Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a 5′ 8″ Bristol-born striker who will be 45 years old in August, yet is still playing football in the Isthmian Premier League as well as coaching at the Arsenal academy.
His latest club is Hornchurch, who he signed for just over a week ago. After three games he notched his first goal, thus keeping on par with his scoring average. The sheer durability of his career, during which by his own admission he has made a few errors, is remarkable. One of only 29 players in the world to have racked up over 1,000 competitive appearances, he is currently on an amazing 1,111 after coming on as a sub for the Mighty Urchins in a midweek 0-0 game v Lewes. A former England U18 player, his latest club is his 28th loan move or transfer to 21 different clubs in a career that stretches back to his first-team debut in 1993 for Norwich City.
A prolific goalscorer at youth level, he caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson who called to offer him a contract.
“When my Dad took the call from Sir Alex, I just said no. I was a United fan as well so I’m not sure why – maybe loyalty to Norwich, where I already was, or perhaps I thought I would not get the same chance to break through at United,” he said on the eve of his 20th season as a pro, mostly in the lower leagues.
“I’d been up to Old Trafford at Easter and in the summer holidays and the others were all there – David Beckham’s only a few months older than me. The one thing that group did not have was a prolific centre-forward, which I was, so you wonder what might have been. But you can’t dwell on it too much. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career and I still love it.”
But, in a pattern which he would repeat down the years, he would leave Carrow Road after just three years. Indeed, he’s tended to move on after one or two seasons at every club, putting in four only at one place: Bristol Rovers.
He’s put this down to early immaturity, general cockiness and a tendency to not treat his body as a temple by going out on the lash and thus incurring the wrath of managers. However, he had a major change of lifestyle in his early 30s and that enabled him to keep playing in his mid-40s.
An ageing striker who has gone beyond being a mere journeyman into the realms of the record books? That’ll be Jamie Cureton, then.
What have they done to deserve this then?
On February 4 he signed for Hornchurch. This is a remarkable physical feat in and of itself for a man whose list of clubs is phenomenal. He has played for (including some more than once): Norwich City, Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, Reading, Busan I’Cons, Queens Park Rangers, Swindon Town, Colchester United, Barnsley Shrewsbury Town, Exeter City, Leyton Orient , Cheltenham Town, Dagenham & Redbridge, Farnborough, Eastleigh, St Albans City, Bishop’s Stortford, Enfield and Hornchurch.
He’s even held dual registration on two occasions, managing to play for both Farnborough and St Albans at the same time and later both Enfield and Bishop Stortford, who shared the same ground.
He’s quite remarkably spent a season in South Korea, although he later described it as a big mistake; it was nonetheless a bold and untypical move for the time.
This is no ordinary footballer. His dedication to the game is remarkable, playing for ten years more than is typical. And it’s not as if he’s been picking up trophies left and right, developing an addiction to success. In 26 years he’s won just one trophy: the Second Division in 2003/04. The Second Division at that time was what the third division was called, which is now called League One. Isn’t it ridiculous?
While no-one would try to sell you Jamie as a consistently top-notch striker, he has scored over 20 goals in nine seasons of his 26 and in 2000/01 netted 30 for Reading in one of his most successful spells. Also, to average a goal every three games over 26 years is pretty remarkable.
What the people say
The fact Jamie is still out there at 44 amazed many people. In some ways a player who you remember seeing when you were young, who was part of your childhood, still being active today feels a bit strange, perhaps a bit like seeing a teacher you had 25 years ago. So there was a good response this week, not least from Mr Chris Sutton who got in touch with this lovely paean to our man.
“Jamie Cureton – well, a natural-born finisher to start, a natural-born appetite, a natural-born footballer. A couple of years younger than me at Norwich City, he caught my eye with his ruthless finishing at youth level. Left foot, right foot, chip, lace, curl, drive, dink, volley, half-volley, head; he had a wonderful awareness which was always going to take him on. He must have been born like it!
“It wasn’t in doubt that he would play professionally as he had the class and boy did he have the hunger. 20 odd clubs (I couldn’t add them all up) on and over 1,000 appearances and 335 goals to date is a testament to his great career. An example to all. Still banging the goals in well into his 40s is obscenely unnatural to us normal folk … it’s remarkable…a natural-born finisher to the very end!”
And the legendary commentator, reporter and northern superhero, John Gwynne also got in touch:
‘I have seen Jamie Cureton play many times for a variety of clubs down the years. He has never failed to give his all. He is a great role model for younger players. Long may he keep going! #fortyfouryearsyoung’
And commentator Ian Darke commented: “What a fantastic pro Jamie is.”
Now for our traditional 4_4_haiku:
South Korea to Swindon
— 4_4_haiku (@4_4_haiku) February 14, 2020
‘Will still be banging them in somewhere long after most of us are dead. Seems to have blazed a trail for a number of players (particularly strikers) to follow him down through the leagues and still be playing in their fifth decade. According to the Non-League Paper he was signed by Hornchurch specifically to mentor a young winger.’
‘I never knew he was still playing, I remember watching the vidiprinter back in the day and seeing his name always appear during that fruitful season at Colchester.’
‘Not saying that he and Jason Roberts at Bristol Rovers in 98/99 is why I love football. But it contributed.’
Top scored in our best ever season (by league position at least). It was short, but very very sweet. Very popular in Colchester. pic.twitter.com/XhmK6bNtkx
— Jeremy Aves (@megabrow12) February 13, 2020
‘Hero – scoring for reading against Brentford for promotion. Also a Football Manager steal.’
‘I had no idea he spent time in Korea. Fair play for him trying something out of the ordinary for a middling English striker.’
‘Him and Jason Roberts were the Millennial version of Bannister and Warboys.’
‘He helped me get Grimsby Town to the premier league and win the title. Then the Champions League. I then became England manager and selected him. Football Manager hero.’
30 years even, he started playing in the early 90s! Incredible
— Jon Blain (@Jon_BOA) February 13, 2020
‘To win the Golden boot in the Championship with Colchester is video game stuff. People thought he was over the hill when he joined 15 years ago. He and Iwelumo were the definitive big-man-little-man partnership for a couple of years.’
‘They broke the mould when they made him. Never be another one like him.’
‘Used to buy him in the old CM games! Can’t believe he’s still at it.’
‘You need to know that every transfer window since time began Jamie Cureton has been linked with a transfer to Hibs. It’s now a running joke.’
His goalkeeper at Norwich was Bryan Gunn, whose professional career started in 1980 – 40 years ago.
— Chris Jones (@_chrisjones_) February 13, 2020
‘Best Bristolian striker in the last 20 years? Seems to have played for every West Country side, while also picking up most of the non-league as well! Goal scored wherever he went and from what I’ve seen seems like a well liked man. Some commitment to the game to stay fit at 44.’
‘He should get a call up to the England squad to thank him…along with Tony Hedges and Ron Benson.’
‘I’d occasionally tag along with a Reading-supporting mate and Cureton’s partnership with Martin Butler was fantastic to watch.’
‘I remember reading about him when I used to get Match magazine way back in the mid-late 90s. Incredible stuff.’
‘Curo will be forever remembered by Reading fans for his promotion-winning goal at Brentford with 11 minutes left of the 01/02 season, securing a 1-1 draw in a final-day decider between the two sides. Half of that Brentford team would then go on to form a chunk of the 05/06 record-breaking Championship-winning side for us (including Steve Coppell as manager). Curo also scored one of my favourite other goals for us, a dipping volley from 30 yards against either Burnley or Oldham, he himself remembers as “the dipper”.
‘Forged a fantastic partnership with big Strikers – with us it was Martin Buttler during the 01/02 season. Prior to joining us, he scored foir goals against us in a 6-0 drubbing by Bristol Rovers at home which was 0-0 at HT, playing alongside Jason Roberts who got the other two (who also later played for us). When at QPR, he came back to ours and was sent off after Sidwell called “jacks” which was apparently a code for leave during his time here and he reacted badly to it. So yeah, a few memories!
‘Curo’s promotion-winning goal at Brentford, it was absolute bedlam in the away end that day.’
What does the future hold?
With better understanding of fitness, diet and physiotherapy, playing on into your 40s will surely become a more common thing, especially for players who have operated around the dusty end of football’s fretboard, making little more than a modest living in the game and who are therefore still in need of an admittedly small additional income stream. What better way than to do what you’ve been doing for over two decades? In this regard, Cureton may prove to be something of a trendsetter.
It is understandable, though a little unfair, that footballers are generally acclaimed for winning things, but there should be some sort of gong for longevity and the simple achievement of keeping on keeping on, because it can’t be easy to keep being fit enough but also to keep your interest in and passion for kicking a ball around in all kinds of weather.
But if you’ve made it to 45 then why not plough on and on? The great thing about the pyramid is there are almost an infinite number of levels you can play at. There will always be a team who needs someone who can score goals. Jamie’s experience will surely have something to offer many teams and it really wouldn’t be surprising to see him banging them in well into his 50s.