The tape has only just started rolling but Duncan Ferguson is laying down the ground rules for the next 30 minutes as only he can.
‘I don’t usually do these,’ he says, in the broadest Scottish burr, before fixing a piercing gaze on this observer. ‘I’m not givin’ ye’ any tactical information if that’s what you’re spearin’ for!’
A theatrical pause follows but he cannot maintain the pretence. Soon, he is laughing.
Interviews with Everton assistant manager Duncan Ferguson are rare but he opens up here
The Scot was interim boss after Marco Silva was sacked last year before Carlo Ancelotti arrived
‘Go on, son,’ he continues. ‘On you go…’
Interviews with Ferguson are rare. He barely gave them as a player and would prefer to remain in the shadows now he is a coach but, after some persuasion, the Everton icon is here and ready to talk. His reputation is fearsome but it quickly becomes clear this audience will not disappoint.
In good time, he will discuss the restorative work Carlo Ancelotti is conducting on his beloved club and the rise of Dominic Calvert-Lewin — the young man who now wears the No 9 shirt that was once Ferguson’s property — and tell an untold story about his brief stint in charge as caretaker boss.
But as this is derby week on Merseyside — with Everton heading into the 237th round of this conflict at the top of the embryonic Premier League table — the place to start is with a grainy, 30-second YouTube clip that begins with a noise that rolls around Goodison Park like thunder.
‘1994, wasn’t it?’ he says immediately.
It was — November, to be precise. Ferguson is watching footage of his first Everton goal, a towering header that toppled Liverpool. He had arrived on loan from Rangers with a point to prove but the goal sparked a 2-0 win in Joe Royle’s first game as manager and so began a love affair.
Critics will say there should have been more goals than 72 in 273 appearances but statistics don’t help with this story. Ferguson connected with the Gwladys Street fans like few others and came alive in big games. At his best he was unplayable. No Everton figure has been more adored in modern times.
‘My kids put it on TV from time to time,’ he says. ‘They say to me: “You were nae bad, Dad, were you? You did play now and again, you were nae always injured!” When you show me something like that it makes me feel incredibly proud. I still get butterflies before a derby, you know what I mean?
‘At the end of the day I played in a derby game and helped us win. When you get your first goal against the old enemy it’s remembered, isn’t it? The big night, under the lights — it’s what it’s all about. I wish we could have played Liverpool and Manchester United every week.
‘You know, it’s a shame that someone is going to score for us and you’re not going to hear anything like that, the fan noise. I’m sure they’ll still be feeling f****** brilliant inside. But the fans not being there…ach! It’s just not the same. The derby will never be the same without them. Never.’
And it is such a shame. Goodison, in normal circumstances, would have been shaking at lunchtime on Saturday with the home crowd expectant. Ancelotti, in that quiet style of his, has started a transformation and seven wins from seven games is Everton’s best start to a season since 1894.
Ferguson scored his first Merseyside derby goal for the Toffees in a 2-0 win in November 1994
And Ferguson has admitted he still gets butterflies before Everton face their neighbours
People are taking Everton seriously once more, thanks to Calvert-Lewin’s goals and the brilliance of — in Ferguson’s words — ‘the wee magician’ James Rodriguez. But it is all being knitted together by the urbane Italian with whom Ferguson struck up an immediate rapport. Their relationship is crucial.
‘The first thing I noticed when he came in was that he never changed anything,’ says Ferguson. ‘A new, younger manager could have decided to do things (different) straight away from day one. They could have forced their philosophy — I hate that word — or style of play on to the team.
‘Some managers would have just come in and gone, ‘f****** bang! Change this! Change that! Change it all!’ He never did it. I thought that was class. I learnt a lot from that, how he handled it. He’s a relaxed kind of guy but, believe me, he’s got a bite on him. Carlo has worked his magic.
‘We’ve all got respect for him for what he has done in the game. But he is hardworking and out on the grass every day. I say to him sometimes, ‘Stay in! There’s only five or six of us. Look, Gaffer, stay in’. He’ll have none of it. It’s says everything for me.
‘He does nae talk too much but when he starts speaking you listen. My God, the stories he tells about the players he’s worked with. He rolls out Pirlo, Maldini and all those strikers.
Everton are being taken seriously again thanks to the likes of ‘magician’ James Rodriguez
Ferguson (right) praised Ancelotti (left) who has led Everton to their best start since 1894
‘He’s good company around the dinner table, you know what I mean? The manager has worked hard but so has his son, Davide (who, like Ferguson, is assistant manager). He’s a fantastic young coach — a wee tactical genius — and the two work closely together. He is working wonders, him and his dad. I’m just in there supporting them.’
Ferguson, in a self-deprecating way, makes it sound as if he is there in some token role. It isn’t the case. The catalyst for Everton’s rejuvenation started on December 7 last year when the 48-year-old oversaw a 3-1 win over Chelsea 48 hours after manager Marco Silva had been sacked.
He ached for the opportunity, to have one little spell in the dugout, but he put himself under such intolerable pressure that he needed sleeping pills the night before to get any kind of sleep. The hours that followed were even more surreal as the emotion came tumbling out.
‘I remember I phoned the chairman (Bill Kenwright),’ he says. ‘It must have been one o’clock in the morning. I’m not kidding you — It was that late and I’m walking around my garden and it’s absolutely f****** lashing down. It’s hard to explain, really. It was like I wasn’t really there, I couldn’t take it in.
‘You dream about something like that for a long, long time and then it was gone, over. It was an incredible day. Incredible. The atmosphere in the ground, the emotion of it all. Everyone was willing us to get that result. It was all so genuine.’
The catalyst for Everton’s rejuvenation though was the 3-1 win over Chelsea in December 2019
To give that emotion further context, Howard Kendall’s widow, Lily, gave Ferguson his revered old manager’s Armani watch to wear for luck on the touchline; when Calvert-Lewin scored two second-half goals, Ferguson spontaneously hugged two young ball boys and twirled them.
‘I’d have picked up you if you had been next to me!’ he says, laughing again. ‘Look, I’ve scored goals, right. I’ve scored goals in a derby game and you don’t think you will ever get any higher. But nothing — nothing — compares to that. Nothing. That day sits right at the top for me.’
Ferguson talks quickly, normally, but the pace picks up the more animated he becomes.
‘It was just raw emotion,’ he continues. ‘There were people crying, man! People were so made up. I mean, I’m one of them. I have been a part of the club for a long, long time. I’m a supporter. So I’m there for them, standing on the touchline. For the boys to perform as they did? Unbelievable!
‘We f****** needed those three points, didn’t we? And of course there was Dominic. Dominic became a man that day, didn’t he? He really got himself noticed.’
After the game Ferguson was overcome with emotion and spoke to Bill Kenwright (left) at 1am
Ferguson spontaneously hugged two young ball boys and twirled them as they beat the Blues
If he was noticed then, Calvert-Lewin is known now thanks to his debut international goal against Wales — ‘the first time I’ve ever wanted England to win!’ Ferguson says — which came on the back of nine goals in six matches for his club. He is doing what tradition demands of an Everton No 9.
‘To see Dominic score, I was as proud as punch — we all were,’ says Ferguson. ‘The kid has turned into a man. He fills his shirt and led the line fantastically against Wales and Belgium. I used to watch England when Wayne (Rooney) played but Dominic gave me a reason to have a bit of interest again.
‘He works closely with Davide on the training ground. You cannot overlook that — Carlo and Davide are out there with him every day. He’s able to do a bit of everything and I did know he could wear that No 9. It’s an iconic shirt, isn’t it? Thank God we have got someone to fill it.’
Another goal on Saturday would propel Calvert-Lewin into a different realm with regards to how he is perceived. Ferguson knows this better than anyone but what he is also attuned to is the feeling within a city that has always turned to football for escapism.
Ferguson also claimed Dominic Calvert-Lewin became a man that day with his two goals
He also admitted he was proud to see the Everton forward score his first England goal
The latest difficult week in a draining year could do with a crackerjack derby to provide a distraction. Whether it can be that in an empty stadium remains to be seen but Ferguson is aware of how far-reaching the impact of a first derby win in 10 years could be.
‘Let me tell you, the people involved love Liverpool,’ he says firmly. ‘We love the city. I think it’s great that Carlo and Jurgen Klopp live here now. It gives both clubs a connection with the fans and the people in the area. Every club should have connection to the past — definitely.
‘We have got to give something back to the community and the area. We’ve had a good start but let’s not start all jumping around. If we beat Liverpool — which I believe we can — we will have good momentum and I think people will take a bit of notice of us. At the moment it is only a start.’
Maybe so, but it is a start that hints at a brighter future for Everton.
‘Aye,’ says Ferguson, with one last smile. ‘It’s better to be in this position, isn’t it? You know what it is like when you mix momentum and confidence. It’s not just football — it’s life, isn’t it? If you have got it, you keep on riding it. Let’s hope it continues.’