Belfast Telegraph

Glenn Ferguson: 'I was sacked and the deal to appoint Davy was sealed quickly after that. I didn't feel I was shown respect'

Linfield hero Glenn Ferguson on how relationship with Jeffrey soured over Ballymena job, why he originally rejected Blues, and kind words from Lennon after Hoops boss was booed at Windsor

Suited up: Glenn Ferguson at Midgley Park
Suited up: Glenn Ferguson at Midgley Park
Hitting heights: Glenn Ferguson scores for Blues
Glenn Ferguson's County Antrim Shield joy at Ballymena in 2012
Happy days: Glenn Ferguson and David Jeffrey hail Linfield success in 2005
League Cup win with Distillery in 2011
Memorable journey: Glenn Ferguson in the thick of it for Glenavon in 1996

Glenn Ferguson is one of the finest footballers in the history of the Irish League. The striker played for Ards, Glenavon, Linfield and Distillery and scored a staggering 563 goals in 1,040 games.

Team-mates, opponents and fans would agree he was the best of his era. Known to one and all as Spike, the east Belfast man stood tall between 1987 and 2011, winning every trophy going, and 21 years on from becoming the most expensive player in Northern Ireland club football he retains that tag having swapped the Lurgan Blues for the Belfast Blues in a £55,000 move.

What is not so well known is that Ferguson could have moved to Windsor Park seven years earlier.

"After my first season at Glenavon when I scored 37 goals, Linfield wanted to sign me," he recalls.

"I was 20 but thought going after just one good season at Glenavon, it could have gone wrong at Linfield, so I told them that I wanted to stay. Trevor Anderson was the manager and they signed Glenn Hunter instead. I think it proved to be a good decision for me."

At Glenavon, Ferguson excelled in an awesome and free-scoring attack alongside Raymond McCoy and Stephen McBride, leading to offers to join the professional ranks.

He says: "It was a brilliant time to be at Glenavon and great for me as a centre-forward having McBride and McCoy on the wings. They provided fantastic deliveries and I got myself on the end of them in the box. They both loved taking defenders on, McCoy was really tricky and one of the most skilful players I ever played with, nutmegging people for fun, while McBride was big, powerful and very good with both feet.

Sign In

"We won a lot of cup competitions and there was interest from Raith Rovers when Jimmy Nicholl was the manager. I was getting more money here between my job and football than what they offered so it wasn't worth my while.

"Then Austrian team Salzburg came in. I scored in a friendly for them and they wanted to sign me. The deal was £1,500 per week plus a house and a car which in 1996 was a good offer but our first two kids Jamie Lee and Matthew were very young and I didn't think it was the right move for me, my wife Julie and my family. Had it been to England it would have been different but I have no regrets about not going over."

Two years later, Ferguson did leave Glenavon.

"I asked for a transfer in January 1998 because Glenavon were losing good players and their ambition to win the league which I desperately wanted to do," he says.

"I had always wanted to sign for Linfield but because of the money Glenavon were looking I spoke to Linfield, Glentoran and Kenny Shiels at Coleraine. I told him that I'd travelled to Lurgan from Belfast for seven years and didn't want double the journey to Coleraine so it came down to the Big Two.

"Glentoran actually offered me more money and a goal bonus which I didn't get at Linfield but there were a few things that put me off Glentoran so I phoned their manager Roy Coyle and told him I was going to sign for the Blues.

"The fee was £55,000. It is amazing it's still the record Irish League transfer fee but I think it will be broken over the next few years with the money here now through European football and investment at clubs like Larne and Glentoran, who will need to sign players who can make a difference if they are to win trophies.

"When I signed for Linfield, I was 28. I always remember Lee Doherty coming to Glenavon from Linfield when he was 30. The theory was Linfield didn't keep players over the age of 30.

"With everything going so well and me scoring lots of goals, us constantly winning titles and other trophies, I kept getting contracts.

"I played on at Linfield until I was 39. They got their money's worth for that £55,000!

"I never thought it would go that well for so long at Linfield because I already had 10 years in the league. Even in my last season at Windsor, I played 48 games and scored 24 goals. After that I had another two years at Distillery before retiring."

Ferguson won six league titles and four Irish Cups with the Blues and the clean sweep in 2006. His best memory of all, though, comes from the shock Setanta Cup success in 2005, beating odds-on favourites Shelbourne 2-0 in the final at Tolka Park.

Ferguson scored. That night he wasn't just the best forward on the pitch, he was the best defender and midfielder too in a majestic all-round display.

"Games like that go by in a flash but I know I got man of the match for a reason," states the 49-year-old grandfather of three.

"Nobody gave us a chance. Once I scored we gained confidence and then Peter Thompson got a second. The key was we believed we could win in their backyard even though we were up against it versus a full-time side with a massive budget. I had many great, great times at Linfield but that was the highlight. The next season we won the clean sweep so at one point we held all five trophies which was some achievement.

"At Glenavon the best moment was beating Hafnarfjordur in Europe in 1995. I can tell you we really celebrated that night. When I was at Distillery, defeating Portadown in the League Cup final in 2011 meant a lot. That team was so young apart from me. The manager Tommy Wright masterminded that success."

Sweet memories in contrast to the sour feelings Ferguson expresses when David Jeffrey is brought up. It's a sad situation which hopefully one day will be resolved.

It was Jeffrey who signed Spike for Linfield and for a decade they were the two biggest names in the game here, inspiring the Blues to success after success. Then came the decision to let Ferguson go in 2009 which was followed seven years later by Jeffrey replacing his former striker as manager of Ballymena United.

Asked about his relationship with Jeffrey, Ferguson says: "It's nil! I don't even think about it now. I personally felt I wasn't treated well with the way I left Linfield. After it was all over we shook hands and begged to differ about how things were handled.

"Then the whole Ballymena United thing left a sour taste with me. I was sacked on a Monday and the deal to appoint Davy was sealed quickly after that. We all know things like that happen in football but I didn't feel I was shown any respect. Of course I had great times at Linfield under Davy who was a very, very good manager, but I felt I deserved more from him especially after what I had given when he was boss at Windsor."

Ferguson's exit from the Showgrounds came in early 2016. He won the County Antrim Shield twice and guided the Sky Blues to Irish Cup and League Cup finals.

He is now Linfield's Academy Director, overseeing some of the best young players in the country.

"I'm in no rush to go back into management. I'm three years into my job at the Academy and I believe we are going in the right direction," states the ex-Northern Ireland international.

"I went straight from playing for 24 years into management. I've learned that some people who run football clubs treat players like a piece of meat.

"Experiencing that has helped me in my job with the Linfield Academy. I want our youngsters treated well so that they feel a real affinity with the club, whether they go across the water to play or stay and go on to make our first team."

Ferguson won five caps and it was during his international days that he became close friends with the country's record goalscorer and current Linfield manager David Healy.

In 2001 the pair of them formed part of the 'Prague 5' along with fellow players Michael Hughes and Peter Kennedy and goalkeeping coach Tommy Wright when after a World Cup qualifier away to the Czech Republic, the quintet were detained by police over an incident at a nightclub.

It's hard to believe now but the rest of the squad and the Irish FA flew home without them. After being held in a police station for a day, they were released before returning to the UK.

"I'm good friends with David Healy. One lasting memory I'll always have is of that time in Prague, he was chained to a radiator in the kitchen in the police station and I was fighting to get him unchained," says Spike, laughing at the thought.

"It wasn't funny at the time but I can smile about it now. Apart from Prague, I loved my time as an international. I never thought it would happen. I was sort of overawed at the start feeling players were going to be ahead of me but they weren't really.

"Some technically were very good like Michael Hughes who was different gravy and Aaron Hughes was a really good professional. Others were honest, hard working players and then Dave (Healy) came in and started scoring goals galore.

"He struggled during certain parts of his club career but at international level against the best players in the world he was outstanding. In terms of him working now at Linfield, it is great and he is showing himself to be a brilliant manager.

"I met some good lads with Northern Ireland such as Dave, Damien Johnson and Keith Gillespie and they always made me feel very welcome."

Another well known star that Ferguson connected with was Celtic boss Neil Lennon. Spike started the night 18 years ago against Norway the then Hoops midfielder was jeered by some Northern Ireland fans. The evening would take a more sinister turn for Lennon but not before some kind words to Ferguson.

"Neil kept himself to himself during my time in the squad but I got on well with him," says the Linfield legend, who is 50 next month.

"I started the game when he was booed at Windsor by home fans. At half-time he was told that he had got a death threat and he had to leave the stadium. I had done alright in the game and I remember him saying before we got to the dressing room, 'Spike, how did you never get to play full-time?' which I thought was a nice thing to say given he had taken so much stick. Unfortunately, he had to retire from Northern Ireland duty the next year."

Throughout his life, Ferguson's mum Ida and dad Tommy have been there for him. Wife Julie is his rock and he says her parents have also offered great support. Doting dad to Jamie Lee (31), gifted footballer Matthew (23), now at Glenavon, and Carly (19), he loves spending time with grandkids Carter (11), Elsie (2) and one-year-old Rudi.

Just recently, the big Elvis Presley fan had the opportunity to enjoy a dream holiday.

"Julie and I were 25 years married in May so we went to Nashville, Memphis and New York

" I got to see Elvis' house at Graceland which is something I've always wanted to do because I love Elvis," says the man who left defenders all shook up.

"Julie likes country and western music so we were in Nashville for three days and then we went to the Grand Ole Opry and Bluebird Café.

"Then we were in Graceland which is incredible before going on to New York which was great too.

"It really was the trip of a lifetime."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph