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How Fergie wooed Golden Graeme

GRAEME Sharp was the tail-end of a golden generation at Dumbarton.

Just like Murdo MacLeod and Ian Wallace, he would go on to play for Scotland after leaving the Sons' bank account richer by his absence.

The £120,000 Everton paid for Sharp is perhaps the best piece of transfer business conducted at Goodison Park, getting a man who became the English club's record post-war goal-scorer.

Sharp's standards at Dumbarton have also taken a long time to match. The former Scotland striker was part of the last Dumbarton side to reach the Scottish Cup quarter-finals 35 years ago, losing 1-0 to Partick Thistle at Boghead. Though he'll be 400 miles away, his thoughts will be on Pittodrie on Saturday as Ian Murray's side face Aberdeen.

"I will be checking my phone for any updates from Pittodrie and keeping my fingers crossed for Dumbarton," he said.

Sharp can now reveal he could easily have been a Pittodrie legend instead of an Goodison one if he had listened to Sir Alex Ferguson.

The former manager tried twice to persuade the striker to join Aberdeen, including an offer that would have seen him be part of the European triumph in Gothenburg.

The teenage striker's goals had Aston Villa, Everton and Aberdeen chasing his signature. That is why the Boghead board allowed their prize asset to go on "secret trial" in the spring of 1980.

"I had been at Aston Villa the previous month," recalls Sharp, now 53. "It went well. Ron Saunders, the manager, asked if I was interested in coming to Villa. I said 'yes' but then Dumbarton fell out with Villa over the fee.

"I was gutted. That Villa side would win the English title the next season, in 1980/81, and then the European Cup in 1982. Then I went up to Aberdeen for the same trial. It was easy to keep things quiet in those days and Dumbarton never told anyone.

"Aberdeen put me up in a hotel and Alex Ferguson came every morning to collect me and take me to training. It was great. I got to train with the established players like Willie Miller, Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan. At the end of the week, Fergie said they were happy with me and they would talk to Dumbarton. I loved it at Pittodrie."

Aberdeen were heading to Glasgow for a game that Saturday so Sharp thought he would take the team bus but to keep his presence quiet Ferguson he said he would drive him back to Glasgow.

"The older lads heard this and I could see Miller, McLeish and Strachan laughing. I asked why - and they said: 'You're in for the White Knuckle Ride.' I asked what that meant and they just replied: 'Well the gaffer drives like a lunatic so you might want to close your eyes.'"

In the event he survived the trip but after being dropped at home Sharp heard no more from Pittodrie.

"I don't know if Dumbarton wanted too much. A few weeks later, I got a call to come into Boghead and see the chairman. I thought I'd done something wrong but they wanted me to speak to Gordon Lee, the Everton manager, and I didn't have to be asked twice to join."

Sharp became Everton's record post-war goalscorer netting 159 times in 447 games. His 11 years there coincided with the best spell in the club's history, as they won two English titles, an FA Cup and the Cup Winners Cup.

Yet Sharp struck gold at Goodison because he resisted another overture from Ferguson to join Aberdeen during their greatest-ever season."Fergie got in touch with Everton during 1982/83 and asked if I wanted to move," recalls Sharp.

"I was in and out of the first team, yet here was Fergie wanting to bring me back to Scotland. I could have been part of the squad that won in Gothenburg but I was determined to prove myself in England. So I told him I was staying.

"Of course, I missed out on that European glory when Aberdeen beat Real Madrid, but Everton won the Cup Winners' Cup ourselves in 1985. I had scored in the semi-final when we beat Bayern Munich and I scored in the '84 FA Cup final win over Watford. Everton also became English Champions in '85 and '87, so it was clearly the right decision."

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Football

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