A man is defined not only by his decisions but about how he makes them. Eoin Jess, 47 this month, can look back on a career that has included a life-threatening illness among the minor injuries and major triumphs and be consoled that his every choice was dictated by an innate sense of decency.
‘It’s the way I was brought up,’ he says of one decision that cost him a fortune, probably millions. He has been ambitious in his pursuits but not at a cost of principle. He has been accompanied on his professional travels by a moral compass that has been unerring.
The boy from Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, now lives in Barcelona. Why?
It is three decades since Pittodrie hero Eoin Jess signed for Aberdeen and nine since a stroke
‘Why not?’ he replies with a chuckle. The residence in Catalonia has offered him a chance to reflect. ‘I will almost certainly pursue some property interests,’ he says. ‘But I view it as a sabbatical. It’s a time to take a pause before I decide what to do next.’
It is an appropriate time for a meditation on times past. It is 30 years since he signed for Aberdeen. It is 20 years since he returned to Pittodrie after a spell with Coventry City. It is ten years since he retired from playing after a career that was rewarded with 18 caps and a place in Aberdeen’s hall of fame.
It is also nine years since he suffered a stroke that was shocking but not, ultimately, debilitating. ‘I am fit and well,’ he says. ‘I play tennis and keep fit. I know I was one of the lucky ones.’
Jess is third from the left in the front row in this 1991-92 Aberdeen team photograph
The illness struck when he was coaching at Nottingham Forest but was quickly diagnosed with the cause being pinpointed as a hereditary high cholesterol level.
There is a temptation to judge that this crisis made Jess a personality that was fated to think deeply about life but he has always been a character who made decisions after consulting a personal code.
One of the recurring themes of the nineties in Scotland was the ‘Jess to Ibrox’ storyline. ‘Rumours, rumours, rumours,’ he says. ‘I never heard anything concrete about it.’
A teenage Jess played alongside the legendary Dons' skipper Willie Miller at Pittodrie
But this regular speculation disguised the truth that Jess was once a Rangers player. It was also the first instance of him making a major decision, bravely and surely. ‘I was there on an S-form and Rangers came up to play Deveronvale,’ he says.
‘The decision to release me was made before the match but I came on in the second half and set up three goals. Rangers phoned me later to say they wanted me to stay on. But I said no. They had had their chance. My mum said she was proud of me for sticking to my guns.’
The legendary scout George Adams invited him to Aberdeen. ‘The rest is history,’ says Jess, lapsing mischievously into cliché. His first manager was Ian Porterfield but his most important influence was Alex Smith, the occasional Falkirk manager and enduring legend.
Miller pictured in his prime for the great 1980s Aberdeen side that won plenty of silverware
‘It was a marvellous time for me,’ he says. ‘Willie Miller, Jim Bett, Charlie Nicholas, Alex McLeish were big players and bigger characters. I was scared to go into the first-team dressing room even when I was playing for them. I was still in the reserve dressing room and I was a bit cautious about moving my stuff.’
His apprenticeship was traditional, a mixture of learning from the experienced pros while cleaning boots and painting walls and stanchions.
Success, though, came quickly and dramatically. Jess was only 18 when part of the team that defeated Rangers 2-1 in the 1989 League Cup final.
Jess, pictured in the centre, celebrates scoring a goal at Ibrox against Rangers in 1998
‘I am a firm believer in