As Jamie Vardy basks in the glory of breaking a Premier League goalscoring record we asked some of our writers to identify non-league players who could follow him into the professional game
Jordan Wheatley (Ilkeston FC)
Central defender Wheatley is only 17 and has featured just a handful of times for the Ilkeston first team but already looks a bright prospect, so much so that a move to Brighton & Hove Albion was very close to happening earlier this month.
Although not yet possessing the kind of stature you’d expect for a centre-half in a physical sense, he is bound to grow stronger and his ability and composure on the ball have impressed many who have watched him this year, including several scouts.
Whilst it’s important not to put too much pressure on a player of his age, he looks to be a natural and slots into Ilkeston’s current 3-5-2 formation very well as the right-sided of the three centre-backs.
I have high hopes for him if he continues to develop as well as he has been, which could also apply to several who are coming through Ilkeston’s highly-rated youth system and already featuring in the first team.
David Morgan (Nuneaton Town)
Morgan was initially picked up by Kevin Wilson when he was manager at Ilkeston FC. The Northern Ireland U21 international had been released by Nottingham Forest having also spent some loan spells in the Scottish Premier League.
He’s a diminutive central midfielder who can dictate games, pick a killer pass and weighs in with the odd goal here and there too, although that’s perhaps an area of his game that he could add to.
When Wilson became Nuneaton boss in the summer it was little surprise that Morgan, and a number of others at Ilkeston capable of playing higher, went with him. I’m still sure he can play much higher than the National League North and age is on his side.
Honourable mentions here too for Callum Chettle, Joe Maguire and Jordan Smith who also went from Ilkeston to Nuneaton with Wilson and who I feel could earn moves into the Football League in the future.
Shilow Tracey (Ebbsfleet United)
He may only have made one senior appearance for the club currently topping the National League South, but Ebbsfleet United’s 17 year old winger is already on the radar of several big clubs.
Which – if any – will make an offer that will catapult the youngster from non-league to the big time isn’t clear, but Tracey has already had trials with Spurs and Charlton Athletic, and has recently appeared for the Ipswich U21s. And as if that weren’t enough, West Ham and Stoke are also sniffing around.
Tracey was playing until very recently for Ebbsfleet’s academy and was only offered a contract at the back end of last season. There is a very real prospect of a lad playing in the academy side of a club in the sixth tier of English football jumping straight to the top of the football tree.
Tom McHale (Truro City)
The 19 year old goalkeeper from Cornwall was thrown in at the deep end last season. The Truro City youngster was called up after the number one choice ‘keeper was recalled to his loan club. Having only signed a few months earlier from Bodmin Town, moving up four levels in the pyramid in the process, it was a big ask for McHale to come in at the point when Truro were fighting for an Evo-Stick Southern Premier play-off place.
He stepped up to the plate magnificently, however, playing in the last 13 games of the season and keeping a clean sheet in both the play-off semi final and final as Truro won promotion to the National League South.
Playing in a position where players generally mature later, McHale displays a level of confidence that belies his youth and is a commanding presence in the air. A very bright future lies ahead.
Dan Maguire (Blyth Spartans)
A front player who is almost old-fashioned in the way he plays, Maguire comes alive in the penalty area. He’s instinctive, and can sniff a goal long before actually applying the finishing touch to score one.
A trial with Oldham Athletic last year, coupled with interest from Scottish clubs St Johnstone and Queen of the South, is proof that he has captured the attention already of full-time teams.
He switched instead to FC Halifax Town in the summer, when he was rewarded with a two-year contract for his astonishing scoring record for Blyth over the previous two seasons.
But the Shaymen are now part-time and Maguire changed his mind to focus on building a plumbing company back in the north East.
That does not mean the 22-year-old’s opportunity has vanished; he has the class, but would seemingly need to be tempted by the right offer to turn professional
Jack Munns (Cheltenham Town)
As someone who is desperately trying to get Sky Sports to show an archive interview from Non-League Day 2011 where I proclaimed Jamie Vardy as the next big thing, I like to think I’ve got a good record with these kind of predictions
Jack is only 5ft 6in tall, and that might be why he was discarded from the ultra-physical worlds of the Tottenham Hotspur academy and Charlton Athletic reserve sides.
More fool those London clubs, as in the arguably tougher world of Non-League’s top-flight Munns has flourished.
Five goals already this season, have been complimented by a division-topping NINE assists. He really has the quality to start the long climb back up to the level where he once had a shot at the big time – it’s not too late for the 22-year-old.
Xavier Vidal (Welling)
The 20-year-old attracted attention at Dulwich Hamlet earlier in his career and made the small step up to the Wings first-team in the National League in a summer-switch. After a slow start he’s shown he’s more than capable of mixing it at this level and it’s highly likely that he will eventually fulfil the promise long-term that had scouts from League clubs visiting Champion Hill Stadium over the last few years.
Ben Pope (Worthing FC)
In December last year, with Worthing FC flat broke and close to extinction, necessity demanded that a number of youth players be thrust into the first team spotlight. The club have been on an upward trajectory ever since, and higher league scouts seem to have taken up residence at Woodside Road. Chief attraction is eighteen-year-old forward Ben Pope.
Pope tends to wear the number nine shirt, but although he clearly knows the route to goal he isn’t an archetypal centre forward. Proficient with both feet, happy to hold the ball up or to attack from wide right, and even regularly called upon to take a long throw in, he isn’t afraid to track back and help out the defence and continually searches for the ball.
Having already spent time with Stoke City, Cambridge Utd, Norwich City and Bournemouth, you wouldn’t expect him to remain with the Rebels for too much longer.
Will Miles (Burgess Hill Town)
Last season, as Burgess Hill Town marched through much of their Ryman South season undefeated as well as knocking higher division Sutton United and Aldershot out of cup competitions, the name of one player was on everybody’s lips. Greg Luer.
However, after Luer was picked up by then Premier League Hull City, it was his defensive teammate Will Miles who picked up the plaudits, eventually earning a place in the Division’s Team of the Year. Miles, 18, graduated to the Hillians first team at the start of last season after being captain of the youth side, and was both impressive and almost ever present in the centre of defence as his side strolled to the title.
Miles reads the game very well, has a cultured right foot, and has already spent time with two professional clubs. It shouldn’t be long before he is again rubbing shoulders with Luer.
Ryan Hutchinson (Blyth Spartans)
Brought to Croft Park as a midfielder, an emergency move to centre back has been the making of Hutchinson and it led to him becoming one of the stars of Spartans FA Cup run last season. Indeed, in my opinion he was man of the match in the Second Round win at Hartlepool United.
A trial at Scottish club Alloa Athletic came to nothing after the cup exit but in my opinion Hutchinson has everything is takes to be a Football League centre back.
Pace, strength, calm on the ball and strong in the air, I know of two clubs higher up the pyramid who are taking more than a keen interest in Hutchinson, and I don’t think they will be the only ones if he carries on the form that has helped Spartans to the top of the Evo-Stik NPL.
Aaron Williams (Nuneaton Town)
Williams is a striker made for the Football League in my opinion and it comes as no surprise that he has hit form in the National League North this season.
I saw him in the Evo-Stik NPL last season with Rushall Olympic and he was frighteningly good. His scoring form, in a mid-table side, was prolific to say the least, as he netted thirty eight times in all competitions. That made him the league’s top scorer, in a division containing many a talented striker.
Twelve goals in nineteen games for his new club Nuneaton Town shows promise and in manager Kevin Wilson he has the perfect tutor, how long Wilson can hold on to Williams I am not sure, but I know there should be clubs looking at him.