He spent the majority of his career at the top end of the game but now Chelsea and Juventus legend Gianluca Vialli is throwing his support behind Non-League Day.
Vialli, who began his career in the junior ranks of Italian lower league club Pizzighettone in 1973, is one of a number of stars supporting the campaign this season.
Saturday is the designated day for this year’s Non-League Day, as non-league clubs look to take advantage of the international break by attracting supporters from all levels of football to their match.
Ahead of the big day Vialli, capped fifty nine times by Italy, has hailed the non-league game as “the essence of football” and believes that it provides a great opportunity to get more people involved in the game.
He said “It’s very important and I do love English football. I absolutely love the Premier League, it is very glamorous, they may not have the best players in the world but there are the best managers.
“It is a great product.
“But I started my career in Italy with a non-league club at youth level and I think non-league football is the game at its purest form.
“There is passion, I think it is the essence of football.
“Non-League football is not about the money, it is what football used to be and for the fans it is much easier to identify with the players on the pitch, maybe they can see themselves in the players they are watching.
“The level is very good and you can see that with players like Jamie Vardy and Les Ferdinand (pictured right) coming from non-league football so it is enjoyable to watch.
“The prices are more affordable and there is a great opportunity to get people involved.
“It is football for the fans”
There have been a number of well-documented cases of players making their way through the non-league game and reaching the Premier League.
The most notable of those cases is that of Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy.
Vardy is now joined in the England squad by fellow non-league graduates Chris Smalling and the newest Three Lions star Michail Antonio.
Former England stars Les Ferdinand and Stuart Pearce were also given a solid grounding in the non-league and Vialli feels that the non-league game can provide a platform for players of all ages to move into the professional game.
“The non-league game is great because it gives younger players, that have left big clubs, a chance to play at a good level.
“It gives them an opportunity to learn the game and it is the same for older players.
“They play at a game level and it gives them hope that they can still be spotted.
“Now there are so many scouts looking in non-league, looking for bargains, it can give them a chance to be taken to the top level”
Since joining Chelsea in 1996, Vialli has maintained an interest in the English game.
A two-year stint as the Blues player-manager saw him collect a number of honours with the club including winning the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup.
And despite spending his career at the top end of the game, Vialli stressed the importance of protecting the non-league game.
He said “I think that the Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two are getting bigger.
“But I feel that the same goes for non-league football.
“Some matches are televised and the attendances are going up.
“But non-league football still needs a boost and during these international breaks I believe supporters should go down and watch non-league games.
“The success of football in any country lies in non-league football. That is maybe the problem with the MLS, where these is one league but not a lot below that.
“I feel we need to do everything protect non-league football and ensure that is becomes more and more popular”
This year’s Non-League Day has an extra importance to it.
Along with the organisers of the event, crowd funders Tifosy are helping raise awareness and funds for Prostate Cancer UK.
Vialli is delighted to see the campaign taking place, for what he called a “very important cause”.
“We all love non-league football and we all admire Prostate Cancer UK, they are a very important charity.
“They have done incredibly well to get involved in football because it is a man’s game and through football they can raise awareness of prostate cancer.
“At Tifosy we promote different kinds of campaigns but we enjoy doing this sort of
“We are very proud to be able to help because it is a very important cause”
One of the prizes on offer as part of the Prostate Cancer UK is the chance to follow in the footsteps of England stars by playing at St Georges Park.
A five-a-side tournament has been arranged by Tifosy and Our Game Football at the venue where England are currently preparing for their World Cup 2018 qualifier in Slovakia.
The tournament will give supporters a “great experience” according to Vialli and help them raise money for a great cause.
“To raise money and awareness we are hosting a fan day at St Georges Park, including a tournament on the 10th and 11th of September.
“It is a great opportunity to get involved to play in a 5-a-side tournament on pitches that are normally used by the England boys.
“They train there for all of their matches so it will be a great experience.
“It will be a fun day for everyone and there will be prizes for the winners and we feel it will provide some great memories for everybody that is there.
“More importantly it will help a great cause with Prostate Cancer UK because although it is important to raise awareness, it is more important to raise money for them.
“So it is a great chance to play at St Georges Park, knowing that you are raising money for a great cause”
For more information about Non-League Day and Tifosy’s Prostate Cancer UK campaign click here
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)