We all know the fairytale story of Jamie Vardy, rising from the depths of Non-league to the heights of international football. Can non-league teams produce more gems like him?
Vardy has netted twice in as many games for England and didn’t look out of place in either match, even though he was limited to a substitute appearance against world champions Germany. Many would have thought the Sheffield born striker would have become a journeyman, playing for League One and Two teams throughout his career. Don’t forget – at this stage last season, he was probably thinking about playing in the Championship. Fast forward twelve months and he is leading Leicester City’s title bid.
Another player who made his name for a non-league team is Dwight Gayle. The Crystal Palace hitman initially played for Stansted where he bagged a hatful of goals before making the move to Crystal Palace, via stints with Dagenham and Redbridge, Bishop’s Stortford and Peterborough United. Although he hasn’t reached the same heady heights as Vardy, Gayle has weighed in with some very important goals for The Eagles. No one can deny his infallible work rate.
Just recently, Fred Ladapo also made the move to Palace. Although strictly speaking not a player who came up from non-league football (He started off at Colchester United) most of his games have been at that level, most recently turning out for Margate. Only time will tell whether he can play at this level and how he develops.
So what is it about non-league football that produces such players? I recently spoke to a friend who played Ryman Premier football. He remarked that playing at this level was such a physical battle he would regularly come home black and blue. He said that ex-professionals who played with him said that turning out at that level was harder than when they were pro’s.
It’s no doubt that many players who are at that level have been released from professional clubs as youngsters. So do they play for the love of the game? Or do they play because they hope to be plucked to stardom? When I go to watch teams at this level, I am always in awe of the passion displayed. I always get the impression that the players on the pitch really would die for the shirt; that they actually care about the club and all it stands for. Sadly, this isn’t how I am made to feel watching Premier League teams.
Maybe that is the simple difference. Players like Vardy, Gayle and Ladapo are obviously talented. But maybe their main philosophy is their work rate. I don’t remember seeing a so called “luxury” player performing in non-league football. Can you imagine a Christian Eriksen-esque playmaker strolling around for Whyteleafe or East Thurrock United? I think we can all imagine what the result would be!