Age is Just a Number

They say age is just a number but in football, it’s one that increasingly seems to count against you, whether you are too young or too old! One way or another it always seems to be an issue but the important question one should always ask, is ‘How good is he?’ This was brought to my attention recently when I read that Jamie Cureton, a player I admired at Norwich many years ago, and now 44, was one of the leading scorers in the Isthmian Premier Division at Bishops Stortford, although he has recently moved onto Hornchurch, and is now finding the net there.

When Cureton reached his 1000th game recently he said he genuinely thought that he could do a job in the League still. He may well have been right. But age went against him. Just because he doesn’t “trackback” as they say, or “work his socks off”, it doesn’t preclude him from playing at a higher level. As a genuine goalscorer that is not the point. Genuine goalscorers get themselves into the right goal scoring positions and then when the ball is at their feet or the cross in is at the right place, they just know how to stick the ball into the back of the net. Jamie Cureton has scored at every level from the Premier League down and puts his longevity down to good diet and refuelling the right way after matches. He reminds me of our own Gary Freeman, now doing a brilliant job as Manager of the Jersey Bulls, who just smelt goals. So who then, were England’s greatest goalscorers since the Second World War? Three naturally gifted players stand out for me, all making their League debuts at 17 and soon after becoming regular goalscorers at International level. I always think of Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Michael Owen as predators second to none, whose acceleration away from trundling defenders and subsequent eye for scoring as a supreme gift. When I first saw Jimmy Greaves destroy the reigning English Champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers leaving Billy Wright, Ron Flowers, Eddie Clamp & Co absolutely dead, as he scored five goals for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, it brought tears to my eyes. I knew I was watching a genius. His 44 goals for England in only 57 games, giving him a scoring average of 77%, may never be bettered, based on the number of games he played.

For most people today Gary Lineker is a highly paid television presenter for Match of the Day but many do not remember his exploits on the field. He first came to my attention on this very programme as a kid with Leicester City in the late seventies, when his goal-scoring talent was there for all to see. His 48 goals for England in 80 games represents a 60% return which meant that in virtually two out of three games you were already a goal up before you even started! Apart from his exploits for Everton, Tottenham and the mercurial Barcelona, who can forget his hat trick at the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 against Paraguay, which rescued England’s campaign, enabling him to go on and become top goalscorer at the tournament. As for Michael Owen, his marvellous individual goal against Argentina at France 98 will forever be etched in the memory. So will his surging run into the box, which I was lucky enough to see, in Sappora four years later, before he was brought down by Mauricio Pochettino, to give David Beckham the chance to convert the penalty, which gave England revenge over the Argies, with a 1-0 victory. Unfortunately, an injury sustained at the World Cup in Germany in 2006, virtually ended his career, both for Liverpool and England.

Finally, going back to the other end of the scale, I was at Stamford Bridge the day Stanley Matthews took a rumbustious, hard-tackling left-back by the name of Eddie Mcready, to the cleaners, showing him the ball, going this way and that, leaving him for dead, as he masterminded victory over Chelsea which gave Stoke City the second-tier Championship in 1963. Here was a proper winger. Not an overlapping full-back, not a midfielder going wide, but a winger. You wouldn’t have asked him to ‘Track Back’! On that day he was 48 years old. He played his final game in Division One two years later at 50!

By David Eves