Football: Ferguson is ready to play again

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The Independent Online
The Duncan Ferguson comeback begins tonight. The Everton and Scotland striker, who was released from Glasgow's Barlinnie prison last month after serving 44 days of a three-month sentence imposed for head-butting an opponent while playing for Rangers, had his 12-match playing ban suspended by a judge yesterday.

Tonight Ferguson will play for Everton's reserve team against their counterparts from Newcastle United, in a hurriedly arranged Pontins League fixture. "There'll be 15,000 to 20,000 people there - that's how influential Duncan is on Merseyside," his team-mate, Dave Watson, said. "If he comes through, he's got a chance for Monday," when Everton entertain West Ham in a televised Premiership game.

Yesterday, at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Lord Prosser ruled that a judicial review into the 12-match ban imposed by the Scottish Football Association should take place. The suspension, which still has seven games to run, has been lifted until the judicial review is completed.

"We feel he has been doubly punished," the Everton secretary, Michael Dunford, said: "We don't think a custodial sentence was appropriate, but that was what the court adjudged and we have to respect that. Ferguson had the suspension imposed by the SFA following an incident in April 1994, when he butted a Raith Rovers defender, John McStay. It was upheld by an appeals tribunal last month.

Ferguson sat out one match for Rangers before the ban was put on hold pending the court hearing. After joining Everton last season, he played in the first two matches of this term before needing a hernia operation. Everton's last four fixtures have counted towards the suspension.

While Ferguson served time for his on-field misdemeanours, Paul Gascoigne has escaped the same fate. Neither the England midfielder nor his Rangers team-mates John Brown and Alan McLaren - nor Billy Dodds of Aberdeen - will be prosecuted for their involvement in various ugly incidents during a Scottish Premier Division match at Ibrox last month. Glasgow's Procurator Fiscal said last night he had considered a police report on the match and had decided "to take no proceedings against any person on this occasion."

The Republic of Ireland will have more fans on their side at Wednesday's European Championship qualifying play-off against the Netherlands at Anfield. The Dutch FA has taken up only 11,000 of its 16,300 allocation, and the surplus will now go to the Irish, who should have more than 22,000 people cheering them on. Roy Keane is unlikely to be playing in a green shirt, however. The Manchester United midfielder, recovering from a hernia operation, was not deemed fit enough to play in a reserve match last night.

The FA has charged Birmingham City with misconduct following crowd trouble at last month's First Division match against Millwall. If found guilty, City could face a fine, a suspended sentence - or even the closure of St Andrew's.

Birmingham expect to complete the pounds 300,000 signing of Barcelona's Danish striker, Ronnie Ekelund, today; while one deal to go through yesterday saw Bolton Wanderers buy the Plymouth Argyle midfielder Wayne Burnett, who has been on loan at Burnden Park for two months, for pounds 100,000.

Brighton have been told they can stay at the Goldstone Ground for an extra year, after talks between the local council and the development firm buying the stadium. Brighton, who have debts of pounds 6m, were due to move out in June next year.