Duncan Ferguson yesterday began a three-month jail sentence after losing his appeal against sentence for butting a rival player.
He is the first British international player to be jailed for assaulting a fellow professional on the field of play.
Ferguson was appearing before the Supreme Court in Edinburgh to appeal against the sentence, but not the conviction, that had been imposed by a sheriff earlier this year.
Despite pleas from Everton, and his former employer, Rangers, Lord Hope, the Lord Justice General of Scotland, said the original three-month term could not be ruled “excessive”.
Sitting with two other judges he called it a “tragic case”, but added: “We have reached the view that we would not be justified in interfering with this sentence.”
Ferguson was on probation at the time of the incident in a Scottish Premiership match at Ibrox Park, the home of Glasgow Rangers, in April last year. He butted opposing full-back John McStay of Raith Rovers, leaving him with a cut lip.
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Ferguson was neither sent off nor cautioned for the assault by the match referee. However, the Scottish Football Association took action after viewing a video recording of the assault.
John Mitchell, QC, for the defence, said his client realised his actions had been wrong and now “bitterly regretted the incident”.
Outside the court Ferguson’s solicitor, Blair Morgan, said: “There is no further appeal. That is it, that was the final appeal. I spoke to Duncan afterwards. He did not say very much. He had expected the worst and I think that was good preparation.”
As Ferguson was taken away by prison van to Glasgow’s Barlinnie jail, his club said he was the victim of a “witch-hunt”. Everton manager Joe Royle attacked the decision as “incredible”, adding: “We are all amazed and stunned and can’t really believe, in a society that seems dedicated to keeping people out of prison, that we are putting away a young man who is in a good job and is no danger to society.”
Everton would give him its “fullest support” and Ferguson would remain a hero to the Merseyside club, the manager said. “Anyone who knows him will tell you he is a very pleasant young man. He is no bad lad at all. He has been guilty sometimes of stupidity, but mostly immaturity. We all see events on football pitches every week and they are a lot worse than what Duncan now finds himself imprisoned with hardened criminals for,” added Royle.