Few names are more guaranteed to put a smile on an Aberdonian’s face than Eoin Jess.

One of the most skilful Scottish players of modern times, Jess was a Pittodrie hero across two spells at the club.

Having been part of the youth setup at Rangers in the mid-80s, Jess was released and moved to Pittodrie in 1987, making his senior debut against Motherwell on May 6th 1989. He remained at the club until joining Coventry in 1996, and returned the following year before leaving for good in 2001.

Jess began his career as a striker, before switching to midfield at the beginning of the 1995/96 campaign. In all he made 314 Aberdeen appearances, scoring 80 goals. He would also appear 18 times for Scotland.

As Jess turns 50, we look back at some of the key moments from the Dons legend’s career.

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“Explosive new talent” – the debut

Jess made his Aberdeen debut against Motherwell at Pittodrie, and stood out in a goalless draw. Prior to the match, manager Alex Smith said in the Daily Record “our fans will be delighted to see two youngsters breaking through”, with Jess accompanied by fellow 18-year-old Gregg Watson in the squad.

Following Jess’ debut, Daily Record journalist Ian Broadley called him “the explosive new talent who can save Aberdeen a fortune”, adding “The slim teenager’s debut at Pittodrie was stamped with such class that Aberdeen may end their continental search for a winger”.

Manager Smith added in the Daily Record: “The lad showed he is quick, sharp and able. There is no question that he and Gregg Watson have the ability to sustain this club’s ambitions”.

Jess would go on to deliver on this early promise.

“Baby face has the town on toast” – first trophy

Within five months of his debut, Jess was tasting silverware for the first time.

Champions Rangers were the favourites going into the Skol Cup Final on October 22nd 1989, but  two goals from Paul Mason secured a 2-1 win for the Dons.

Veteran captain Willie Miller singled out Jess for praise, with the Daily Record quoting him as saying: “He did particularly well considering it was his first cup final, and he’s going to get better still”.

In a middle-page spread entitled ‘Baby face has the town on toast’, Broadley profiled Dons hero Jess. The piece read: “He’s an angel face with dirty boots.

“The teenager who all Scotland was talking about as a ‘wee boy’ in Sunday’s Skol Cup Final.

“Eoin Jess, baby-faced hero of Aberdeen’s Skol Cup winning team, suddenly has a nation of new admirers. Daily Record phones have been red hot with callers raving about the youngster who could pass for a ball boy.

“And many were young girls, who pleaded: ‘Tell us more about Eoin!’. The 18-year-old was back in Aberdeen yesterday, as the city praised the men – and boys – who had beaten Rangers 2-1 after extra time in a dramatic Hampden final.

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“The moment had been heightened by the fact that the youngster from the historic fishing village of Portsoy, in Banffshire, had been freed by Rangers just two years previously. Eoin treated himself to a long lie in his Aberdeen digs, before talking of his second chance at stardom.

“Surrounded by compact discs of his pop favourites Deacon Blue, Silencers and The Waterboys, he said: ‘I was really nervous at Hampden, especially as I saw all my friends and neighbours from Portsoy there with a banner.

‘I waved to them and felt better when they waved back. And once I got the first touch of the ball I was fine.

‘It was special to play in a final against Rangers, but there was no bitterness. That’s long gone, and I’m happy with Aberdeen.

‘Playing with people like Willie Miller is something I only dreamed about. In fact Willie is always helping with advice and building my confidence’.”

The piece ends with manager Alex Smith saying Jess “showed maturity beyond his years”.

“The most potent performance seen this season” – four goals

By the time Jess faced Dunfermline at East End Park on January 5th 1991, he was a key part of the Aberdeen first team. His reputation was enhanced further by a four-goal haul that had Alex Smith tipping him to play at the highest levels of the game.

Broadley’s Daily Record report said: “It was the most potent performance seen this season and he has now scored the most Premier League goals in the top ten – and it confirmed the potential he showed as a fresh-faced kid in the Skol Cup Final two years ago.”

Jess himself was typically modest and said in the Daily Record: “I don’t know if I’ll be picked to play against Hibs next week.

“All I’ve succeeded in doing is to put pressure on the boss to play me by getting the first foursome of my career.

“Naturally I’m delighted, but Hans Gillhaus was brilliant and made three of the goals for me. We know now we’ve got to maintain this form for the rest of the season and hope Rangers slip.”

Dunfermline boss Iain Munro said in the Daily Record: “Jess was absolutely amazing. He gave a supreme performance, showing everything required of a modern day striker.”

“Jaunty Jess caused the Italians problems” – first international cap

Scotland faced Italy in a vital World Cup qualifier at Ibrox on November 18th 1992. The game ended 0-0, but the home side had chances to win against an Italian side featuring the likes of Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Signori and captain Franco Baresi.

Jess came on for his international debut with 20 minutes remaining, and did not look out of place among such stellar talent. The 21-year-old was surprised to be called up to Andy Roxburgh’s squad, saying in the Daily Record: “When I got the message from my mum to phone (Aberdeen manager) Willie Miller, I thought I was in some kind of trouble.

“I couldn’t believe it when the boss told me I had been called into the Scotland squad. It was a total surprise. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get at the Italians.

“I had planned to go to Ibrox and support the team. Now I hope to get a place on the subs’ bench.”

26/05/96 International Friendly.Usa V Scotland (2-1).Willow Brook Stadium - New Britain.Eoin Jess In Action For Scotland.

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In the Daily Record Alex Cameron described Jess’ debut as “very promising” and manager Roxburgh said “Jess has class, and when you have this kind of ability you often perform better against a team such as Italy.”

“If Gascoigne is worth £4.5m, how much is Jess worth?” – eclipsing Gazza at Hampden

Rangers were seven-in-a-row champions when they faced Aberdeen at Hampden on October 24th 1995, but it was the Dons who won the Coca Cola Cup semi-final. A Billy Dodds double took Roy Aitken’s side to the final, where they beat Dundee 2-0 thanks to goals from Dodds and Duncan Shearer.

The semi was televised on Sky Sports with viewers expecting a masterclass from new Rangers signing Paul Gascoigne, but he was eclipsed in the midfield by Jess. It was a dominant performance from the Dons’ number 11, remembered most of all for the moment when, with his side 2-0 up, he took the ball into a corner in front of the Rangers fans and began playing keepie-uppie. It was a moment of nonchalance entirely justified by the his performance.

Speaking about his conversion to a midfield role, Jess said: “I think anybody can be a better player than I was last season.

“But that’s in the past for me and now I’m thoroughly enjoying this new midfield role. I’m still learning about the defensive aspect of being a midfielder.

“I’m hardly what you would call a tough tackler, but I believe I’m working harder when I haven’t got the ball.

“Roy Aitken wants us to entertain, but he also demands hard work when the opposition has possession. But if I’m not getting the ball I sulk.

“We’re playing some really good football and I think everybody’s enjoying it, including the fans.”

Those fans certainly enjoyed Jess’ display at Hampden, with Graham Clark saying in his Daily Record match report that after Dodds’ double “it was exhibition stuff at times from Aberdeen, with Scotland star Jess in magnificent form in the middle of the park”. Dodds himself said “My first goal came from a great ball by Eoin Jess”.

Although Dodds scored the goals, it was Jess who emerged with the acclaim and the Man of the Match award.

Dons legend Stuart Kennedy was delighted to see Jess showboating against Rangers, telling the Daily Record: “Jess’ attitude was terrific, just as long as he produced the goods on the night. There’s no doubt he did that.

“There was a little bit of arrogance about the way Jess and Aberdeen played it, especially in the second half, and that seemed to intimidate Rangers.

10/09/95 Bell'S Premier Division.Aberdeen V Celtic (2-3).Pittodrie - Aberdeen.Eoin Jess Celebrates After Scoring For Aberdeen.

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“It was great for the Aberdeen fans because we’re always hearing Gazza this and Gazza that. But it was Eoin Jess who wrote his name all over the game.

“When Aberdeen had their great years we were always confident about going down to play the Old Firm in their own backyard.

“The club lost that attitude for a while and were beaten in a series of important games down there.

“Their attitude at Hampden suggested that they are getting that touch of arrogance back. I have to say I loved it when Jess started playing keepie-up just outside the Rangers penalty area.”

Simon Stainrod, who had recently departed his role as manager of Ayr United, was delighted to see Jess overshadow Gascoigne. He told the Daily Record: “Jess would do well in the Serie A. Not just because of his skill, but because he conducts himself like a perfect gentleman off the park.

“It was pleasing to see a clean-cut guy like Jess outshine and, frankly. outclass Gazza on Tuesday.

“When I watched him let the ball run through his legs and then flick it up on the touchline at Hampden, I admit I let out a scream of delight.

“But you could see on TV that every time there was a close-up of Jess he was smiling and enjoying himself. Gascoigne was give the run around by Eoin Jess. There was just no comparison between them.

“Jess and Scott Booth are coming of age. They now have the self-belief to match their potential.

The Daily Record hotline saw further comparisons of Jess and Gascoigne’s performances, with John Hutchison from Blantyre saying “Eoin Jess made Gascoigne look like a pub player” and Alex Linklater from Inverurie asking “If Gascoigne is worth £4.5m, how much is Eoin Jess worth?”.

“Jess, finally, has come of age” – the screamer

Jess scored more than a few impressive goals in his time, but few were as notable as his long-range effort at Ibrox on November 11th 1995.

Less than three weeks after his superb display against Rangers at Hampden, Jess proved his domination of Paul Gascoigne was no fluke. He repeated the trick in this 1-1 draw, and added an outstanding strike.

Graham Clark’s Daily Record match report said: “Eoin Jess gave Paul Gascoigne a lesson in how to play and behave – for the second time this season.

“The Aberdeen star shone like a beacon, while Gazza was a tarnished star in the best Premier League game I have seen for a long time.

“Former Ibrox youngster Jess now sits just behind Joe Miller, Billy Dodds and Scott Booth in a role which looks tailor-made for him.

“He has the touch, the skill and the vision to direct operations all over the pitch. And, as Rangers will testify after his wonder strike past Billy Thomson, he still has goals in his repertoire.

“All the early promise that disappeared through a combination of injury and loss of confidence looks as if it is being fulfilled. Jess, finally, has come of age…In Jess, Roy Aitken has a rare talent.”

Eoin Jess

Michael Steele /Allsport

Rangers midfielder Stuart McCall told the Daily Record: “Eoin was terrific. I roomed with him when I was an over-age player in the under-21s and I saw his potential for 25 minutes in a game against France a few years ago.

“He was a little big lightweight and since then he’s been affected by injuries and the fact that Aberdeen have struggled a bit. But now he seems to be going from strength to strength in his new role.

“He seems to have developed physically and has more strength. We were talking about him after the game and everyone was impressed. He can produce moments of magic like, unfortunately, his goal against us.”

The goal itself was a thing of beauty. Bringing the ball down on the halfway line, he ran at pace towards the Rangers goal and unleashed a rocket from around 25 yards out. For the second time in less than a month he had overshadowed the most expensive player in Scottish football history, and once again reminded supporters of his rare ability.

The “explosive new talent” was now established as one of the most exciting Scottish players of his generation.

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