By Orla Byrne
When a non-league player makes it to the top-flight of English football it is a clear indication of just how hard they have worked to be where they are today. You need complete determination and belief in yourself to make your way to the top tier of English football. All football fans, no matter what team they support, love a success story about a player who went from playing non-league football to showing off their skills against the very best. There are many stars in the Premier League who had to make the long and arduous journey from non-league to Premier League, and we are going to take a look of some of the best right now.
We cannot start an article about non-league success stories with anyone other than Vardy. He is, without doubt, the most famous non-league footballer playing in the Premier League at the moment. Vardy was on the books of Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager, but he was deemed not good enough and was released by them. He signed for Stocksbridge Park Steels and was earning just £30 a week. He stayed here for three seasons before FC Halifax Town signed him for £15,000 in 2010. He scored 26 goals in 37 matches for them in his first (and only) season with them before moving to Fleetwood Town the following year for an undisclosed fee. He went on to score 31 league goals in 36 matches, attracting the attention of Leicester City who bought him for £1 million – a non-league record fee. In 2014 he helped Leicester get promoted to the Premier League, and the following season they narrowly avoided relegation back to the Championship. The 2015/16 Premier League campaign saw the Foxes defy all odds and win the Premier League, with Vardy contributing 24 goals. He has even won 26 caps for England, playing at the Euro 2016 and the World Cup in 2018. What a success story.
We remember watching the match that saw Leicester win the title at the Rutland and Derby Arms. We got speaking to a jolly Irish fellow that had come to Leicester for the weekend to try and get tickets for the match, but had failed, so had to settle for watching it on the TV. We got speaking about sports betting and it turned out that he worked for a betting site in Ireland. We learnt a lot from him that day, and he gave us tips on better odds being offered by new bookies that feature on their site.
Antonio began his football career at Tooting and Mitcham United in 2002 at the age of 12, and he played with them for the following six seasons before he was signed by Reading for an undisclosed fee. He only played 28 matches for Reading though as he found himself loaned out to a number of different teams such as Cheltenham Town, Southampton, Colchester United, and Sheffield Wednesday. In 2012, he signed for Wednesday permanently, and then two seasons later he joined Nottingham Forest for a fee of £1.5 million. He scored 19 goals in 54 matches for Forest, which was enough to attract the interest of West Ham who bought him in 2015 for a fee of £7 million. He has gone on to become an integral part of West Ham’s team and causes defenders all sorts of problems. In July 2020, in a match against Norwich, he scored all four goals to become the first Hammers player since David Cross to score four goals in a league game.
With two Premier League medals to his name, two league cups, an FA Cup, four Premier League Golden Gloves, 75 England caps, and 64 appearances in European competitions, it is safe to say that there is not a lot that Hart has not done during his long football career. Due to his success at Manchester City, there are many football fans who forget that he spent the first three years of his football career playing for Shrewsbury Town before moving to Manchester City in 2006 for a bargain fee of £600,000. He has also played for West Ham United, Burnley, and is currently at Spurs (although he is playing second fiddle to Hugo Lloris).
Barnes started his senior career with Paulton Rovers in 2007, and he impressed enough that Championship side Plymouth Argyle decided to give him an extended trial that same year. Once again, he impressed so they awarded him with an 18-month contract. However, he found in difficult to break into the first team and was sent out on loan to clubs such as Oxford United, Salisbury City, Eastbourne Borough, Torquay United, and Brighton and Hove Albion over the course of the next three years. In 2010, he signed for Brighton for an undisclosed fee and went on to score 42 goals for them in 141 matches. In 2014, he moved to Premier League side Burnley for an undisclosed fee and scored the winner against Hull to give Burnley their first Premier League win of the season. He has since gone on to become an unsung hero for Burnley and even helped them to European football in 2019.
Austin was on the books of Reading as a kid, but he was deemed not good enough and was released by them a year later. He signed for Kintbury Rangers in 2006, and he spent the next three years playing for the likes of Hungerford Town, Thatcham Town, and Poole Town. He had a prolific season at Poole, scoring 48 goals in just 42 matches which earned him a move to Swindon Town. During this time, he was also working part-time as a bricklayer. He spent two seasons at Swindon, scoring 31 goals in 51 appearance, he signed for Championship side Burnley for an undisclosed fee. He spent three seasons at Burnley before moving to Queens Park Rangers in 2013. It was with QPR that he made his debut in the Premier League and, despite the fact that QPR were relegated, he scored 18 goals to finish as the fourth top scorer in the division. He returned to the Premier League in 2016 when he signed for Southampton for a fee of about £4 million. He struggled for goals though and was signed by Championship side West Brom in 2019 for a £4 million fee. He went on to score 10 goals in 34 matches to help them back to the Premier League.