Jamie Cureton turns 40 in August but, as his wife will vouch, planning a celebration is not straightforward when you do not know where you will be living or working in six months’ time. “It falls on a Friday,” he says, “and she is talking about it being on a Saturday and I said ‘We’ll have to see where I am playing’.”
Such is the lot of the Football League’s oldest outfield player yet what is immediately clear from speaking to Cureton, leading scorer at League Two side Dagenham and Redbridge, is that his love of the game is as intact as his eye for goal. “We’ve trained on a park three times this year because our training ground was under water and there were people walking around with their dogs but I enjoyed every moment of it,” he tells The Independent. “If we win and I score, I feel it a bit more now because I realise the end is not too far around the corner,” he adds.
Cureton’s longevity must have seemed unlikely in his days as a “cocky” teenager at Norwich City. He became a cult hero for dyeing his hair green for an East Anglian derby and his biggest regret – more than his decision to turn down Manchester United a few years earlier – was not making more of his opportunity at Carrow Road, where he scored four times in his one top-flight campaign in 1994/95 (including goals in wins over Chelsea and local rivals Ipswich). “I still acted as if I was with my mates and didn’t really appreciate what was at stake and what I could achieve,” he recalls. “I was in the first team, playing in the Premier League and thinking ‘I’ve made it, this will be where I’ll be till I retire’. I didn’t adjust and think, ‘You’re a Premier League player now, get your head down and stay at this level’. Football doesn’t take too many prisoners and before I knew it, I was being sold to Bristol Rovers.”
Today Cureton is the senior pro at Dagenham, closer in age to manager Wayne Burnett – who gives him the odd Monday off for extra recovery – than his team-mates. “I still sit at the back of the bus with all the boys but what happens is I can go down and sit with the management and have conversations about football matters.” To underline he has “not suddenly become an old fogey”, he still takes charge of the music in the changing room – “it is nothing like Rick Astley or anything like that!” – but the key to defying Father Time lies elsewhere. After turning 30, Cureton made a radical change to his diet. “I thought I wanted to lose a bit of weight just to help me get around more so I cut a lot of carbs out – bread, rice, pasta, potatoes. I lost over half a stone. A lot of people – sports science types and nutritionists – were quite surprised but it must have helped because I have felt more energised. I look at pictures and I was podgier than I am now.” It helps also that his alcohol intake “has dropped dramatically”. “I used to go clubbing as a younger lad and now I don’t really go out,” he adds.
Cureton’s next goal will be his 250th in league football and his CV shows he was top scorer in the third tier with Bristol Rovers in 1999, though he is proudest of his tally at Colchester in 2006/07. “To score 24 goals and win the Golden Boot in the Championship was brilliant.”
He also experienced life in South Korea during six months at Pusan Icons after leaving Reading in 2003. “I was in an apartment overlooking a beach and the stadiums were the World Cup ones. What I missed was the English passion – I was used to playing in the Championship with everything full-on. It felt the pressure had got taken away. I was a bit depressed being away from my kids and it took me a while to get back to my form. I had a dip when I signed for QPR.”
After playing for 14 different clubs, he admits the instability of a footballer’s life can be wearying. “I would have liked to have stayed somewhere for five, six, seven years. It has not been glamorous in that respect. I lived apart from my wife for the last two years being down at Exeter and Cheltenham. Once you hit 35 the only thing anyone offers you is a one-year contract and at the end of every season you have to move on.”
He has started his coaching badges and does commentary work for Radio Norfolk but with 11 goals already this season – the same as his final total last term at Cheltenham – he will not be hanging his boots up yet. “I am playing every game and scoring goals so I don’t see why next year should be any different,” says a man for whom 40 really will be just a number.Reuse content