By Keith Brookman
The third goal of Jamie Cureton’s hat trick against Whitehawk earlier this season was the 350th of his long and illustrious career and this afternoon he achieves another milestone in his quite remarkable career, in that he played his 1,000th first class game at Bishop’s Stortford F.C.
The diminutive striker, clearly in love with the beautiful game, continues to defy the years and is still regularly finding the back of the net.
My article concentrates on his time with Bristol Rovers for that is where I got to know him well when I was the club’s programme editor. I’m sure that there will be tributes from many of his former clubs in the Bishop’s Stortford programme on Monday.
Although a Bristolian by birth, his amazing football sojourn didn’t begin in his hometown, as he signed 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 the 1996 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, on 21st September 1996, he was handed his Rovers debut at Home Park, Plymouth and he played 75 minutes before being replaced by Peter Beadle in a 1-0 victory.
Holloway was impressed with his new signing, 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 himself said; ‘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.’
He made his home debut for The Gas just seven days later, against Chesterfield when a Memorial Ground crowd of 5,008 saw him register his first goals in a Rovers shirt as he scored both in a 2-0 win and he was up and running!
That game was my first as the Bristol Rovers programme editor and while Jamie’s career continued in an upward trajectory, it’s safe to say that mine went steadily downhill!
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.
He ended that first season at the Memorial Stadium with 11 league goals 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. Who knows what might have happened had he been able to play in those games?
Rovers possessed a potent strike force 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 Jamie 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 with six second half goals at The Madejski Stadium – You can watch some of here if you want) 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 also now scoring freely, there were high hopes of a play off spot at the very least in 1999/2000.
They occupied a top six place for much of that season but a disastrous run that saw them take just six points from their final ten games saw them finish two points outside the play offs, despite earning 80 points.
It was another prolific season for Jamie, though, and his seasonal tally of 24 included a hat trick at Oxford and braces against Oldham Athletic, Blackpool, and Luton Town.
He would appear in a Rovers shirt just one more time, 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.
And so began a journey that, since Reading, has taken in Busan i.cons (since renamed 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, of course, Bishop’s Stortford (apologies if I’ve missed anyone out!).
I interviewed Jamie many times whilst he was with Rovers, for the matchday programme, and enjoyed watching him develop as a player and, naturally, it was always a pleasure to see him score!
Over the years he was often linked with a return to the Memorial Stadium, but for whatever reason it never quite materialised, even though I got the impression he would have liked to have come back.
Today’s milestone represents a fantastic achievement for a gifted footballer who gave so much pleasure to Rovers supporters during his four year sojourn at the Memorial Stadium and, on behalf of Gasheads everywhere, I would like to thank Jamie for some great memories and wish him every success for the future.