10 Premier League talents who started their careers in Non-League

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February 13, 2024
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10 Premier League talents who started their careers in Non-League

When people look at some of the Premier League's best players, they probably think they've been nurtured through clubs academies since the age of 10 to reach the pinnacle of English football.

Well, that isn't necessarily the case. Some of the greatest talents, past and present, started their journey grafting in depths of Non-League football before showcasing themselves in England's top flight.

Here are 10 current Premier League players to complete the unorthodox voyage, some may even surprise you...

1. Jamie Vardy

Let's be honest, it would be wrong to start with anyone else, wouldn't it?

His rise from Non-League power house to a record breaking Premier League goal scorer is nothing short of remarkable. After being released by Sheffield Wednesday as a 16 year old, the Englishman joined Stockbridge Park Steels in the Northern Premier League, English footballs eighth tier. 

Halifax Town snapped him up after he bagged 66 goals in three seasons for the Steels, however, he wasn't to stay in West Yorkshire for long as he joined Fleetwood Town a year later. 

The Foxes then made Vardy the most expensive non-league footballer, handing £1.7 million to Lancashire club for his services. 

We all know what happened next. A Championship winners medal, a Premier League scoring record, a Premier League winners medal and several England caps. 

A rags to riches story that any Non-League player can look to for inspiration. 

2. Charlie Austin 

The Southampton striker has a similar story to tell. 

Austin has been a goal scoring machine everywhere he's played, scoring for fun at Hungerford Town and netting more than a goal a game for Poole Town in between working long shifts as a brickie for his dads company. 

He impressed at Swindon Town, before Burnley and then QPR signed the English striker up. He announced himself as a series talent when he scored a mighty 18 goals for a relegation battling QPR side in the 2014/15 Premier League. 

The Saints wasted no time signing the frontman, a fee of roughly £4 million was an absolute no brainer. Unfortunately, injury has hindered his spell at Southampton with the 28 year old scoring 8 goals in 24 appearences. 

3. Michail Antonio

It was nine years ago when West Ham's powerful winger was playing for South London outfit Tooting and Mitcham in the seventh tier of English football.  

His impressive displays, scoring 33 goals in 45 appearances, were noticed by Reading in 2008. A £25,000 fee was given to Tooting for Michail's signature in 2008 before heading back there on loan, making a further nine appearances.

In the six years following, the 27 year old made appearances for Cheltenham Town, Southampton, Colchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, before the Hammers moved in with a £7 million offer. 

Since moving back to London, Antonio has excelled. Like Vardy, England call ups followed after proving he was a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. 

4. Troy Deeney

The Watford captains journey to the Premier League is pretty remarkable. 

Deeney grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham and similar to Antonio, his upbringing involved being around people who enjoyed getting into trouble. 

The 29 year old left school at 16 with no qualifications to his name, however whilst playing for his local team, Chelmsley Town, Walsall scout Mick Halsall noticed the raw talent Deeney possesed. 

Following up on Halsall's life changing offer, Deeney moved out on loan to Halesowen Town FC, netting eight goals in 10 gamnes for the Northern Premier League Division One South side. 

The English striker signed a professional contract with Walsall in 2006 and after being named the clubs player of the season in their 2009/10 campaign, Watford swooped in and signed Deeney for £500,000. 

A prison sentence, in Deeney's words, was the best thing that could have happened to him. Lessons were learnt whilst behind bars and his form since then certainly proves that. 

He scored 20 goals the season after he left prison, scoring 25 and 21 in the following two seasons, helping The Hornets gaining promotion to the Premier League. His first season in England's top flight? A very solid 15 goals, forming a formidable partnership with Odion Ighalo. 

5. Chris Smalling 

The Manchester United and England centre back was on Millwall's books until the age of 15.

Smalling joined Ryman League side Maidstone United when he was 16, quickly progressing through their ranks as a teenager until he broke into the first team. 

His call up to the England Schoolboys, aged 17, was where the likes of Hodgson first spotted his talent and eventually signed the youngster on a three year deal at Fulham. 

His progression has since gone strength to strength. Manchester United came calling and with that came two Premier League winners medals, alongside earning 31 senior England caps. 

6. Peter Crouch 

It's probably common knowledge to many that 'Crouchy' was a Tottenham youth player before making it to the big time with Aston Villa.

However, what some of you may not know is that he struck fear into non-league defences as a teenager. 

Spurs loaned the forward out in 2000 to Dulwich Hamlet. This isn't the first time they have helped develop a future Premier League and England star, as Ian Wright also appeared for Dulwich. 

The 6 foot 7 goal scorer owes some of his success to the non-league outfit, another example of a top class Premier League striker learning some of his trade below the football league. 

7. Ashley Williams

It hasn't been a simple road to the top for the Everton defender.

Williams was on West Brom's books until they released him at the age of 16, at which point nearly spelled the end for his short football career.

However, he joined Hednesford Town fresh from The Baggies Academy and immediately impressed. His performances at the Northern Premier League club earned him a trial at Oldham, who wanted to sign the centre back but weren't able to meet the £20,000 asking price The Pitmen desired.

Stockport County swooped in and the Welshman went on to play 173 times for County before earning his move to Swansea in 2008, where he won two promotions in four years to reach the top flight.

Now, the Welsh captain has a League Cup winners medal to his name as well as leading his country to the Euro 2016 semi finals.

8. Joe Hart 

The double Premier League title winner started his hugely successful career at his home town club Shrewsbury Town, aged just 17. 

Between 2003 and 2006, the England international stood between the sticks 58 times for The Blues, before signing for Manchester City. 

Loan spells at Tranmere Rovers, Blackpool and Birmingham City were to follow before The Sky Blues eventually put faith in Hart's ability, which he grasped and became, arguably, the best keeper in the Premier League for several years. 

After the 30 year old didn't tickle Pep Guardiola's fancy, a loan move to Torino followed before coming back to England to join West Ham on loan for the 2017/18 Premier League campaign. 

9. Danny Ings 

The Liverpool forward is renowned for his professional attitude and work ethic, something that has propelled him to the top.

Throughout his career, Ings has had a particularly tough time with injury setback after injury setback, but that hasn't stopped him from making the leap from non-league football to the higher peaks of the Premier League.

Southampton rejected the striker when he was 10, a huge blow for any young hopeful dreaming of making it to the big time. The 30 year old didn't give up though, Bournemouth gave him a chance when they spotted him playing for his dad's team Itchen Tyro in the Southampton and District league as a 15 year old.

Eddie Howe gave the youngster a professional contract and loaned him out to Dorchester Town, scoring a healthy four goals in nine games. He came back to Bournemouth and never looked back.

Ings aided The Cherries in reaching the League One play-offs, then found his goal scoring mojo at Burnley to catapult them into the top flight. Proving his worth at Turf Moor, The Reds swooped in for his services.

An ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury has unfortunately hampered Ings' Merseyside prospects, but there's no doubt he can bounce back into the first team squad. 

10. Yannick Bolasie 

The Crystal Palace forward's career path has been far from straight forward.

The DR Congo international's started his football career in Rushdan and Diamonds youth team, before moving to Hillingdon Borough, who now play in the Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division.

His brother was then able to secure him a move to Floriana, a first division side in Malta. After 24 appearances, he came back to England and joined up with Plymouth Argyle, then had loan spells at Rushden and Diamonds and Barnet before joining up with Bristol City.

He made 23 appearances for The Robins in the 2011/12 season, before then Championship side Crystal Palace signed him. Promotion via the play-offs followed and the 28 year old kicked on in the Premier League, impressing enough to attract a move North to the blue side of Liverpool.

Like Ings, his Merseyside career has been thwarted by a serious knee injury. His ability to play in the Premier League is undoubted though and The Toffees can expect him to live up to expectations when playing regularly.

As proved, it's never an easy ride to reach the heights of the Premier League.

Set backs along the way will happen, but if you're a player still hopeful of making it to the big time, or your journey has just begun, be sure to look at these examples as inspiration when you may feel like your chance has gone.

Do you have any other great success stories that have come from Non-League? Don't hesitate to comment, we'd love to hear anymore anyone has to tell.

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