More than 20 years after Jamie Cureton made his debut against Everton, the Dagenham & Redbridge striker is preparing to play at Goodison Park for the first time in what he describes as the biggest Emirates FA Cup tie of his career.
The 40-year-old, then aged 19, came off the bench for Norwich City in a goalless draw at Carrow Road in what he hoped would be the start of a long career in the top flight.
Things did not quite work out like that, but he has forged a notable career in the Football League, with Dagenham his 14th different employer.
Everton v Dagenham & Redbridge
Emirates FA Cup
Third Round Proper
3pm, Saturday 9 January
Winning club to receive £67,500
For all the miles run, tackles ridden and goals scored Cureton looks back on his career with something missing – a magical Emirates FA Cup moment to cherish. That is, until now.
“It's funny how football works like that,” he said.
“I’ve not had a great time of it in The FA Cup through my career. I had a run to the fifth round with Bristol Rovers in 1999 and we drew Barnsley when they were in the Premier League and we lost 4-1.
“But I’ve not had many big draws when I’ve been to the third round or further, so this is the biggest tie I would have been involved in in the competition.
“I made my professional debut against Everton in 1994. I came on as a sub when I was playing for Norwich, but I’ve never actually played at Goodison Park.
“There aren’t many grounds I haven’t played at and before the draw I was looking at that and thinking what a great draw Everton would be. It’s another one to cross off the list.
“It’s great for me on a personal level and it’s why we all love football and The FA Cup.”
Cureton and Dagenham's big day out might have not come at all.
Without a home win in League Two all season it was hardly surprising they failed to beat Morecambe at Victoria Road in round one, being forced to a replay at the Globe Arena. Trailing 2-0 within seven minutes the writing looked on the wall, but Daggers showed a spirit scarcely seen this season and roared back to win 4-2.
Their prize? A home draw against semi-professional Whitehawk of the National League South.
Finally it looked as though their suffering supporters would have something to cheer when they led 1-0 from the fifth minute with Cureton on target, only for the non-Leaguers to level in the fifth minute of added time.
The draw for round three had been made by the time they travelled to 74 miles south for the replay but the chance to walk out at Goodison Park seemed a world away from the surroundings that now greeted them.
The replay was another thriller. A 2-1 lead was again cancelled out by Whitehawk in second-half stoppage time, only for Daggers to pinch it in extra time.
Cureton admitted he was fearing the worst, but now can hardly wait for their day in the winter sun.
He said: “I have been at clubs where I have left and the following season they have got massive teams. I don’t know what it is about me!
“But when the draw was made but we still had the replay with Whitehawk to get through. I thought “no, not again”! But of course we got through and now everyone is looking forward to the tie.
“We’ve not made it easy for ourselves, the replays have been crazy games. But we’ve fought hard and feel like we’ve done more than enough to deserve this tie against Everton.”