By Matt Badcock
Jamie Cureton had a happy manager two weekends ago. The Bishop’s Stortford striker hit a hat-trick in their Bostik Premier win against Whitehawk, with the third a delightful lob that brought up the 350-career goal milestone in some style.
At 43 years old, Cureton probably shouldn’t be expected to sit top of the goal charts but that’s exactly where he is.
So no wonder the Blues’ boss was pleased with his striker, who has scored 14 in the league and one more in the FA Trophy – after all, they are the same person!
“I knew I was on 347 but in the game I obviously didn’t really think about it,” Cureton, who is interim joint-manager alongside Stortford owner Steve Smith, tells The NLP.
“So even when I scored the third I didn’t think about the 350, it was more about the hat-trick, until I came off the pitch and someone mentioned it.”
Cureton concedes he has to look at things differently now he’s joint-manager alongside Smith and he says the team getting the win will always come before his own playing desire.
And, other than picking the team, he doesn’t feel much has changed to how he was before when it comes to being on the pitch.
Clearly, scoring helps, but he’s still a team-mate when it comes to being told to up his game if he needs to.
The player-manager role isn’t an easy one and often it brings about the end of playing days earlier than first thought, as Cureton remembers from his time at Bristol Rovers under Ian Holloway.
“When he brought me down from Norwich City to Bristol Rovers he was player-manager at the time,” Cureton says. “Gary Penrice was his coach and he played so I’ve actually played for a player-manager and a player-assistant!
“Ollie [Holloway] found it OK but I think he retired because of it. He could have carried on but we were in League One at the time, you’re dealing with full-time footballers, chairmen, board members so I can imagine that’s a lot harder.
“But he did it for about 18 months and Penny did a year and a bit as well. He was fine but I think at times the boys found it was hard to have those rows and discussions on the pitch because he was manager. You’d say something, but you’d have in the back of your mind he was the manager and I think that’s why, in the end, he had to retire and concentrate on managing.”
Cureton is a coach at Arsenal’s academy but he’s always felt his skillset suits him even more to being a manager.
Hours spent playing computer-sim game Football Manager – who used to retire him when he was at Dagenham & Redbridge – aside, he also has a huge wealth of knowledge built up from the clubs he’s played for.
Norwich City, Rovers, Reading, QPR, Swindon Town, Colchester United, Exeter City, Cheltenham and Dagenham are among his League clubs before he dropped into Non-League with Farnborough, Eastleigh and now Stortford.
Cureton is something of a rarity in football to still be playing at such a good level despite his age. While most are enjoying a rest at the 19th hole, Cureton’s still playing the back nine of his long career. And he doesn’t plan stopping yet.
“I won’t name the club but when I left Dagenham, we’d been relegated, I was turning 41 and I’d played the majority of the season and was still scoring,” Cureton says.
“Dagenham would have liked me to stay but I said, ‘Look, I’m quite proud of playing in the League, I’d like to pursue staying there if I can’.
“I spoke to a League Two manager three times, went and met him and his assistant. They told me they’d studied me, I’d obviously played against their clubs a lot, and they wanted me to sign. We spoke about a deal – and I’d passed up on a lot of other options in the Conference – and I went down to meet him again. He said, ‘I’ve got a meeting with my board and owner to sort the deal out’. I had a phone call two days later and the chairman of the club had said, ‘He’s too old’.
“So even though I’d played near enough every game the last four years from late 30s into 40s and was fit as a fiddle, because of my age, that was it.
“So football can be quite ageist. Hopefully me keeping playing has opened a few doors to people who are a bit older and want to continue playing, especially in the League.”
Cureton shows what can be achieved if you look after your body right. He cut out a lot of carbs, got lighter so less pressure was on the joints and now drinks more water. All things he admits he didn’t always do.
“I was terrible for a lot of it!” he says. “Probably from the start and into my late 20s I wasn’t brilliant. Diet wise, I didn’t train maybe as hard as I could have done, didn’t do a lot after or in the gym a lot. I just relied on natural stuff I suppose – natural ability, natural fitness.
“If I’d have looked after myself like I do now, I probably would have played higher for longer. I used to go out a lot, but that all steadily went away. I didn’t drink or go out as much.
“Then it was concentrating on me and my body. What do I need to do throughout the week to be at my peak to play? Then, once the game had finished, how do I recover?
“That was the cycle I constantly went through. Get myself prepared, recover after it. As soon as a game finished I got the right stuff in my body, the right fluid and it became a routine. I still do it now.”
Cureton expects to stay as interim joint-boss with Smith until the end of the season before deciding the permanent future. But the professionalism is an area he’s trying to improve already.
“I know the budget doesn’t always allow that but it’s little tweaks we can make,” he says.
“We have food for before games, which we didn’t used to have, so you turn up and there are bananas and jaffa cakes. Just little things, sometimes silly things.
“I know what I was like. If I felt better, looked better in my kit, I would perform better. So we make sure they’ve got the right kit, look, feel, we bring more water – it’s more in Non-League you just look after yourself. So it’s trying to make them feel more professional too.
“Hopefully the players buy into it. I know it’s not their life like it is mine, they’ve got other jobs and stuff. But when they come into the football club we want it as professional as possible and keep moving the club forward.”
While he looks towards the next goal target, he could also hit the 1,000 game landmark this season with another 25 appearances – if selected by the manager.
“I’ll have to have a look in the mirror and have a chat with him!” he smiles.