Nigel Jemson might renounce the claim that he was Rotherham United’s crown jewel, but he was certainly a cut above the rest on the day the Millers lifted the EFL Trophy in April 1996 on their first visit to the capital.
The frontman, who was signed by John McGovern and Archie Gemmill on loan from Notts County earlier that campaign, made the scoresheet twice in the 1996 showdown, putting in a Man of the Match-worthy performance to ensure his temporary team came away from the capital with their first piece of silverware to add to the cabinet.
Rotherham edged out Shrewsbury Town 2-1 in the Final and Jemson, quickly becoming some find by the joint Millers management duo, struck either side of the break in a game that goes down in the Club’s history.
“It’s what dreams are made of, isn’t it?” he says. “It’s a fantastic feeling to score at Wembley whether it’s the League Cup, FA Cup or the EFL Trophy. It stays in the memory bank and it’s something that all Rotherham United fans will remember for years to come.
“You score two goals and as a striker, you get the headlines – of course you do. It wasn’t about Nigel Jemson, it was about the Club. The fans got to come and watch us at Wembley, but to come away with a trophy was magnificent.”
Jemson was almost solely responsible for sending a travelling contingent of over 20,000 Millers fans, who embarked on the 325-mile-round trip from South Yorkshire to Wembley, wild.
With 20 minutes on the watch, the then-26-year-old was in the right place at the right time to find himself on the end of a cross in from the left before blasting the ball into the roof of the net without mistake.
He doubled his and Rotherham’s tally as the hour mark approached to put the Millers in the driving seat in the second period, albeit with a slice of luck.
“The first one was Shaun Goater who got down the by-line and pulled one back, and I hit it with my left foot, and it went into the top corner,” he casts his mind back. “The second one was a strange goal – it was a ball over the top and I don’t think I was trying to get there, but the ‘keeper came out and took his eye off the ball, so it just fell to me to tap it into an empty net.
“I was robbed of a hat-trick when I had a shot towards the end, and I tried to bend it into the far corner but the ‘keeper saved it.”
The Lancashire-born forward, who scored the only goal of the game for Nottingham Forest in the 1990 League Cup Final against Oldham Athletic, still holds the showpiece in high regard, some 25 years on.
He’d survived the Arctic-like conditions at Carlisle United on a Tuesday evening in Cumbria, putting the snow to one side to score the brace that booked Rotherham’s place in the Final, overcoming their Area Final opponents 4-0 on aggregate across the two legs, and now, he had his moment on the biggest stage of all.
“The whole town was taken over by this Final,” he continues. “I still speak to John McGovern frequently at Nottingham Forest and it’s one of his favourite days, even though he won the European Cup.
“The atmosphere was fantastic; the walkway there, the Wembley air, the Twin Towers and the step going up there. To walk out in that place is very special. I was fortunate enough to do that before, but scoring both goals is something special.”
Jemson and team-mates made something of a mini-break of their trip down south, taking in a game at Chelsea before a trip to the cinema, but the real blockbuster was to come on the Sunday.
“It was very much a team effort,” he affirms. “There were some young lads in there – Matt Clarke who went on to great things in goal and little Hursty [Paul Hurst] who has now become a Manager. Everyone played their part; you look at some of the saves the goalkeeper made and the midfielders for presenting me with the opportunities.”
However, as he thrust the silverware – then referred to as the Auto Windscreen Shields Trophy – into the air, cutting through thousands of raucous supporters watching their team lift the trophy for the first time, he might have been counting his blessings that he was still able to kick a ball, let alone walk out at the National Stadium.
Four years prior, the Millers’ new recruit had been involved in a road traffic collision which cost him a chunk of his career and almost his life.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” he exhales. “I left Nottingham Forest in late October to go to Sheffield Wednesday and in the January, I had a really bad car accident. I went into the side of a lorry on the way home back to Nottingham. That set me back most of that season.
“You have to work back up and start again. From then on, playing at the highest level was taken away from me. Life throws things at you and you’ve got to accept it sometimes. You tend to think when you drop down a division that your chances of going back to Wembley are very slim, but that’s the beauty of the EFL Trophy, you have got that chance. Fortunately for me, I managed to do it with Rotherham.”
He continues: “I was grateful they gave me that chance to go and play,” he says. “The opportunity to go and play at Rotherham was too good to turn down. I like to think I repaid them for it. When you go on loan to a Club, you know it’s only going to be for a short time. It was a very good trophy for me that year.”
Jemson had suffered his fair share of setbacks on the pitch, too, but that only fuelled his fire as he prepared to lead the line for the Millers.
“I left Forest and I got left out of the FA Cup Final in 1991 which was a huge disappointment and something that is still with me now,” he recalls. “Then I went over to Sheffield Wednesday and we had a fantastic year where we played Arsenal in both the FA Cup and League Cup Final and I was in the squad but never got picked for those games. That was frustrating.
“For me, I’d been at Wembley before and to go back again was fantastic. It was the perfect score-line; we won 2-1. It was a funny game, for me to be on loan there and then further down the line, to sign for Shrewsbury.
“We ended up having a good cup run and going all the way. There’s no better feeling to win at Wembley.”
This feature will appear in the Papa Johns Trophy Final 2022 official matchday programme. Reserve your copy here.