Shrewsbury Town FA Cup hero Nigel Jemson: We deserved Everton win
Nigel Jemson received a text message early on January 4, 2003. It read 'somebody's going to be a hero today, let it be you'.
Shrewsbury manager Kevin Ratcliffe was leading Shrewsbury into battle with Everton – where he holds legendary status as long-serving captain – who sat 80 places above them in the football pyramid, going well under youthful boss David Moyes, a former Salop defender.
But Welshman Ratcliffe had been talking up the prospect of a famous FA Cup upset. That confidence transmitted to his players, especially to veteran forward Jemson, who delivered on the text from former Sheffield Wednesday team-mate Mark Bright with two goals to seal his place in the club's history.
A 2-1 victory, wrapped up late on courtesy of Jemson's glancing header at the Wakeman End, was fully deserved as Town – struggling in the fourth tier – outplayed their glamorous visitors, who had England goalkeeper Richard Wright to thank for keeping them in it.
The victory, which set up a fourth round defeat to giants Chelsea, was undoubtedly a shining light in a miserable season that ultimately saw the club drop out of the Football League for the first time in their modern history. Jemson departed that summer after three years at the club.
But Town's match-winning hero knew that the Gay Meadow surface, renowned for struggling in winter months, would act as a leveller on the big day against top flight Everton, while also acknowledging that the hosts had to be at their best.
"As people are aware, it wasn't the greatest of pitches, a typical League Two ground, friendly family-wise, it was always going to be a test for Everton dealing with the surroundings and the pitch," former Nottingham Forest forward Jemson recalled to Stuart Dunn.
"Driving in on the morning of the game, I think I was with Ian Woan and Mark Atkins, I got a text off a former team-mate from Sheffield Wednesday, Mark Bright, saying 'somebody's going to be a hero today, let it be you'.
"Little did I know, come the end of the game I had 100 messages, I got two goals and Shrewsbury got through to the next round.
"That's the beauty of the FA Cup, for the lower league clubs those days are their Cup final.
"We were not expected to go and win it. Kevin the gaffer always put it into our head that if we played how we could play and Everton had an off-day there was a chance of an upset.
"Did we believe we could beat them? Yes, I did. But we had to play to our best.
"The pitch was going to be a leveller and Everton had to have an off-day and as it happens we were absolutely superb. I wouldn't say Everton were poor, but we were superb. We fully deserved the win."
Luke Rodgers and Jemson wreaked havoc in the Toffees' backline. The latter's opener, seven minutes before half-time, was a peach of a free-kick into the top right corner from 25 yards out, just to the right of the D. It sparked wild scenes.
"Imagine Nigel Jemson, Mark Atkins and Ian Woan around the ball. What do you think that conversation would be?" Jemson said of the moment Shrewsbury's dead-ball specialists weighed up their options.
"Woany had a wand of a left foot, Atko had tremendous ability and myself, I was captain. I don't think it mattered who'd have taken it because we all had quality on the ball.
"I just saw a bit of an opportunity to bend it round the wall, I stepped up and to see it go into the top corner with Richard Wright in goal was fantastic.
"I don't think he had much chance in saving it. Running off and the ground erupting was an amazing feeling."
Everton sub Niclas Alexandersson threatened to rain on the parade with an equaliser on the hour but Jemson, who went on to play in Northern Ireland after Shrews' relegation, was in no doubt as to what was to come.
"Let's make this real, we deserved to be winning, we're disappointed we conceded a goal," he says. "We should've had a penalty, myself and Luke Rodgers caused havoc all game.
"Richard Wright played very well in goal for them. But when they got the equaliser the neutrals thought they'd go on and win it comfortably.
"It just shows the quality we had on the pitch. Endeavour, willingness to win and fight for each other. We left it late of course but it was well worth the wait in the end."
Jemson's 89th-minute header from Woan's free-kick takes pride of place as one of the prominent goals in Shrewsbury Town's recent history.
"It was ideal for Woany to whip the ball in with his left foot with his quality," Jemson, who had also netted against Stafford Rangers and Barrow (twice) in the competition, added. "It's funny, we looked at each other beforehand, as if he knew where he was going to put it and where I would be.
"Luckily I got in front of the defender and a glancing header into the back of the net.
"I don't think I'd ran as fast celebrating a goal in all my life as what I did then!
"Overall it was a convincing win and one of the major upsets of FA Cup football and I'm glad to be part of Shrewsbury Town's history in the FA Cup."