PRO­FILE

Chris Dunlavy ex­am­ines the ca­reer of ev­er­green striker Jamie Cureton

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

BAD de­ci­sions, boozy nights, ill-judged moves to the other side of the world – few would have de­scribed the young Jamie Cureton as a model pro.

Yet, 21 years since his de­but for Nor­wich City, the ev­er­green striker is still plug­ging away at the grand old age of 40.

“What more can you say about him?” said Wayne Bur­nett, Cureton’s man­ager at Da­gen­ham & Red­bridge.

“Yes he’s 40, but he doesn’t play like it. He is a goalscorer and a won­der­ful fin­isher, a great char­ac­ter to have in the build­ing.

“Peo­ple want to be around him be­cause he’s in­fec­tious. If he were ten years younger, how much money would he be worth?”

Ex­am­ple

Cureton’s ca­reer is lit­tered with th­ese ifs and maybes, the big time per­pet­u­ally elud­ing a man whose in­stincts be­longed at the high­est level.

“I don’t think I’ve come across a bet­ter fin­isher in my time in foot­ball, and I’ve played with some good strik­ers,” said Nicky Forster, a team-mate at Read­ing in the early 2000s.

“He’s a clas­sic ex­am­ple of some­one who might not have made much of a con­tri­bu­tion to the game but would sud­denly pop up and score two goals late on and the team would win 2-1.”

Ian Hol­loway, his man­ager at Bris­tol Rovers, put it more sim­ply. “Put the ball into the 18-yard box,” he said,“and Curo comes alive.”

The stats back up the anec­dotes: 79 goals in 198 games for Rovers, 55 in 127 for Read­ing; 31 in 56 for Colch­ester United, 22 in 49 for Ex­eter. Even now, his record of 23 in 64 matches for the Dag­gers be­lies a man en­ter­ing his fifth decade.

Many of his strike part­ners – Ja­son Roberts, Bobby Zamora, Nathan Elling­ton – were cat­a­pulted to star­dom. So, why has Cureton re­mained for­ever lashed to the lower leagues?

As Forster al­luded, many had doubts as to his all-round game. He was also a 5ft 7in whip­pet in an era when power and phys­i­cal­ity were prized. In gen­eral, how­ever, Cureton has re­peat­edly hob­bled him­self.

Spot­ted by Nor­wich as a young­ster, Cureton’s youth team feats (82 goals in 90 games) re­main the stuff of leg­end at Car­row Road. Few doubted he was a star in the making. “Even at that age, he was a nat­u­ral fin­isher,” said Dar­ren Eadie, an­other mem­ber of the fa­mous youth team that also pro­duced Ade Ak­in­biyi and Andy John­son.

“Give him good ser­vice – which we did – and he’d get you 30 a sea­son. Even on his own, he’d get you ten or 15.”

En­rolled

Alerted to City’s young pro­tege, Alex Fer­gu­son in­vited Cureton to Old Traf­ford for a trial, then a YTS offe.

Had Cureton ac­cepted, he’d have en­rolled in the class of ‘92, along­side David Beck­ham, Paul Sc­holes and Nicky Butt. In­stead, he con­vinced him­self that United didn’t de­velop young­sters and stayed in Nor­folk.

“I still don’t know why I did that,” he ad­mit­ted ear­lier his year.“Maybe the thought of join­ing some­one else and start­ing again fright­ened me a bit.”

For a while, that snub didn’t seem to mat­ter.

Cureton made his de­but for Nor­wich in a goal­less draw against Ever­ton in Novem­ber 1994. The fol­low­ing March, he scored one, made one and won man of the match as Nor­wich beat Ip­swich 3-0 live on Sky.

But, away from the

pitch, he was an­noy­ing a suc­ces­sion of Ca­naries man­agers, from John Dee­han and Martin O’Neill to Gary Megson and Mike Walker.

“I got in a fair bit of trou­ble when I was young,” he re­calls.

“In the 90s, there was a drink­ing cul­ture and be­ing a young lad you wanted to be in that.

“Some­times I’d turn up at train­ing in the same clothes as the night be­fore.

“I wanted to be one of the boys, so some­times I did stuff just to im­press them.”

Sold to Bris­tol Rovers in 1996, he would never play in the top flight again.

For the next seven years, Cureton steadily re­built his ca­reer, scor­ing with typ­i­cal reg­u­lar­ity.

Then came the next blun-

der. Frozen out by Alan Pardew at Read­ing, Cureton turned his back on a suc­ces­sion of of­fers to join Bu­san Icons in South Korea.

Home­sick and alone, he was back within six months and drifted through QPR and Swin­don be­fore re­dis­cov­er­ing the goalscor­ing touch at Colch­ester.

Emo­tional

Still the bad luck kept com­ing. Of­fered the chance to join Hull in 2007, he opted in­stead for an emo­tional re­turn to Nor­wich. Twelve months later, the Tigers were pro­moted to the Premier League un­der Phil Brown. Yet Cureton has never been bit­ter about the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Wiser and more ma­ture than the kid who left school with noth­ing and par­tied through the 90s, he has spent the last decade en­joy­ing the game and pass­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences.

And scor­ing goals, of course.

“Jamie had a lot of ups and downs. He made mis­takes,” said Robert Fleck, a team-mate at Nor­wich.“But he came to an age when he re­alised there weren’t many years left and he seized them. He’s be­come a great ex­am­ple to young play­ers.”

That in­cludes Ch­ester­field striker Byron Har­ri­son, who played with Cureton at Chel­tenham in the 2013-14 sea­son.

“He was al­ways speak­ing to me, al­ways try­ing to im­prove me,” said the 28-year-old. “He has so much in­tel­li­gence and I can’t speak highly enough of him. You just had to watch his runs to re­alise why he’s got over 250 ca­reer goals.”

Cureton, con­tracted un­til 2016, isn’t ready to go yet.

“When I’m ready, I’ll quit,” he said in 2014.“I won’t let some­one re­tire me. I’m just happy I’ve man­aged to turn out a de­cent ca­reer – de­spite some stupid de­ci­sions.”

Wi­gan took the derby hon­ours against Rochdale yes­ter­day – Pages 10-11

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

EV­ER­GREEN: Jamie Cureton is still keen to play on at 40 years old

THAT’S FOR STARTERS: Cureton first made his name at Nor­wich

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