The striker turns 45 at the end of August but having clocked up 26 years of service across the top nine levels of English football, he has no plans to stop any time soon
12 August ~ Best known for his time with Bristol Rovers and Reading, Jamie Cureton has scored in each of the top nine divisions of English football in a career spanning 26 years so far. He started out with Norwich City in the Premier League and, as his 45th birthday approaches, has recently signed with Enfield FC as player-coach.
“I probably enjoy football more, in a silly way,” says Cureton. “I’ve always loved it, but I think when I was young I probably took it for granted that I was always going to be a player and always play at a good level. As I’ve got older, you cherish those moments more.
“I know a lot of friends who played who were fed up of it by the time they finished. My love for the game has got greater because I’ve realised what I’ve been able to do for so long. Even playing non-League now is still very special. I’m still able to play, that’s the first thing, and I still want to play. Those two combined are the driving force. You just hope that your body stays with you and allows you to keep playing.”
Cureton has shown remarkable dedication and durability, making his 1,000th competitive appearance when he turned out for Bishop’s Stortford last year. They won 3-2 and he inevitably scored a brace. It’s a milestone that only 30 players have ever reached, including illustrious names such as Xavi, Roberto Carlos, Javier Zanetti and Gianluigi Buffon.
“The closer it got, it was something I was aiming for,” he says. “When it came around, I was really proud. I didn’t realise how few players had done it, so that made it even more special. I suppose it’s down to longevity, staying injury-free and fit, and having that hunger to keep playing. I was really pleased once I ticked that off.”
When football eventually returns, the next target in Cureton’s sights is to reach 400 goals. He is just 17 shy of that total as it stands. An instinctive finisher who comes alive in the penalty area, he explains that seeing the ball hit the back of the net is still as exhilarating as it ever was.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling. I always feel that that’s why I’m in the team. That’s what I’m there to do, so every time I do it, I feel I’m obviously doing my job. It’s just a build-up of emotions that come out,” he says.
“That obviously disappears, and you go again, but for those few seconds it’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve loved doing it and I still get the same emotions when I celebrate now as if I was playing in front of 50,000. I even love scoring in training.”
That single-minded focus on scoring goals has served Cureton well, but he believes that it’s gone out of the game to a certain extent. Football has changed and so have the expectations of a striker.
“It’s sort of a dying art – a number nine who doesn’t want to be involved a lot and literally just gets goals. Over the years it’s got to the point where a striker is a different role. It’s about being an all-round centre-forward rather than just the goals you score,” he says.
“All I ever wanted to do was score goals. It didn’t matter what else was going on in the game, as long as I was on the end of chances I was happy. I think nowadays that’s probably what centre-forwards have lacked. They want to be number tens. They want to dribble and have a lot of touches.”
Although Cureton intends to keep playing for as long as possible, he’s planning for the future too. He previously worked as an academy coach at Arsenal and also managed Bishop’s Stortford before leaving the club earlier this year. Having played under managerial characters as varied as Ian Holloway, Alan Pardew and Paul Tisdale, he has a clear sense of the sort of manager he wants to be.
“I’ve always liked managers who are honest and up front. They told you why they did certain things – why you were playing or why you weren’t. I’d like to think I’d be a decent man-manager. You can’t just manage the group, you’ve got to manage individuals. Each person’s different and you’re there, basically, to get the best out of them. I’d be an attacking manager. Obviously, I’ve always scored goals and played as a forward so I’d always be the sort of manager who would want his team to play the same way.” Sean Cole
Photo by Nathan Cracknell