The Vardy boys

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-30 0:03:23

Striker latest from semi-pro to international

Jamie Vardy (right) of Leicester City vies for the ball against Hector Bellerin of Arsenal in Leicester on Saturday. Photo: IC

Alexis Sanchez may have become the first player to score a hat trick in the top leagues of England, Spain and Italy in Arsenal's 5-2 win at Leicester on Saturday but it was a player from the home team who took the plaudits once again.

Jamie Vardy scored a brace and hit the woodwork, making it easy to forget that the recent England call-up has not been sharing the pitch with internationals at club level for little over a season.

It's been noted that Vardy's rise to the Premier League and the national team was not easy, but it is worth taking another look.

'Too small' for pro game

He was rejected by hometown team Sheffield Wednesday as a 16-year-old for the age-old reason of being "too small" for the professional game.

He picked up his career at Stockbridge Park Steels and broke into the first team aged 20. Three seasons for the Steels earned him a transfer to Halifax Town in 2010 where he continued to score with abandon before Fleetwood Town of the Conference Premier came calling in August 2011.

His 31 league goals for the Lancashire outfit saw him named their Player of the Year as he fired them to the title and league soccer for the first time before becoming the first million pound non-league footballer when Leicester City signed him at the end of that season.

The move to the Championship didn't go well and a debut season for the Foxes saw a loss of form and fan criticism that led Vardy to consider turning his back on the game, he told the BBC on the eve of Leicester's promotion to the Premier League the following season - a campaign in which Vardy scored 16 goals in their charge to the title.

A little over a year ago, the former electrician announced himself to the world by scoring one and setting up the other four in Leicester's remarkable 5-3 comeback victory over Manchester United.

He finished the season with five goals from 34 Premier League appearances and if people questioned his call-up to the England team at the end of last season then the 28-year-old has made them eat their words with six goals in seven Premier League games in 2015-16.

Like a movie

If a young man from Sheffield going from non-league soccer to being Man of the Match against Manchester United sounds like something from a movie, that's because it is.

The major difference being that 1996's When Saturday Comes limited the fantasy to Sean Bean's Jimmy Muir peaking with an equalizer in a cup tie as starting for England was clearly a suspension of disbelief too far.

Not for Vardy, who clearly won't let something like improbability stop him, but he is not the only one.

His England squadmates Chris Smalling and Charlie Austin both rose from the semi-professional game.

Smalling was plucked from Maidstone United after just 12 appearances by then Fulham boss Roy Hodgson, his current England manager.

Austin, meanwhile, counts stints at Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, Thatcham Town and Poole Town as stepping-stones to his England call-up.

Roy Hodgson deserves some credit for looking outside the top flight for his club signings and for looking outside perceived wisdom for who he calls up for international duty - Rickie Lambert went from putting lids on cans of beetroot to Hodgson's team at the 2014 World Cup - but it's clearly mostly down to these players who refused to take no for an answer.

Surprising result

Perhaps this is a very English trait, rewarding players­ who work hard, or maybe it has to be because professional clubs still so often fail young players.

This is hardly a new phenomenon - John Barnes, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, three of England's best ever players, all started out in non-league - but it is nevertheless surprising that so many players deemed good enough to play for their country managed to earlier fall through the cracks.

There have been many who have made it from non-league to the national team over the years: Ian Wright, Stan Collymore, Les Ferdinand, Kevin Phillips. The list goes on but the point is made.

Non-league soccer clearly has a lot to offer the game and as Vardy's former chairperson David Bosomworth at Halifax Town said in an interview about his most famous signing, "some of these lads just need a chance."

He's right and it can pay dividends for years to come, on and off the pitch.

Stuart Pearce has served as England's manager, while Alan Pardew, whose brand of attacking soccer this season has merited his "Pardiola" comparison with Pep Guardiola and Crystal Palace currently sitting in sixth spot in the Premier League - not bad for a player the Eagles themselves plucked out of non-league obscurity at 25-years-old.

Posted in: Feature, Soccer

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