‘I never thought I’d get to this sort of landmark but I’m really proud’ – City youth product still going strong ahead of 1,000th game
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Ahead of reaching a rare landmark, former Norwich City striker Jamie Cureton talks to David Freezer about his prolific career – which is still going strong.
Back in November 1994 a young player by the name of Jamie Cureton made his Norwich City debut. This weekend, over 23 years later, the former Canaries striker will reach an incredible landmark.
Aged 19, Cureton strode onto the Carrow Road pitch, replacing Mark Robins in the 65th minute with City drawing 0-0 with Everton in a top-flight encounter – with the football world at his feet.
“I know I had a chance which I put wide, I think Neville Southall did save it but they didn’t give the corner,” the Norwich youth product recalls. “I’d been in and around the squad quite a bit and not come on, and sometimes wasn’t on the bench. I was probably the kid that expected to play sooner, so when I did get my chance I was fairly confident.
“I remember coming on and it was 0-0, I think Rob Newman put me through for that chance and it finished 0-0, but that was the very first taste for me.
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“At the time – I know how I was as a kid – I just thought, ‘this is it, I’m going to be doing this for a long time’. But it was a very proud moment, coming through the ranks at Norwich and finally making my first-team debut was a very proud moment for me and my family.”
Now aged 43, Cureton is preparing to make his 1,000th appearance in senior football, still going strong as the top scorer in the Bostik League Premier Division with 20 goals for play-off hopefuls Bishop’s Stortford, at the third tier of the non-league pyramid, the equivalent level to which King’s Lynn and Lowestoft play at.
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After a prolific and varied career – which has featured 359 goals so far – the former Norwich, Reading and Bristol Rovers marksman is joint manager of the Hertfordshire side, which he combines with an under-16 coaching role at the academy of Premier League giants Arsenal.
That rare achievement is sure to make headlines throughout the game when it arrives, either at Lewes on Saturday or – as Cureton is hoping – at home against Brightlingsea Regent on Easter Monday.
“It’s a weird sort of feeling, I suppose, I never thought I’d get to this sort of landmark but I’m really proud,” the Bristol native continued.
“Through my whole career, the ups and downs and stuff, that I’ve managed to still keep playing and to finally reach 1,000 appearances, starting out I would never have thought I’d get to this.
“But I’m really proud that I’ve managed to stay fit and injury-free, and that I’m still able to do a job, which has allowed me to get to 1,000 games.”
Cureton is currently planning to continue his combined roles with Stortford and Arsenal next season, with the hope of moving into a full-time role in the professional game eventually, continuing to learn the managerial ropes.
After first being associated with the Canaries from 1990, he was named as a substitute on several occasions due to his prolific form at youth and reserve levels – including during the Uefa Cup third round second leg defeat to Inter Milan at the San Siro in December 1993.
It was almost a year later when his debut finally arrived during that 0-0 draw with Everton though, with six goals in 32 games following before leaving for Bristol Rovers, after loan spells with Rovers and Bournemouth.
Cureton was remembered fondly for his energetic efforts and enthusiastic personality though, as well as dyeing his hair green for a derby at Portman Road in April 96, when he scored before Ipswich got the last laugh in a 2-1 win after Bryan Gunn’s unfortunate air-kick.
So a return in 2007, fresh from a 23-goal Championship season at Colchester, was much anticipated. However, 18 goals in 76 games during a mixed spell through until he was let go by Paul Lambert during 2009-10, remains a frustration.
“The reason I re-signed is because I’d had such a good time as a kid but hadn’t really had a first team career,” Cureton reflected. “I had other options that I could have gone to, which were good options, but it was my heart really ruling my head.
“I had a good connection with Norwich and had loads of friends there, so that was the main reason I came back. Unfortunately for whatever reason, in both spells in terms of a first team career I didn’t really hit the heights that I hit everywhere else, so it was a shame really.
“My first season wasn’t too bad, I think I finished with 15 goals but I don’t know if it was anything to do with me but I seemed to end up with more managers than anything else.
“In my second spell, Peter Grant left fairly early in my spell and he was the manager who had brought me in, so I never really played under one manager for a long time in my Norwich career.
“Which was a shame, because I love the place, I’ve got great memories of the place as a kid, the fans and everything else.
“That’s probably one thing I wish I could have done more, score more goals and perform better at first team level for Norwich.”
Cureton admits he may have tried too hard to make his Canaries career work at times, as he was so keen to make a success of his time with the club where he’d begun his journey.
He continued: “I had a real close connection with everyone at the club and a lot of my close friends still live in Norwich, I made a lot of friends when I was growing up there and I’m still in touch with all of them.
“So maybe that but in my first spell I think that was more down to professionalism, I felt my talent was enough, and during my youth team and reserve career I proved it was.
“But the step up to the first team I maybe didn’t adapt to it enough and become professional, that’s maybe why my first spell ended so quickly.
“When I came back maybe I put too much pressure on myself to succeed because I was so desperate to do well.
“I played obviously a lot of times in the first time and I spent the most part of my career there, maybe 10 years from being a kid and then in the first team.
“So I always look out for their results and want them to do well, and I’ve come back and done the radio and things, so it will always be a special place to me.
Many Canaries fans were as disappointed as the striker that his second spell didn’t work out – and will no doubt take great pride in congratulating Cureton as he reaches his impressive landmark.
• STILL GOING STRONG
Cureton may still be scoring regularly at 43 years old but the Canaries academy product insists there’s no secret to his longevity.
The striker made his City debut as a 19-year-old in November 1994 and has played for 18 clubs, including a second spell at City between 2007 and 2010.
“I’ve tried to look after my body,” he explained. “I’d say ever since I left Norwich when I was about 35 I really took a keen interest in looking after myself, what I ate, drinking-wise, preparation, recovery.
“Leaving Norwich and in the way I left, with not really enjoying the last year and not playing a lot. I think from there and not having a club was really quite hard and I made a conscious effort that I wanted to play as long as possible, what do I need to do?
“That was it really and I probably went ultra professional, which in my early days I wasn’t. Probably the most professional I’ve been was from the age of 35 until now, through my whole career, and that’s really helped.”
The speedy marksman is still playing in the same style in non-league with Bishop’s Stortford as he did as a professional as well.
“I’m still playing fairly similar, I still like to run in behind and play on the last man, my movement feels pretty similar, I’d say I pick and choose bits,” he added.
“But I’m probably still playing close to how I used to play and I think people who come and watch and don’t know who I am, when they are told how old I am, they are quite shocked!
“So I’d like to think I am still playing at a high tempo, I came off on Saturday and I was shattered.
“I feel sharp, still quick and full of energy and stuff. So I wouldn’t say I’m really tapering off much, which is surprising to myself, but while it’s still there I’ll still keep enjoying it and keep pushing myself for as long as I can.”