The New Zealand Herald
McCormick: Hero Fergie the fearless
As a boy, I went to the old Lancaster Park for the first time in September, 1973, to see Canterbury play England.
I sat in the No 3 stand and saw Canterbury do what they constantly did through the 1970s, roll an international touring team. Truth be told, it wasn’t a great game, but the thing that struck me, was the love the crowd had for the chunky wee balding bloke in the No 15 jersey.
Every time Fergie McCormick touched the ball, the crowd lit up. My perception at that time was that fullback was where you poked the awkward unco-ordinated kids to kind of hide them from the action.
But this was different; Fergie was the action. Alex “Grizz” Wyllie was the Boss, but he had a staunch sergeant barking orders at the back.
At 1.70m and 83kg, Fergie was far from the biggest bloke on the field. But he was fearless. He was renowned as an almost lunatic tackler and thrived on smashing the big blokes. He would bring them down any way he could. It’s fair to say that by today’s standards, he would have regularly copped yellow cards.
The other thing fans loved about Fergie was his goal-kicking. The grounds back then were glorified mud baths, and the heavy leather balls had all the aerodynamics of week-old road kill. But Fergie had a good radar and his chunky little legs were able to fire them over from a fair range with his square-toe boots.
With super-boots that followed like Allan Hewson, Grant Fox, Robbie Deans, Andrew Mehrtens, Dan Carter and others, it’s easy to forget that Fergie’s 24-point haul for the All Blacks against Wales in 1969 was a longstanding world record.
On Saturday afternoons, we youngsters would go over to Burnside Park and watch our senior team.
Burnside was a fairly new club back then, and was often cannonfodder for the older established clubs. It was always really cool when Linwood came to play at Burnside Park.
You’d get to see All Blacks up close. Terry Mitchell scoring tries from all over the park, Tane Norton striking tightheads at will, and then the stroppy bloke at the back. Everyone loved Fergie. Amazingly, at club level back then, Fergie wasn’t the No 1 goalkicker for Linwood, with Peter Jellyman setting all sorts of club rugby records with his season hauls.
The beginning of the end came for Fergie in 1975 against Scotland. In the first half, Ferg missed a couple of shots at goal from pretty much in front. The crowd turned on him. During the halftime break, the ball boys practised their goal kicking and were sending them over from where poor old Ferg had missed. The crowd loved it, but Fergie got the last laugh, with a magnificent second half try that sealed the win.
Fast forward into the 1980s and I was playing as an ordinary outside back in an ordinary St Andrew’s College 1st XV. The Cantabrians rugby club organised a midweek game cum coaching session against us. Their side was made up of fringe Canterbury players and former representative stars. Fergie, who by this stage was in his mid-40s, was in the No 15 jersey. Our first-five, Ian Cowans, put up a bomb, and bravely as ever, Fearless Fergie took it and was then buried by a pack of ferocious teenagers. Fergie was kind of a victim of his own reputation. He quietly exited the game a few minutes later, but post-match, he was hugely animated as we broke into small groups for our coaching sessions.
William Fergus McCormick has never left rugby. He never stopped giving to the game, and I suspect from his point of view, the game never stopped giving to him.
Fergie won’t be resting in peace. He’ll have a pair of square-toed boots on right now, and he’ll be practising his goal kicking over the Pearly Gates. There won’t be much peace for those around him either, but they’ll all be having a great time.