Scrapping for a living is a sign of the times for Norwich City old boy Jamie Cureton
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
Ex-Norwich striker Jamie Cureton is in no hurry to call time on his long career. Chief City correspondent Paddy Davitt discovers why.
Far away from the glitz and the glamour of the Premier League and Euro 2016 Jamie Cureton waits for the phone to ring.
The 40-year-old reckons his legs are good for another season, maybe two if he is lucky. But after two decades in the game forging a reputation as a prolific striker he needs someone to take a chance on him.
'I don't know how many are out-of-contract but I am sure it is pushing up towards a thousand,' says Cureton, who was part of the Dagenham squad which slipped out of League Two last season. 'I expect one year contracts because of my age. But even younger players are now experiencing that. When I was their age and doing well it was three and four year contracts. But when you get one or two year deals the turnover of players, especially in lower league clubs, is frightening. You could have one good year as a group but then seven could leave in the summer and the manager all of sudden is starting afresh.
'With age I have got used to the other side and I know what I am up against, being my age, no matter what I have done you are fighting that element where people are unsure because you are hitting 40. I am okay with that but seeing younger players with kids and mortgages having to deal with that is really difficult.
'I don't think people on the outside appreciate that. Some have to take the decision to drop out of the league to play non-league just to earn money because the power in that situation is with the professional clubs.'
Cureton's standing and longevity in the game since making the grade at Norwich give him a unique perspective on that trickle down effect buffeting English football.
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'Some of those top boys, who perhaps don't need the money now but still want to play, can quite easily undercut you because there might be a club local to them and they think, 'I could be at home here, I don't need the money that much so I will take £300 or £500 a week',' he says. 'Someone who is desperate for a job and probably needs to earn more won't get offered the deals because you can get an ex-Premier or ex-Championship player for less and that has a knock-on effect.
'I speak to a lot of friends who are mid-20s and they haven't had a phone call and you are thinking, 'blimey,' I am glad I went through an era when at that sort of similar age I was always under contract and always wanted I suppose.
'With age I have got used to the other side and I know what I am up against; being my age, no matter what I have done you are fighting that element where people are unsure because you are hitting 40.'
Cureton knows such shot-termism is likely to limit his options.
'Some clubs are built along lines now where whoever they bring in they want the re-sale value. With me, you don't get that so that rules you out but other managers only care about you being able to do a job,' he says. 'It probably balances itself out but undoubtedly at my age a lot of managers think they will get more out of a younger player, then during the season when I am out-scoring that player they probably think they made the wrong decision.
'If you are looking to get up and need goals you might look my way. If you are building something and you need to bring on youngsters and sell them to keep a club going then you obviously don't. With the age thing they are expecting it to stop and that is natural because they probably feel we don't want to sign him and this is the season he breaks down with injury. I understand why I get limited options but if I went and scored 20 this coming season then possibly I have more options than this present summer. I always have to perform, there is a big pressure on me to play a lot of games to show I can do a job and I back myself. If I get to the stage where I don't I won't put myself out there.'
That moment is some way off yet, judging by Cureton's fitness regime.
'I feel really good fitness-wise. Nowadays it is about managing my body,' he says. 'I am probably fitter now than in the past because I used to take the mick out of my body. It is about recovery and working on a daily basis. I don't feel that much different year on year. It is quite weird. I still feel as I do two years ago. It didn't go to plan for me at the back end of last season with a new manager coming in and I didn't play much. It is now a case of waiting for the phone to ring or ringing people you know and putting yourself out there and seeing what sort of options there is.
'I definitely have another season in me and if all goes well maybe another two. But if I had to drop down thereafter I would, whether that meant Conference and playing part-time. I was available for every game last season and I appeared in 30-odd which shows to me I am fit enough to do a job. I don't think anything is slipping away physically. Mentally I am prepared to keep pushing myself and I have that hunger and desire to drive on.
'It has all changed now. Back in the day you would do pretty much nothing for seven or eight weeks but you would come back and everybody would be in the same boat, so you spent five weeks getting ready. Now you come back fit so you can go straight into ball work and games and be ready to go.
'A holiday is nice but even when we went away for a couple of weeks (with the family) I was in the gym half the time because if you don't you lose that bit of edge and fitness and especially at my age you can't afford to do that. You have to look after yourself. I can do the partying and eating when I retire.'