They say you should never meet your heroes but at a recent charity event I had the chance to meet my biggest footballing hero of all time, and didn't. Instead I sat for most of the evening no more than five feet from the man, yet although I considered approaching him several times there was something holding me back. This wasn't because I thought it would be a disappointment, there was absolutely no chance of that, it was more the fact that I didn't trust myself to be able to speak to him without blubbering.
I'm not known as an over emotional person, with "cold hearted bastard" being a phrase I've often heard aimed at me, but there are a few things that are guaranteed to bring a tear to my eyes such as the sound of Z Cars, the crowd chanting the name of Duncan Ferguson, and the sight of the man himself filling up as he acknowledges his fans. On Thursday night all three of those things combined as Duncan attended a charity event in aid of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, and I found myself amongst the standing ovation that greeted him as he entered the room, using my shoulders to wipe tears from my cheeks, hoping that nobody noticed.
People say there is an aura about Duncan, and although I've never really understood what an aura actually is I got the feeling as I looked around the room that every man present wished that he was Dunc's brother, grandfather, dad, son or best friend, while every female simply wanted to be his wife, (along with one misguided male fan who shouted his proposal during the question and answer section of the evening).
Somehow his presence in the room seemed to make everyone feel special, honoured to be in his company, but also made to feel very welcome by Dunc himself.
Duncan's reaction appeared to be a mixture of embarrassment and pride, still looking like the young Scotsman attending his first Everton press conference while at the same time being shocked that he could still command this outpouring of adulation simply by entering a room. He shouldn't have been surprised, he is a legend.
Since the first day he joined Everton I have only ever encountered two Evertonians who weren't fans of Duncan. They pointed out his bad behaviour on and off the field, his numerous injuries, and the fact that they felt let down by his avoidable red cards. I'm not proud to say that I took these comments almost personally and my encounters with these people resulted in stand up confrontations, heated but fortunately not violent, and with neither side willing to back down on their stance.
Duncan may not be perfect but I accept all of his faults. His lack of discipline and reaction to provocation on the pitch was well known and easily exploited by opposing players, (Freund and Scharner to name just two). Injuries happen to every footballer and although Dunc had more than his fair share I don't think you can actually blame him for that. Then there is the claim that he was to blame for the "Long Ball" tactic. You may remember this one was where every player would launch the ball towards him from all over the pitch, expecting him to trap it on his head, totally ignoring the fact that he preferred the ball played to his feet, or pulled back from the goal line for him to run on to. I suppose it's his fault for being six foot four.
When people point out these faults, and then follow it up with goalscoring stats showing that even our previous Ferguson, (Mick to those of you too young to remember him), had a better goals per game ratio and ask me what Duncan has ever done for us I wonder if they've ever attended a game where he has been involved.
I've watched some great Everton teams with some fantastic players but I can't remember the sight of any other player lifting the atmosphere of the entire stadium the way that Duncan Ferguson could.
My first Goodison hero Joe Royle was quoted as saying that maybe Duncan had become a legend before he became a footballer at Everton, and that may have some truth to it. I prefer to go with the description from one of the guests sharing our table last week, (who also didn't trust himself to go and speak to Dunc), who described him as "A Hero When We Needed One". That's what he was, and judging by the reaction he still gets now, that's exactly what he still is.