Rapture as Ferguson returns

Guy Hodgson witnesses the triumphant homecoming of Everton's Barlinnie One
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The Independent Online
Duncan Ferguson has come to the attention of the police before and last night he did so again. A broken line of yellow-bibbed officers was strung around Goodison Park and its members looked as if they wished they were elsewhere. On an arctic night, who could blame them?

Not that the most famous release since the Beatles' "Free As A Bird" had done anything to merit their attention. Some 10,000 people had come to see the Barlinnie One make his return in an Everton shirt. Freed for the moment by the courts from the 12-match suspension imposed by the Scottish Football Association, Ferguson was playing in a reserve match against Newcastle, and the police were there to shepherd the crowd rather than put the player under surveillance.

There is no doubt that Ferguson's 44-day jail sentence for assaulting a fellow player has elevated the Scottish striker to a status, in Evertonian minds, far beyond his feats on the field. "Duncan is innocent" T-shirts have been doing a flourishing business locally.

Whatever the merits of his case, Ferguson's reception last night was arresting. A 15-piece pipe band played the lanky Scot on to the pitch, a banner proclaimed "Welcome Home, Dunc" and the crowd applauded his every move. The first few touches were insignificant but after 14 minutes Ferguson showed why Everton paid pounds 4m for a player who, through injury, suspension or prison, has created more headlines than he has good passes.

Rising high above his marker, Steve Watson, he carefully flicked the ball on with a casual superiority for Vinny Samways to score. An audacious backheel followed, but the moment the crowd had freezed for arrived after 47 minutes.

The ball was crossed from the right and in one sweet movement Ferguson chested the ball down and then hit a low half- volley inside the near post.

Then, with eight minutes remaining, he raced on to a pass to side-foot past Pavel Srnicek, the Newcastle goalkeeper. Two goals in a 5-0 victory: it represented some return after an absence from football since 23 August.

"Duncan is back", a steward shouted in the direction of the press box, although Joe Royle, the Everton manager, would probably have liked to see more evidence of his player's aerial dominance to be fully convinced.

However, as he has shown, using his head is not always Ferguson's strong point.