Cureton's still dyed in the wool City fan

CHRIS LAKEY It's more than a decade since Jamie Cureton started his love affair with Norwich City, but even now the much-travelled striker has a special place in his heart for the club which launched his career.


It's more than a decade since Jamie Cureton started his love affair with Norwich City, but even now the much-travelled striker has a special place in his heart for the club which launched his career.

Even beating the Ipswich still means more to Cureton than it reasonably ought to - but how many footballers can say they've done what he did against the old enemy?

Running out at Portman Road with your hair dyed green is a sight never to be forgotten, but when Cureton did that in April 1996 he formed a bond with Norwich fans which neither side has ever really been willing to let go of.

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When Cureton has returned to Carrow Road for anniversary celebrations, charity matches, whatever, he's had a reception that might have contributed to global warming. The feeling is mutual and more than likely to be repeated when he steps out in the blue and white of Colchester United tonight.

"It will be great to go back - I haven't actually played against Norwich at Carrow Road since I left so I'm really looking forward to it," said the affable Cureton, who made his City debut in November 1994.

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"It's nice to have a good relationship with the fans and I'm sure they'll give me a good reception - at the start at least.

"They were good to me the only time I played against Norwich, at Reading, and for the times I've returned for charity games, but this will be different, with 20,000-plus Norwich fans screaming for their team to win. I'll have to try and keep my emotions in check."

At 31, Cureton is still as lively as ever on the field and, while he describes himself as "still bubbly" off it, there's one thing he won't be doing tonight: dyeing his hair.

"No chance," he laughed. "I did it that once and that was enough. I came on as a sub and I scored but they beat us 2-1 so the Ipswich fans really had a go at me, but that was in my youth. When I went to Bristol Rovers all the fans wanted me to do it when we played Bristol City but I said no. Once was enough - Norwich fans can cherish that one!"

Ipswich fans will never forget what Cureton did, so when he finished on the winning side against the boys from Portman Road last month, there was a feeling of satisfaction that even his delighted team-mates wouldn't have got.

"I've come up against them a couple of times and there's still a desire to beat them because I still consider Norwich as my club. It's always nice to get one over them."

Cureton looks back with affection at his time at Carrow Road - but admits if he had his time again there would be some major changes.

That he played just 32 games for City doesn't tell the whole story - that he has played more than 300 other league games outside the top flight does.

A record of 82 goals in 90 youth team matches was stunning, and his performances in the reserves were impressive too.

But Cureton began believing all the headlines and the hype and, instead of staying at Norwich and maturing, he became unsettled and, ultimately became known as a striker who couldn't cut it at the top level.

Whether that's true or not we may never know: at 31 he's in the last years of a career which has seen him score everywhere he's gone - in the lower leagues.

"That's the one disappointment I have, that I did well at youth and reserve level, but never fulfilled my potential in the first team," he said. "I regret not having had more of a first team career. It was probably just my age at the time. I was young and naïve, things were going very well for me and maybe I didn't action the right manner and wasn't as professional as I should have been.

"I was brought into the first team when I was quite young, I did well and I took it for granted that it would always be like that and that I didn't have to do anything else or anything more to stay at that level.

"I found out the hard way and my career went from a big high to a big low. There was a change of manager at Norwich, too - I started under John Deehan and then there were others (Martin O'Neill, Gary Megson and Mike Walker) and it was stop-start. There was no one person to guide me - that wasn't their fault, but I ended up going in the wrong direction."

Cureton left in the autumn of 1996 and the direction was down and sideways, with spells at Bristol Rovers, Reading, South Korean side Pusan, QPR, Swindon and now Colchester. But as well as the baggage that has followed him there have been goals. Lots of them. A fortnight ago Cureton scored the 150th league goal of his career in the 4-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.

"I was delighted at that - and I scored again on Saturday," he said. "If you look at the games I have played and the goals I have scored, then the ratio is very good.

"I just feel I have never done as well as I should in the Premiership or even in the Championship over the years. But in every level I have played I have done as well as I possibly could. I have knuckled down and got my head down and worked. I am loving it at Colchester, it's a good family environment."

Which leads us back to tonight.

"I always look out for Norwich's score first and I was shocked when I saw what happened at Stoke on Saturday," he said. "But we could feel the backlash of that so we have to be careful. It doesn't bode well because Peter Grant will have got them fired up.

"They'll get over this and it won't be long before they're near the top again."

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