Big Interview: Nigel Jemson

Former Preston North End striker Nigel Jemson talks to Evening Post sports writer Tony Dewhurst about his career.

Describing his Deepdale return, while wearing the colours of Sheffield Wednesday, Nigel Jemson still bristles with a sense of indignation at the memory of that third round FA Cup tie 16 years ago.

It was an experience also sharpened by the fact that there was little love lost between the former Hutton Grammar School lad and some of Preston's followers.

"I don't know why some Preston fans never accepted me. I could never understand that," said Jemson.

"What happened that day ended my love for North End, when it should have been so different.

"It shouldn't have been like that, but what hurt me most was the verbal abuse my parents received.

"I loved football banter, something I thrived on, but it got personal that day and it is something I've never forgotten."

Jemson talks with a quiet authority, but it is clear time has not healed the wound.

"It is a long time ago, but it was wrong what happened.

"I got a lot of abuse. I was booed in the warm-up, and it continued for the rest of the game.

"The love I should have for my first team, my hometown club, isn't there anymore.

"I don't look for Preston's results or see how they are doing. That really saddens me.

"It was only a small minority of fans but they spoilt it for me.

"It was if they were annoyed that a local lad had tried to better himself when you would have thought that people would have been pleased for me.

"That affection has gone for North End and for me that's it.

"It is something I wish had never happened and I'd love to go back to Deepdale, sit in the stand and be welcomed back.

"It would be nice if it happened one day, but I don't get the feeling I'd be welcomed back there."

Yet Jemson is at pains to acknowledge those early Deepdale days were carefree and enjoyable ones.

Jemson was a boy of 16 when he made his Preston debut on the final day of the 1985-86 campaign, Preston's worst-ever season.

The blond-haired striker came on as a substitute in a 4-0 defeat at Aldershot, Preston finishing 91st in the old Division Four with only Torquay below them.

"Preston nearly went out of the league, they were struggling to stay alive, but I had just left school and I was just proud to be associated with North End.

"It was where I wanted to be. I loved it and, although they were dark days for PNE, I didn't really know anything else.

"I was on 17.50 a week and gave my mum 10 for keep because I was still living at home in Penwortham.

"I'd clean the players' boots, sweep the terraces or do any of the jobs that the kids today don't do any more.

"It is all done for them now, but they are still happy memories for me.

"We'd try and get away with murder but North End had a gruff physiotherapist called Harry Hubbick, and you couldn't kid Harry."

Twelve months on, the late John McGrath had lifted the gloom, guiding a rejuvenated Preston to promotion.

Jemson scored a splendid goal at Swansea in his first full start, in January, 1987, then netted in the next two games against Carlisle and Lincoln.

"John took me under his wing and to be around great characters like Frank Worthington, John Thomas, Bob Atkins, Gary Brazil and Les Chapman, I learned so much.

"John McGrath was a one-off, characters like that are not in football anymore.

"He blended a new team in weeks and had North End promoted in nine months. What a terrific achievement."

But Jemson's life could have taken a different path 20 years ago.

"I came in to training one day and John McGrath said PNE had agreed a 100,000 deal with Norwich.

"I didn't want to go, and then I was told Preston had sold me to Manchester United.

"United wanted me on a two-day trial first, so I went to The Cliff, their training ground, and met Alex Ferguson.

"But it was strange day. I came back home and there wasn't that excitement, the thrill I'd have expected having trained with Manchester United.

"When I got home the telephone rang and it was Brian Clough.

"He said, 'I believe you want to sign for Nottingham Forest, son. See you in the morning'.

"I never went back for that second day at Manchester United. Forest was where I wanted to go.

"People said I was mad not going to Manchester United but it wasn't for me.

"Who knows what might have happened?

"I could have gone on to make a name for myself at Old Trafford or I could have gone out of the game straightaway."

"I signed 24 hours later and Forest played Manchester United the following Saturday."

By the time Jemson joined Forest in a 150,000 deal, Brian Clough's managerial powers had probably reached a zenith.

Clough had guided unfashionable Forest to back-to-back European Cup wins in 1979 and 1980, and the league title in 1978.

"Clough was the greatest manager in England then, but I couldn't believe how down to earth he was when I went over to sign from Preston.

"I was just blown away by the guy. He took my parents out to lunch, then sent his secretary to Nottingham lace market and bought my mum something nice.

"We even took Cloughie's Golden Retriever, Del Boy, out for a walk while John McGrath was sorting out my contract.

"Clough had such a presence, a great way with people.

"I wouldn't say he was a tactical manager, he just knew how to get the best out of you.

"There was the fear factor of course, and if you saw him come down the corridor you ducked.

"I don't know whether Brian would have survived the modern game, because it is so technical and tactical.

"What he achieved at Forest will probably never be matched by a club of that size.

"It was a privilege to have played for him, though.

Jemson played for Sheffield Wednesday in the inaugural season of the Premier League, but the game has changed beyond all recognition in the intervening years.

"Football is not a sport any more but a hard-nosed business.

"The financial rewards are incredible, but if someone offers you 100,000 a week then you're not going to turn round and say I don't think I'm worth it, you take it. It has changed so much.

"Brian Clough would take us to an Italian restaurant on a Friday night for steak and chips and a pint!

"We'd have chocolate, pop and crisps on the team bus. You wouldn't dream of that now, you'd be tucking into pasta.

"I didn't get the thousands of pounds they earn now, but you can't take the memories away.

"I scored the winner in the 1990 League Cup final against Oldham Athletic at Wembley and I can't describe how

fantastic a feeling that was.

"I feel very honoured to have done that. There are so many great players in the world who didn't achieve such a moment.

"If I have one regret in my life it was leaving Forest to join Sheffield Wednesday.

"I should never have gone because Forest was the one club close to my heart and it always will be."

When he linked up with Rotherham he scored twice at Wembley in the 1996 Auto Windscreens Shield final against Shrewsbury, after spells with Bolton, Grimsby, Notts County, Watford and Coventry, and had nine games back at Deepdale on loan.

Jemson was back in the headlines in 2003, scoring both goals as Shrewsbury dumped Everton out of the FA Cup at Gay Meadow.

Jemson fired the Shrews into a first-half lead with a ferocious free-kick, then sealed one of the great FA Cup giant-killings with a last-minute header.

"I remember Mark Bright texting me before the Everton game and his message read, 'There's going to be a hero of the round. Why can't it be you, Nigel? Fortunately, it was me.

"The funny thing was the publicity that came my way for that far exceeded the press I got for scoring the winner in a League Cup final.

"When I look at the stars of today, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and David Beckham, I wonder how they cope with the intense, non-stop media attention.

"They are constantly surrounded by people, and they deserve every penny they get for what they put up with."

Jemson celebrates his 40th birthday next year, and is eyeing a management career.

He took over as Halifax Town's assistant manager after The Shaymen were relegated from the Conference to the UniBond First Division North after entering administration, and said: "I'm still playing a bit at Halifax, but as a sweeper!

"I've got the non-league bug and I'd rather watch a game at this level than in the Premier League.

"I made mistakes in my first job at Ilkeston but I learned from that and I'm a better person for that experience.

"I'm very ambitious and my main aim is to manage in the professional game.

"Football is in my blood and one day I'll make a decent manager."

The influence on Jemson of his upbringing amid a loving family was indelible.

"My mum and dad had an unbelievable influence on my career.

"I remember mum driving down to Southampton from Preston to watch me in a night match when I was at Forest.

"I've had good and bad times throughout my career, but they've always stood by me. They played a huge part in shaping my career and hopefully I've given them a bit of happiness too.

"I've had 25 years in the pro game and I've been very fortunate because football is my love and passion.

"Football means everything to me, I don't know anything else.

"I've been married to Mandy for 10 years and I've got two beautiful boys, Charlie and Max, and realise I'm a very lucky person.

"It feels like six months ago since I made my debut for Preston or scored that winning goal for Forest in the League Cup final, because the memories are so fresh."