350 up for Jamie
by Keith Brookman
Last Saturday, former Rovers striker Jamie Cureton scored a hat trick and the third goal represented his 350th senior goal.
‘With the cameras from ITV, and The Times watching, Jamie Cureton provided the perfect story with a hat trick as Blues strolled to a 4-2 win against Whitehawk on Saturday.
‘Cureton’s third, a 20 yard lob which would grace the top level he played at a million years ago, was the 350th of his illustrious career.
‘The visitors scored twice in the last ten minutes to give the scoreline a look that flattered them as the Blue Brazils moved up to sixth in the Bostik League table.’
That was how the Bishop’s Stortford website reported on Jamie’s fantastic achievement. The striker is currently one of two interim bosses at the club, though he plays on as he continues to defy the years (he’s 43 now) and regularly finds the back of the net.
A man clearly in love with the beautiful game, though whether he appreciated the fact that it’s a million years since he played at the top level is another matter entirely!
His co interim boss, Steve Smith also praised his colleague, saying; ‘It’s great that ‘Curo’ got to 350 goals today. It’s great for the younger players to play in the same side as him. His hunger and desire to keep playing and scoring is unbelievable and all credit to him for the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch.’
ITV Anglia reporter Andy Ward interviewed ‘Curo’ afterwards and, after pointing out that the striker has joined an exclusive club that includes Neymar and Cristian Ronaldo, let the man have his say; ‘The body’s sort of holding up, there’s a few aches and pains every now and then but I think it’s more just me trying to look after myself and having the drive to want to keep going. I still enjoy Saturdays, scoring and winning. It’s still a passion of mine.’
His incredible journey began in Bristol, where he was born, but he moved away from the city before he returned to play for The Gas, signing schoolboy forms for Southampton at the age of 11 and, when he was 14, for Norwich City.
And so, Norwich was really where it all began though he would be the first to admit that he didn’t make the most of his talent when he broke into the first team when still a teenager. The Canaries were a Premier League side at the time and he scored four goals for them in 1994/95, a tally that included strikes against Chelsea and local rivals Ipswich Town.
He became a bit of a cult hero with the Norwich fans for dyeing his hair green for one East Anglian derby, by which time he had, apparently, turned down an opportunity to sign for Manchester United.
Instead of Old Trafford, though, he moved back home after a loan spell with Bournemouth and Ian Holloway brought him to BS7, also on loan, before making the move a permanent one just a month later.
That was in September 1996 – Rovers first season back in Bristol, and the 21 year old for whom Norwich had been seeking a fee in the region of £200,000 came with this endorsement from Holloway; ‘Getting Jamie on loan gives me time to have a look at him and make sure he’s what we want.
‘He’s lightning fast and alert, a lively sort of player always looking for the ball over the top. Hopefully he can get us the goals we’ve been lacking.’
Two days after his arrival, he was handed his Rovers debut down at Home Park, Plymouth and he wasn’t the only new face in the side as Graeme Power, a summer signing from QPR, came in for the suspended Andy Tillson.
He played 75 minutes before being replaced by Peter Beadle and Rovers won 1-0 courtesy of Lee Archer’s goal.
But his new boss was impressed with his performance, saying; ‘Jamie worked hard and was unlucky with his one on one chance in the first half. The shot he hit with the outside of his foot in the second half showed what he can do.’
Jamie said of his debut; ‘I was very nervous coming back to play for Rovers. I went into the game thinking I should score and maybe that was a problem. I snatched at my best chance. But if I keep working hard the goals will come.’
Plymouth boss at the time was Neil Warnock and his side included Bruce Grobbelaar in goal and the future Rovers midfielder Ronnie Mauge.
Rovers lined up as follows: Collet, Martin, Lockwood, Browning, Clark, Power, Holloway, Gurney, Cureton (Beadle), Archer, Skinner. Unused Substitutes: Higgs, Miller.
He didn’t have to wait long to register his first goal in a Rovers shirt, though, and scored twice on his home debut, against Chesterfield on 28th September. He then scored in his next two games, a 2-2 draw at York and a 2-0 home win against Crewe Alexandra.
His form during the one month loan spell was good enough for him to be offered a four year contract and he put pen to paper on 17th October after scoring four goals in six games.
Allegedly, Rovers had to part with £250,000 to secure his services but, looking back, it was money well spent.
Jamie ended his first season at the Memorial Stadium with 11goals to his name and topped that with 14 in all competitions the following season when Rovers reached the play offs.
However, in the game that clinched a play off place, and having scored one of the two goals that enabled Rovers to beat Brentford, Jamie sustained a broken leg and missed out on the two legged play off semi final against Northampton Town which The Cobblers won 4-3 on aggregate.
Rovers possessed a potent strikeforce that season, with Peter Beadle, Barry Hayles and Gary Penrice all playing their part in a campaign that, ultimately, ended in disappointing fashion.
In 1998/99 he was even more prolific, adding a further 29 goals to his Rovers tally, a total that included four against Reading (who can forget him and Jason Roberts destroying The Royals at The Madejski Stadium) and hat tricks against Walsall and Macclesfield Town as well as doubles against Stoke City and Blackpool.
Rovers finished in a disappointing 13th place that season, though with Roberts now scoring freely, there were high hopes of a play off spot at the very least in 1999/2000.
It seemed as though they were heading that way, having occupied a top six place for much of the season but a disastrous run that saw them take just six points from their final ten games saw them finish two points outside a top six place.
Had they won their final game, at already relegated Cardiff City, they would still have made it but a 1-0 defeat at Ninian Park sealed their fate and the coach journey back across the Severn Bridge was the quietist journey I’ve ever been on. I don’t recall a single player or member of the management team speaking at all!
It was another prolific season for Jamie, though, and his seasonal tally of 24 included a hat trick at Oxford and doubles against Oldham Athletic, Blackpool, and Luton Town.
After that ill fated last game of the season against Cardiff, he would appear in a Rovers shirt just one more time, and that was against Bournemouth at The Memorial Stadium in the first game of the 2000/01 campaign.
Not surprisingly, he scored Rovers goal in the 1-1 draw and then he was off, ironically to join Reading at the Madejski Stadium, scene of one of his finest performances in the quarters.
A move had been bubbling under for a couple of months. Early in July, Roberts handed in a transfer request and shortly afterwards Jamie indicated that he had asked Holloway if he could move on as well.
Neither player joined their team mates on the pre-season tour to Ireland. Scottish Premier League side Hibernian submitted an undisclosed bid for Jamie, but negotiations apparently broke down when it was revealed that Hibs had offered Rovers £300,000 but would only pay after taking him on trial first!
Roberts signed for West Bromwich Albion, but Jamie remained with Rovers and scored a hat trick in a pre-season friendly against Clevedon Town and said afterwards; ‘While I’m here, I’ll give 100%. I feel as though I have to go out and prove myself again…I don’t know what’s going to happen because if someone does come in for me with the right offer, then I might still be going.’
He also appeared in friendlies against Forest Green Rovers and Barnsley before the season’s opener against Bournemouth when his last goal came from the penalty spot after seven minutes, awarded when he was brought down by Stevland Angus.
Days later he was on his way to Reading, who paid Rovers the same money he had cost four years earlier.
Holloway confirmed that Rovers had a 30% sell on clause written into the deal and said; ‘Jamie’s been a good goalscorer for us, although he should have had more, and I thank him for his efforts and wish him all the best.’
Rovers went on to endure a miserable campaign. Boss Holloway was gone by the end of January 2001 and the season ended with relegation to the basement division of the Football League for the first time in the club’s history.
And so Jamie began a journey that, since Reading, has taken in Busan I’cons [now called Busan IPark], QPR, Swindon Town, Colchester United, Norwich City (again), Barnsley, Shrewsbury Town, Exeter City, Leyton Orient, Exeter City (again), Cheltenham Town, Dagenham & Redbridge, Farnborough, Eastleigh, Farnborough (again), St Albans City and his current club, Bishop’s Stortford.
Over the years he was often linked with a return to the Memorial Stadium, but for whatever reason in never quite materialised, even though I got the impression he would have liked to have come back.
Maybe you should never go back, though Jamie did just that, returning to Norwich City, Exeter City and Farnborough during a career that shows no sign of ending just yet.
Last weekend’s milestone represents a fantastic achievement for a gifted footballer who gave so much pleasure to Gasheads during his four year sojourn at the Memorial Stadium.