Name: Eoin Jess
Position: Midfielder, Forward
Clubs: Aberdeen, Coventry City, Bradford City, Nottingham Forest, Northampton Town.
International caps: 18
Today the emerging talent of Eoin Jess
would readily be described as a ‘classic number 10’, a second striker
or a trequartista. Back then he was just a prodigious young attacker
who possessed technical abilities and vision that enabled him to be
at home anywhere across the midfield and forward lines.
Handed his debut aged 17 in the 1988/89
season it would be the next campaign where he entered Scottish
football consciousness. After two successive League Cup Final defeats
to Rangers, manager Alex Smith decided to take a gamble for the third
meeting between the sides and started the 18-year old on the wing. The
heroes of Aberdeen’s 2-1 extra time win were double goalscorer Paul Mason, midfield lynch-pin Jim Bett
and the imperious centre half pairing of Alex McLeish and Willie
Miller, but the player Smith decided to single out after the game was
his young wide player.
The game was played early in October
(the norm at the time) but it didn’t herald a regular spot in the
side for Jess who had to bide his time. Charlie Nicolas and Davie
Dodds were still at the club along with Dutch strikers Hans Gillhaus
and Willem van der Ark. It meant opportunities in attack were few and
far between. He would have to be patient, but when he got his chance he burst onto the scene.
The 3-0 home victory over Celtic in the autumn was to be Jess’s coming of age match. Playing in attack with Gillhaus, he tore the visitors apart, scoring twice in what would later be dubbed
“The Eoin Jess show”. His confidence soaring he helped Aberdeen win two of their next three matches including firing in a hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Dundee United that put the team
a point in front of their hosts at the top of the Scottish Premier
The best for Jess, individually, was
yet to come. He scored all four goals in a January win at
Dunfermline. The second of those goals was a great solo effort that
will live long in the memory of anyone who witnessed it. The forward
brilliantly turned his marker five yards inside his own half and set
off in attack. He then played a perfect one-two with Gillhaus before
coaxing a covering defender into a premature slide challenge and slotting the
ball into the far corner.
Two weeks later the team lost 1-0 at
Celtic Park and were left looking up the table at a seven point gap
between them and Rangers. These were the days when it was only two points for
a win so it was a sizeable advantage for the Glasgow giants. Aberdeen then lost 2-0 at Motherwell and exited the Scottish cup.
The following match, Smith decided to introduce Aberdeen’s next young
attacking talent to Scottish football – Scott Booth. The striker, a
year and three days younger than Jess, started and starred in a 5-0
demolition of Hearts, scoring twice in the process. The result
started a run of 11 wins in their next 12 league games, which
included a 1-0 victory over Celtic with Jess again grabbing the goal.
The last game in that great run saw the side defeat St Johnstone 2-1
on the same day Rangers went to Motherwell and were shockingly
hammered 3-0, handing the title initiative to Aberdeen going into the
last day of the season where the teams were due to face each other.
The match was a real sliding doors
moment in recent Scottish football history. Walter Smith was in only
his fourth game as Rangers manager after succeeding Graeme Souness
on an interim basis. Had Aberdeen emerged with the title then the
finger would surely have been pointed at Smith for failing to keep
the lead. David Murray’s money would surely have ensured success at
Ibrox but who knows how beneficial the result could have been to
Aberdeen and the rest of the chasing pack. Celtic were still five
years away from regaining their once lofty status within the league
and a bad appointment at Ibrox could have led to one or more clubs soon to finish runners-up (Hearts, Aberdeen, Motherwell) taking more
non-Old Firm titles. As it was, Aberdeen, needing only a draw, missed
two great first half chances and lost 2-0 to a Mark Hateley double.
The next season saw the recently crowned ‘Young
Player of the Year’ hit the first goal in a 2-0 win over Rangers at
Ibrox early in the campaign. The result underlined the frustrations
that the team had been unable to get it done the previous May. Jess
would now emerge as a consistent starter in the Aberdeen side but it
would be a dismal year for The Dons who slipped to sixth in the
league and sacked Smith in February. Jess, to his credit, kept up
his form scoring a double in a stunning 4-0 away win over Hearts that
derailed the league leaders’ title ambitions.
1992/93 saw Aberdeen and Jess return to form, even if the campaign was to end in more frustrations for the club. Second in the league they would also finish runners-up to Rangers in both the League and Scottish cups. For the second time Jess was rewarded with being the Scottish Premier Division’s ‘Young
Player of the Year’ and made his first Scotland appearance after
coming on as a second half sub in the credible 0-0 draw with Italy in
the World Cup qualifiers. He started his first game in a 3-0 win over
Malta before suffering the injury that many have blamed for preventing the
player’s skills from being appreciated at the highest level. The leg
break wasn’t particularly nasty. In fact, it only kept him out for
ten weeks, but upon his return he never did fully develop the
consistency that was the only aspect missing from his game.
He did play well throughout the 1993/94
season, playing in 41 league games (a career high in Scotland) after
dropping deeper into a central midfield role. It was to be a position
he would largely retain for the rest of his time at Pittodrie. The
year was unspectacular for club and player. Aberdeen would finish
second but without threatening Rangers or reaching a cup final and
Jess would feature four times for Scotland but fail to nail down a
regular place in Craig Brown’s side.
The following season was to be a
disaster for everyone involved in the club. Too many good players had
either been allowed to leave or grown past their sell-by date and
Aberdeen plummeted down the table. Willie Miller took the blame for
the dreadful form and was sacked in February with the team bottom of
the table. Jess was in and out of the side with injuries and loss of
form but did play a part in two crucial wins as Aberdeen recovered to
win four of their last five league games. First they went to fellow
relegation threatened Tynecastle and won 2-1 thanks to a Billy Dodds
double before repeating the scoreline in the next match at home to
Dundee United. That game assured Aberdeen’s place in the league with
a game to spare and relegated United. Jess was missing once more when
the playoffs came around but his teammates took care of business,
defeating Dunfermline 3-1 home and away to secure their safety.
Injury frustrations continued in the
1995/96 campaign but it was a season that saw two of the Aberdeen fans
favourite Eoin Jess moments in what many perceived to be his last season with the club. Leading 2-0 in the League Cup
semi-final against Rangers, Jess took the ball for a walk down the
left flank before beginning to play ‘keepy-uppy’. It
enraged Rangers but endeared the player to the Aberdeen fans even
more. They had long looked at Jess as ‘The Hammer of Rangers’ (not in
those exact words) and his deliberate humiliation confirmed that
status. Even if it didn’t, the 25-yard screamer Jess despatched into
the top corner of the Ibrox net the next time the teams met would
have ensured it. Jess later credited the size of the Ibrox pitch for allowing him the space to play his best football whenever facing Aberdeen’s fiercest rivals in their own backyard. The aforementioned semi-final victory booked a meeting with Dundee in the final, which to date is the last trophy won by the club.
Jess finally moved on in the summer of
1996. He had long been the subject of transfer rumours and Rangers were one such
club reportedly interested in acquiring him. It was a switch the player was always firmly against. He was a born and bred Aberdeen fan and he wasn’t going to rip the heart out of the support that loved him so dearly by defecting to Ibrox. Coventry were the suitors that finally secured his signature
for £1.75million – to date the highest transfer fee received
by the club. The move was not a happy one for the player who struggled
playing a defensive style of football with a team entrenched in a
relegation battle. No sooner had he left than he was back at Aberdeen
for the start of the 1997/98 season.
The return had a couple of high moments
between player and fans, particularly during his comeback year where he netted 14 league goals. But in order for both to say they were truly happy they would’ve had to ignore the shambles around Jess on the pitch. Aberdeen were generally terrible throughout his second
spell, failing to finish in the top half and finishing bottom in his
last season – some of which he spent on loan at Bradford in
the English Premiership. Bradford were relegated at the end of the
campaign (unlike Aberdeen who were saved by league reconstruction) and they decided to retain the services of the on loan midfielder to help them try to make an immediate return. They would fail in their quest but the Jess signing was justified since he finished top
scorer with 14 league goals.
Unfortunately, this occurred at the
time of the ITV Digital collapse and in a cost cutting measure he was
soon released from his contract. He found a home with Nottingham
Forest and enjoyed three strong years with the club before dropping down the leagues to
join Northampton and retiring in 2007. He soon picked up a role back
at Forest as youth team coach.
In 2009, Scottish football was shocked
to learn of how their former son had suffered from a stroke aged just
38. Jess had been stretching to pick up a sock when he suddenly
couldn’t complete the task and found one side of his face collapsing. A terrifying uncertainty for what caused the
life-threatening attack followed before scans revealed that he’d had
a hole in his heart which had caused a blood clot to form. At 39 he
underwent surgery to repair the previously undiscovered condition he’d
had since birth. The surgery has so far proved to be successful.
Where is he now? Incorrectly we
stated on the show that he was first-team coach with Peterborough. This
was a role he kept until very recently before being let go in a cost
cutting measure. The experienced youth coach will no doubt find
another job very soon.
Similar articles: Laurent D’Jaffo; Stephen Glass
Show: What’s In A Name?
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