So, as we continue our team of One Good and One Bad (4-4-2 formation). Michael Conroy chose two central midfielders. Just confirm this is not a best and worst, it’s more of a one I liked, one who pissed me off!
We broke our transfer record in 1999 on Stefan Schwarz, a player with so much pedigree that his three previous clubs were all playing in the Champions League that season. Whilst it seems a stretch to think about signing a player of that calibre given our current position, it was something of a coup even back then. He wasn't the type of player that we were used to signing. £4m wasn't a figure we were used to spending. For the brief time he was with us though that £4m was worth every penny. A player with an insane ability to create space around him, a player with a beautiful shot on him, a player with a touch so sublime that you marvelled at how a human being could control a ball that way. Maybe he wasn't human, maybe that was the reason we forced a "no space travel" clause into his contract. The official reason given was that he gave an interview where he mentioned that he would like to be a passenger on the first civilian flight to outer space, but I think it was actually because he had a touch that was out of this world. He brought calmness to a midfield and you cannot underestimate the impact of bringing in a player of his standing with his experience on the rest of the squad. The bar had been raised and everybody else needed to step up. Not only that but we were setting a plan out for the future. We knew Schwarz wouldn't be around forever given his age, but really his impact was far reaching. When he retired he left a Schwarz shaped hole that would need to be matched by the same quality and for a while we had Eric Roy, then Gavin McCann and, erm, Jason McAteer. I guess the next player who could hold a candle to Schwarz was probably Claudio Reyna, but by then the team of 99 were starting to disintegrate a little. For the brief glimpse of absolute quality, the leadership learned from experience, the calmness on the pitch Stefan Schwarz will always stand out.
The 1992/93 season had ended very badly. An absolutely abject performance on the last day at Notts County had seen us lose 3-1 and wait in hope that other results would go our way to avoid relegation to the Third Division. For once they did and we survived by the skin of our teeth, but it was clear that something needed to change. Terry Butcher rang the changes in the summer spending the princely sum of £1.75m on four players; Ian Rodgerson, Andy Melville, Phil Gray and Derek Ferguson. Derek Ferguson was a step above the midfield that had finished the previous season. A terrific touch on him and the energy of a whippet. He was surrounded by a pretty ineffective team, so much so that when Stan Collymore picked up the ball in his own half for Forest it was Ferguson who tracked him, trying unsuccessfully to tackle him three times before Collymore whipped it into the net. Ferguson could pass a ball too; a quick drop of the shoulder and he had some space to ping a ball to a teammate who would probably go on to lose possession. All of this is praise for him, so why is he listed as a bad player? Well in that summer we signed Phil Gray, the Northern Ireland striker who was incredibly gifted, when he wasn’t drinking. We signed Andy Melville who brought a bit of class to our dreadful defence. And we signed Ian Rodgerson, but the less said about that the better. Pre-season we went to Ayresome Park and won 2-1, things were looking positive again. On the way back from Boro the players were dropped off at Roker Park. Derek Ferguson was the driver tasked with taking our new signings back to their hotel. He tore out of the car park and was faced with a queue of traffic. He was already going too fast to stop and so he swerved round the roundabout the wrong way and went head first into a car coming the other way. Phil Gray was launched through the windscreen, Rodgerson's shoulder ligaments were damaged, Melville had concussion and Ferguson was "shook up". Just before the season began our new signings were crocked. Ferguson played in the opener at Derby where we lost 5-0 in our biggest ever opening day defeat and the tone was set for the whole season. Derek Ferguson was a tidy midfielder, but that car crash probably set us back in confidence and morale which meant that even a 4-1 win against Charlton in the next game was a false dawn. Another dreadful season followed. For his actions rather than his ability, Derek Ferguson has a place in the Bad XI.
THE STORY SO FAR
Stay Safe, Haway the Lads