Spike stunned by Jeffrey axe
Some players leave Linfield quietly, others in a blaze of glory. For a select few there is a reaction that reverberates around the local game.
Last night there were two departures from Windsor Park and for fans the individuals involved are almost polar opposites.
John Martin’s release after a single season at the club was to be expected.
Glenn Ferguson’s certainly was not.
He may be preparing to celebrate his 40th birthday in July, but ‘Spike’ is still THE mastercraftsman in the local game when it comes to knocking the ball into the net. And he’s done it an amazing 534 times in his career.
It is a career that may not be over yet though, despite failing to gain a new contract offer from Blues boss David Jeffrey.
“You always half expect it at Linfield because noboby is safe, from the groundsman to the manager,” Ferguson said last night.
“At the same time I had a reasonable season, I was the third highest appearance maker and the leading goalscorer, so maybe I didn’t expect it that much, but the manager is paid to make these kind of decisions.
“My plan was to play on for another season. I felt good last season and was ready to go again.
“I will take my time and make my mind up if that’s what I still want to do.”
Jeffrey has made big and tough decisions before. Five years ago Chris Morgan was axed, but the bigger reaction came a few weeks later when he signed for Big Two rivals Glentoran.
At the end of that season his goal against the Blues gave the Glens the league title.
Jeffrey was criticised for allowing Morgan to leave, but he has always justified that decision by stating that Morgan staying would have stopped Peter Thompson from progressing into a first-team regular — and we know how that turned out.
It would be unfair to judge Jeffrey’s decision on Ferguson at this early stage.
Ferguson signed for Linfield as a 28-year-old in January 1998 for an Irish League record of £55,000 — a record that in these days of players being free agents when their contracts expire that is unlikely to ever be broken.
He went on to become an even better player in his 30s, going on to break even more records.
Three times he has been voted as Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Player of the Year — something that no other player has achieved.
Only stars of yesteryear Jimmy Jones and Joe Bambrick have notched more goals in the history of Irish League football than Ferguson, making him truly the greatest marksman of his time.
Six months ago it was feared that Ferguson’s career had come to an abrupt end, when he sustained a knee injury after scoring against Glentoran on Boxing Day.
Fortunately those fears were allayed a couple of days later and he returned to score even more goals, but not enough to add to his bulging medal collection as the Blues ended the season without a trophy for the first time in six years.
“I am glad that I didn’t go out like that,” said Ferguson.
“Yes, I have done a lot in my career, but I believe in looking forward, not back.”
What the future holds remains to be seen. A final season elsewhere perhaps, or a coaching role, having gained his UEFA B Licence coaching qualification.
Whatever happens in the future, the end of a golden and very special era has come at Linfield Football Club.