HAVING been part of one of the most exciting Blackburn Rovers’ sides in history, Mike Ferguson knows what he is talking about when he tackles the topic of entertainment.

Those lucky enough to have seen the likes of Ferguson, Bryan Douglas, Ronnie Clayton and Fred Pickering grace Ewood Park with their free-flowing attacking football during the 1960s will argue they have never had it so good since – even taking the 1995 Premier League title triumph into account.

Ferguson isn’t about to disagree either and, as he keeps a close eye on the so-called beautiful game from his Burnley home, he believes a combination of “money and fear” is in the process of destroying the ‘thrilling spectacle’ football used to provide.

No one of that generation will forget ‘Fergie’ waltzing past defenders with breathtaking auda-city. He was just one member of Jack Marshall’s ‘misfits’ who thrilled top-flight audiences up and down the country with a cavalier approach to the game.

Now, as two of Ferguson’s old sides, Rovers and Aston Villa, prepare to go head to head at Ewood on Sunday, he believes the ‘business-like’ Premier League has taken away football’s freedom with results very much a priority over style.

He said: “I will never forget the pleasure of playing in the same team as Ronnie Clayton, Fred Pickering, Bryan Douglas and all the others. It was the best team I ever played in – by a mile, and I played in some good teams.

“The nearest I came was when I was at QPR but it wasn’t really a patch on Rovers. The thing that sticks out about both of these sides is entertainment. When you came to watch us back then you would be entertained no doubt about it.

“Perhaps we were never going to win anything but we just didn’t ever talk about closing out games or keeping things tight. We were a phenomenal team, an absolutely phenomenal side.

“If we were winning 3-0 with a minute to go, we would throw everything forward looking for a fourth. We would do the same if we were 1-0 up. We just didn’t want to defend we wanted to entertain.

“Now you look at the managers in the Premier League and I’m not sure any of them go into games with that mentality and the owners are to blame for that. They have installed a fear culture that stops teams expressing themselves.”

Ferguson, who was playing for Accrington Stanley when they went to the wall, signed for Rovers as an unknown quantity in 1962 after training with rivals Burnley.

He went on to make 249 appearances for the club, scoring 36 goals, before signing for Villa in May 1968 in a deal worth in the region of £50,000.

Towards the end of his career he sampled life in the North American Soccer League with the Los Angeles Aztecs and then embarked on a coaching and management career that took him around the world.

He managed teams in the European Cup and was part of Terry Venables’ England scouting network during the build up to Euro ‘96 – and, having played with the likes of Douglas and Rodney Marsh, played his part in his fair share of thrillers.

“All managers now are always looking over their shoulders because owners are scared stiff of relegation,” said Ferguson. “Who can blame the managers for not letting their teams play with a freedom?

There is too much riding on it.

“Managers today are petrified. Jack Marshall was never petrified, he just let us go out and play. He never once said we have to be more defensive, irrespective of whether we were winning or not – it just never crossed his mind.

“I saw it happen with ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis at Aston Villa when I was there. He was almost before his time and would not have been out of place in today’s owners world.

“He sacked Tommy Cummings too quickly and continued to do the same throughout his time at Villa. The money factor has destroyed the game. It isn’t just us old pros being bitter, it is a fact that it has completely destroyed the game as a spectacle because of the pres-sures.”

While not a fan of football’s new cautious nature, Ferguson was quick to defend Rovers boss Sam Allardyce and warned against people expecting too much when Indian poultry giants Venky’s complete their takeover.

He said: “What people have to appreciate is that managers like Sam Allardyce have only got so much money to work with. He is never going to point out that his players are limited – but it is a fact.

“He only has so much to spend and that determines how high he can take Blackburn up the table. Money makes a bigger difference than ever. I have a lot of time for Sam and think he is doing a good job taking into account the money.

“If the new owners go into the club and don’t have the funds to compete to bring players in from the transfer market, let’s not have the supporters complaining about the manager.

“If these new owners come in with the funds people have been talking about then we just have new owners and have to carry on the same.

“The problem is people expect things to happen and the new owners will probably put pressure on Sam to achieve.

"What do they expect, though? He can’t perform miracles.”

Ferguson is in the process of writing a book about his football experiences and it is expected to be out in bookshops next October.