TO the casual observer tuning into the rarity of free-to-air Sunday football, it was the perfect fairytale moment – a young Scouser in red sinking the rival team in blue from just across the park. Throw in the dynamic that this was an inexperienced, and for many unrecognisable, Liverpool side taking on a first-choice Everton team managed by Carlo Ancelotti, and it was all the magic you could want.
What was later voted the goal of the round from FA Cup hero Curtis Jones was one of those stand-out moments of romanticism that makes football fans glow inside. It was also so much more than that. The teenager’s curling wonder-strike had the headline writers gushing about The Toffees being unable to keep up with the Joneses. But it also represented something else.
Football at the top level in England is now unrecognisable from what it once was. Once a parochial affair, it’s now a global phenomenon. And while that means we get to marvel at the talents of players from Senegal, or Brazil, or Egypt, there’s something truly special about a local lad come good. And perhaps that’s because it’s a little harder now than it once was because of the sheer size of the pool of talent.
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A first senior goal for Curtis Jones! A special goal! pic.twitter.com/Xg4VVM3cIC
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 5, 2020
The story is a familiar one, but it’s not one told too often now – as shown by those who leapt to make comparisons, as happens so often, when Jones had his say. Robbie Fowler was referenced, even Wayne Rooney was mentioned. Players of some vintage now.
But Jones has found his own way – and, ultimately, against all the odds. His is the classic tale – of street football, of players that were once his idols now being his team-mates. Of public transport, repeated journeys, training and matches and the wind and the rain, year after year since an early age. It’s easy to see a teenage lad with some swagger bursting onto the scene and making a big impact. But behind that pleasuring explosion of youthful endeavour, he had to earn that opportunity, and had to take it when it came around.
That is the result of thousands of hours of dedication, commitment, mental strength and a support network of friends, family and professionals to make sure you keep on keeping on when others fade away. Everyone saw the moment Jones swung his boot and found the sweetest of spots in the Everton net, but what about the seconds that preceded it? A deft touch had fed Divock Origi, and hands, face and body all demanded, willed even, that the ball was returned by the Belgian. When it was, there was only one thing on Jones’s mind – and it wasn’t passing to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was screaming for the ball on the periphery of his vision.
It was a talent in the making summed up in a snapshot. Confidence, ability and nous all on display in the heat of a top-level game – and all at 18. This was not the shy percentage game of a player hoping to get through 90 minutes without a mistake. This was a player desperate to perform when the lights were on him.
18 – Aged 18 years and 340 days, Curtis Jones is Liverpool's youngest goalscorer in a Merseyside derby since Robbie Fowler (18y 338d) in the Premier League in March 1994. Hero. #FACup pic.twitter.com/Crf1s24UlN
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 5, 2020
It was the second big Anfield cameo of Jones’s talent for the uninitiated, with the first arriving earlier in the season when Arsenal were dumped out of the League Cup. Then, Jones delivered on the crucial kick in the penalty shootout – and he did it in style, too, with a short-run up and a shot that kissed the post. Jamie Carragher said then that there was a touch of “football arrogance” about the technique, yet it’s exactly that trait that entertains and inspires. Those that have watched his progress through the Liverpool ranks since joining at primary school age will tell of a confident, even cocky, player that was always happy to show off his skills.
Those skills, with the help of Liverpool staff and figures like Steven Gerrard and latterly James Milner, have now been increasingly allied with the requisite hard work and necessary decision making. The culture of the club under Jürgen Klopp had to be respected – and Jones is reaping the rewards of listening, working and waiting for his chance. He was quick on Sunday to tell the world he wanted more. And with Liverpool still battling on three fronts with the league, the Champions League and the FA Cup all still possible, there is every chance he will get more. Especially with a five-year contract to back up his claims.
But in the meantime Jones can be proud of his journey so far. Not just the snapshot snapped up in a glorious moment of televised brilliance, but for the months and years of hard work, of practice, of knuckling down and, ultimately, emerging as among the prime of his peers – from the world over. Bending in the winner against Everton in the cup is just how so many young lads would dream it.
And seeing a Scouse lad from the centre of Liverpool do just that for the club that bears his city’s name will show the way for many more to believe they can do the same. That’s every bit as romantic as the moment itself. And that’s why the glow from Jones’s post-match smile will radiate around Reds for that bit longer.