LIFTING THE LID: With the Premier League sides entering the FA Cup this weekend, we chatted to an FA Cup hero who spearheaded a famous cup upset back in 2003.
“If we’d have played Everton 100 times we probably wouldn’t have beaten them again… But that’s how games can be.”
As former Shrewsbury striker Nigel Jemson looks back on his side’s classic FA Cup giant-killing of Everton in 2003, he sums up the magic of football’s oldest existing cup competition perfectly: however big the odds, on the day anything can happen.
“We had to be at the top of our game and play to our full potential,” Jemson tells BETDAQ of Shrewsbury’s 2-1 win. “We did that on the day and everything clicked. For whatever reason, Everton didn’t perform as well as they can do, and they’re out.”
Nobody had given Jemson’s side a chance.
For going into this third-round tie Shrewsbury Town, under the guidance of former Everton defender Kevin Ratcliffe, were struggling at the bottom end of the old Third Division, today known as League Two.
David Moyes’ Everton, meanwhile, were challenging for Europe, with the help of a young striker who had recently broken into the team that went by the name of Wayne Rooney.
“On paper, was there cause for an upset? Probably not,” says former Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday man Jemson. “But it was just an unbelievable day and a great occasion for the town and the supporters, who hadn’t had much to sing about in recent years.
“The atmosphere on the day was electric – the fans came in force, the town was talking about it all week. During the game the fans really got behind us, though it obviously helps if you put a good performance in!”
To say Shrewsbury turned in a good performance that day on the banks of the River Severn would be something of an understatement.
The same goes for Jemson himself.
The veteran forward opened the scoring with a fantastic first-half free-kick, yet the best was still to come.
With a replay at Goodison Park looking like it was on the cards after Niclas Alexandersson had levelled things up for Everton, and with just a minute left on the clock, up popped Jemson to head home the winner.
“It was fingernail-biting stuff, trying to hang onto the draw and hoping we were still in the hat for the fourth round,” Jemson recalls. “But with just two or three minutes left to go I managed to get my head on the end of a cross and the whole ground erupts. It was mad, the whole place was buzzing.”
Jemson adds: “Listen, we just wanted to go out there and put a good performance on and see where it took us. We had to concentrate on our team, there was no point in focusing on Wayne Rooney, because on paper the talent they had, they should have easily beat us. But that’s football, we managed to turn it around and from 1 to 11 we were great.”
As well as playing for the likes of Forest and Wednesday, Jemson represented England at under-21 level, while he also netted the winning goal for Forest in their 1990 League Cup final victory over Oldham Athletic at Wembley.
Yet it’s his heroics for Shrewsbury that still get talked about most today.
“As a young boy, to play in the FA Cup in any round is always a dream,” he says. “You used to watch it on TV and hope that one day that could be you. So to get such publicity for my part in one of, they say, the top 10 FA Cup giant-killings of all time, it’s always going to be a nice achievement for me.
“I got more attention for those two goals than I did scoring the winner in the League Cup final in 1990! They were crazy times and it’s in the history books. But it’s not just about me, it’s about the whole team. It wasn’t Nigel Jemson knocking Everton out of the FA Cup, it was Shrewsbury Town Football Club. Everyone played their part, whether it was the fans, the players or the staff.”
Shrewsbury’s reward for that historic victory was another home tie against Premier League royalty in Chelsea, though this time it was Gianfranco Zola and co. who advanced as 4-0 winners.
Some 18 years on from that that famous upset against Everton at Gay Meadow and Jemson’s thoughts turn to the current state of the FA Cup and whether it still has a major role to play in modern-day football.
As this year’s competition reaches its third round this weekend, the likes of non-league Marine will be looking to emulate Shrewsbury’s giant-killing heroics when they take on the might and clout of Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s always got to be vital to keep the FA Cup as an important competition, the history of it goes back years and years so we can’t ever lose it,” Jemson says. “Yes, football has changed, it’s more a business these days, but it’s still a sport. And as players, you want to be remembered for winning things, it’s not about the money. You want to play at Wembley.
“Yes, the Champions League is massive and so is finishing in the top four, but if you ask a club like Newcastle if they want to be in the FA Cup final with a chance of winning it, they’d snap your hand off.
“That’s the beauty of the FA Cup and that’s why the FA Cup should always live on. You shouldn’t disrespect the trophy because it is a magic, magic cup.”