Whether footballers can still ‘get away with murder’ on the pitch is debatable nowadays following the introduction of VAR, there was an extremely rare moment in British football history that saw a professional footballer do time for something he did on a field.
On April 16, 1994, Duncan Ferguson was playing for Glasgow Rangers and decided he would headbutt Raith Rovers’ John McStay. The headbutt on the defender, though, would cost ‘Big Dunc’ three months of his life as he had to serve a prison sentence for his actions.
Having signed for the Ibrox outfit for a fee of £4 million – which happened to be the club’s transfer record at the time – the following year, Ferguson became the first and subsequently the only player to have ever been jailed in Britain for an incident on the football pitch.
It had taken a year or so for the forward – who was playing for Everton at the time – to be charged and convicted of the assault on McStay, as he had lost an appeal at the Glasgow Sheriff Court. He would serve three months in prison after his latest conviction was the third he had received for assault.
He had only served 44 days of that time in prison, though, as he was released from Barlinnie prison before being handed a 12-game ban from the Scottish Football Association for his assault on McStay. If a player were to receive that kind of suspension these days, they might want to check out what LeoVegas has to offer them to help pass the time.
However, speaking in an interview back in 2019, the current Toffees’ assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti revealed that he thought it was a “nothing” incident and one that was not fair on him after being hit with jail time.
“It was wrong me being there, it wasn’t fair.” he said. “I shouldn’t have been in there and I think a lot of people understood that.
“It’s not as if I was in for doing anything bad really. My God, it was nothing.
“The fans got me through it, a lot of them wrote to me. It was unbelievable all the letters and the support that I got.
“I got all the letters when I was in there and obviously you have got a lot of time on your hands when you’re in there to read through them all.
“It definitely gets you through it and you never forget those things.”
The same year saw McStay open up on the ordeal that had happened and revealed that he had started a battle with depression following the incident, but admitted that other life circumstances had played a major role in providing him with poor mental health.
“No one knows I had it [depression]. No one apart from my wife really knows.” he told The Scotsman.
“I was on medication for 18 years. It changed me, put it that way. I am not blaming the headbutt. Things happen in life. Getting divorced as well.
“I stopped playing football at the same time. Everything just happened. Things happen in life you cannot handle.
“But I lost a bit of belief, hope. I could not handle not being at Raith Rovers anymore.
“That’s the thing, I was only 28 when it happened – it felt as if I was maybe in my 30s, at the end of my career. I was only 28 and that was it. Done.”
‘Big Dunc’ is certainly a man you would never want to mess around with, as many Premier League centre-backs found out when playing against him.
But, with what happens on a football pitch these days, a headbutt is “nothing”.