Barry Ferguson: 'I would like Hampden return as a Scotland fan'

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Barry Ferguson on 'Boozegate' episode

As he traces the contours of a Scotland career that lasted 11 years, Barry Ferguson keeps returning to the same phrase. "I'll never forget," he says, as he recalls another vivid moment.

He earned 45 international caps and was captain of his country for 28 games. There were glorious events, like winning in Paris, but also ones that still cause him sharp pangs of regret.

It is a reflection of how his Scotland career ended - in a moment of vivid self-destruction - that Ferguson has never returned to Hampden as a Scotland fan.

What causes him to bridle, though, is the accusation that he never cared about playing for his country. "Because I never screamed out the anthem?" Ferguson asks. "The reason I didn't was because I can't sing."

It hurts when people say that I didn't care

Scotland's Barry Ferguson challenges Italy's Rino Gattuso
Ferguson (left) made his Scotland debut against Lithuania in September 1998

Ferguson's relationship with Scotland now is the same as any supporter's. He thrilled at much of the last qualifying campaign and endured frustration as the team fell short of reaching the European Championship finals in France.

He is keen to return to Hampden as a fan, but he understands how that might split opinion. Ferguson tended to divide views as a player, most bluntly with Scotland.

His international career ranged from a defining performance of authority against England in 1999 to Boozegate - a drinking session at Cameron House hotel while with the national squad in 2009 - followed by making V-sign gestures to press photographers while sitting on the Scotland bench with goalkeeper Allan McGregor and then suspension by Rangers, being fined and the Scottish Football Association ending his international career.

"We got beaten by Holland, came back and were allowed to have a few drinks," recalls Ferguson, who made his debut against Saturday's opponents, Lithuania, in September 1998.

"People were commenting that it was an all-night bender, but we never got into the hotel until probably three o'clock, half three.

"So we had a few beers and a bite to eat at the bar. Listen, I had one drink too many and that was the basis of it. The next day, I got told that was it over and I had to leave the hotel. At that stage, some of the players weren't happy about it and they wanted us to stay.

"I went to the game [v Iceland], I was sitting on the bench - and it wasn't a set-up between me and Allan McGregor. It did look it, but I can swear on the lives of my three kids. It was just stupid. I'm embarrassed.

"There were other players [drinking at the hotel], that's known, but I would never say who it was or what happened. I took the consequences and they were right. Everybody was disappointed with me, everybody who knew me, my friends, my family, team-mates."

Levein wanted Ferguson return with Scotland

Barry Ferguson celebrates with Rangers fans
Ferguson enjoyed many successes with Rangers

Ferguson left Ibrox in 2009 and rebuilt his reputation with five years in England that included winning the League Cup with Birmingham City. There was, too, an opportunity to return to the national squad under Craig Levein in 2010, but Ferguson felt he could not accept the invite.

"I thought long and hard about it [but] I [had] to be respectful of the Scotland players," Ferguson says.

"If I went back, it would have been a media circus and that wasn't fair.

"I wanted to go back and play for my country. The fans might have been divided and you don't want that. I felt that would be a problem as well.

"Since Gordon Strachan took over, I make time to watch Scotland. I enjoyed the way they were playing [in the Euro qualifiers].

"They were energetic, the confidence was flowing and then it's just typical Scotland at the end. That's the angry bit, when we just miss out.

"We've not got world-class players, but we've got good players who can get us to a major championship.

"I was a wee bit sceptical in the past about going to watch Scotland, but that's now put to bed. I watch them on TV and I would like to go back as a fan, because I am a fan.

"I'm going to get some people who are all right and one who'll say, 'you're this, you're that'. But that's part of being a footballer in the west of Scotland, it follows you everywhere."

I'm loving it. It's stressful, even at the level I'm at

Clyde midfielder Scott Linton receives instructions from Barry Ferguson
Ferguson (right) is now manager of Clyde in Cumbernauld

Ferguson has been manager of Clyde since June 2014 and his time at Broadwood has included a verbal altercation with supporters and losing in the League One play-off final to Queen's Park last season.

He only began considering a career in management when he entered his 30s, but now at 38 he is committed to the second half of his career.

He accepts that some want to see him fail, but Ferguson has come to terms with the life of a high-profile footballer.

"When you're [playing] football, you're in a bubble," he says. "I enjoy going shopping, getting the messages. I love a bargain.

"I got brought up with What Everyone Wants. My granda used to take me there. He used to love a bargain.

"You go into the shops and people do a double-take - what are you doing in here - but four tins of beans for £2, that's good. I cleaned the shelf one day of beans and sausages, I like them. I'm not embarrassed.

"Getting time to do things is good. I missed out a lot with the kids, school plays or whatever, but I've had a good career and I made sacrifices.

"I lived the dream, I played for the team I supported as a boy, I captained them to quite a bit of success, I played for my country and I captained my country.

"I made a lot of mistakes as well. The only thing I would change if I could go back in time is the Scotland thing."