By Guest Author
Those that watch non-league football always like to see players plying their trade outside of the top leagues go to the very top. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s always a good story. It inspires the next generation of non-league footballers to keep on grafting. If they perform well and have a pinch of luck, then they too may just get snapped up by a big team.
It’s one thing to get snapped up by a big team, another to have success with that team. That’s an even rarer occurrence. In this blog, we’re going to take a look at some of non-league football’s greatest exports to the top divisions of English football and beyond.
Jamie Vardy is by far the most famous non-league footballer who made it to the very top. It’s a story that everyone knows, but it’s always worth repeating. Playing for non-league Fleetwood Town in 2012, by 2016, he was a Premier League title winner with Leicester City — and not only did he pick up a medal, but he was instrumental in the side’s success, too. Vardy was no one-season wonder, however. Even today, his blistering pace and lethal finishing ability influence how those that provide football tips think Leicester will fare in a match. He’ll go down as a Premier League great, an iconic player who was involved in perhaps the greatest season that England’s top division will ever know.
Troy Deeney may not have hit quite the same heights as Jamie Vardy, but he’s still a formidable striker than opposing defenders hate to play against. He was playing for Chelmsley Town when he was 17, before getting signed up by Wallsall, and then onto Watford, the club with whom he made his name. He’s been there for ten years, scoring 124 goals in the process, including iconic goals that took the side to the Premier League.
From Maidstone United to Roma, via Manchester United: that’s quite a story. Chris Smalling wasn’t always destined to reach the upper echelons of the footballing world, but that’s just what happened. He played only one season for Maidstone United before Fulham decided that they liked what they say, and stumped up an initial £10,000 to sign the classy defender. And if Smalling thought that was a big move, he must have been bowled over by what happened next. He played 13 times for Fulham before Manchester United came calling. At the beginning of the new season, he’s making his debut in the Community Shield against Chelsea, playing alongside Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov, and Ryan Giggs, among others. He’s now plying his trade at Roma in Italy. A fine career, whichever way you look at it.
Steve Finnan may not be the most iconic footballer in this last, but there are a couple of good reasons to include him. For starters, he played in all divisions of English League football and in the Football Conference. He began his career at non-league Welling United before moving on to, well, just about everywhere across England, before moving onto Spain. His most successful years were with Liverpool, with whom he won the Champions League and FA Cup.
Many football fans consider Ian Wright to be an all-time great, but there was a time when his future looked very different. He didn’t become a professional footballer until he was 21, which is an unthinkably old age by modern’s standards. Before then, he was playing on a part-time basis for Greenwich Borough. Having enjoyed many successful years with Crystal Palace, he eventually moved to Arsenal, where he scored 185 goals in 288 games, to become the club’s second all-time leading goalscorers; only Thierry Henry is ahead of him.
That’s quite a selection of players. Who will be the next non-league footballer to make it to the very top?