitute and inspired his side to victory — where have we heard that before?

Ferguson has followed in the famous footsteps of his good pal and former team-mate, Linfield skipper Noel Bailie, who hit the magical milestone at the Blues.

But while Noel has remained a one-club man, Ferguson’s legendary status is confirmed at Ards (82 appearances), Glenavon (363), Linfield (515) and now the Whites (40).

The 41-year-old striker lies third in the Irish League’s top goalscoring charts behind Jimmy Jones (646) and Joe Bambrick (563).

Along the way, he has pocketed 29 trophies and helped himself to 549 goals.

Most of his heroics were performed at Linfield while Glentoran fans rued the one that got away.

Oval boss Roy Coyle had Spike in his house once and served him tea — Coyler really must improve his tea-making skills!

During his spell at Windsor Park — a fitting stage for one of the greats — he scored 285 goals in 11 years.

A £55,000 record signing from Glenavon in 1998, he helped the Blues win six league titles and four Irish Cups — as well as the inaugural Setanta Cup in 2005.

He also made five appearances for his country and was caught up in the infamous Prague nightclub incident while on international duty, but Ferguson’s legacy will be his truly outstanding contribution to the domestic game.

Just like Bailie, he’s a rare diamond — priceless to any manager he has worked for.

“Getting to the 1,000 games mark is a special feeling and of course, you can’t say it will never be done again, but I think it’s getting harder to achieve that,” said Ferguson, who will hang up his boots at the end of the season and focus on coaching.

“There is a greater focus on fitness now and players have to be athletes and if they want to stay at the top level they have to work hard away from the pitch as well.

“Not too many players keep playing once they hit 40, but I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve avoided serious injuries and played with great players.

“People talk about Stevie McBride, Ray McCoy (Glenavon), Peter Thompson and Tony Gorman (Linfield), but I always like to mention Tommy Kincaid (former Ards boss) as he was a wonderful player up front and always helped the younger players. You never forget that help when you are learning the game.

“I’ve played for Northern Ireland and great clubs where I’ve won lots of trophies so there’s a lot to smile about when it’s all over.”

Even though defenders have attacked him from all sides during his glittering career, Ferguson’s body and mind remain in excellent condition and his debut appearance is worth remembering.

“I was a 17-year-old playing for Ards,” he added. “Ironically, we were away to Glenavon and I was not expected to play, but as we went to the game, striker Philip Maxwell was taken ill and couldn’t play.

“I was given a chance and I scored on my debut.

“I suppose I never looked back after that, but Philip got better and Jim Campbell played up front then so I didn’t play much that season.”

Ferguson, who was voted Northern Ireland Football Writers Association Player of the Year a record three times, played 48 games in his final season at Linfield and scored 24 goals, but to the surprise of many, manager David Jeffrey said he could leave.

The Blues boss admitted it was possibly the biggest decision the club had taken “in a long, long time.” He didn’t need to explain why.

But that’s water under the bridge now. Spike is looking forward to a future free from the rigours of regular training.

“I’ll be relieved to finish with all that hard work,” he added.

“But I’m staying involved in the game. A footballer can’t play on forever and I will miss the playing side a bit, but I’ve a lot to be proud of and I can take my experience into the coaching side of the game.

“After listening to quite a few managers, perhaps it’s my turn to do the shouting.”

Any young players hoping to develop their game should listen to the great Glenn Ferguson.

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