By Andrew Hyslop
IN recent seasons we have seen the emergence of former Non-League players at the top of the English game with names such as Jamie Vardy, Charlie Austin and Chris Smalling all gracing the Premier League.
Will we one day see some of today’s Premier League stars finishing their careers turning out for teams in the National League or below?
There are many former Premier League players doing that at the moment, surely for their love of the beautiful game and we’ll now look at some below.
Ex-Jamaica international Deon Burton is the first in our list of former Premier League players now enjoying the end of their careers in Non-League. Burton currently plays for Worcester City in National League North.
Burton, now 39, has played 19 games so far this season for Worcester scoring seven goals. That means he has made over 700 appearances in a 20 year career that started with Portsmouth in the 1993-94 season.
As well as playing in the Premier League, Burton has also represented clubs in the three other professional leagues in England. After starting his career with Portsmouth in the old Division One (Championship), his former manager at Pompey, Jim Smith, took the striker to Premier League Derby in 1997 for £1million.
Burton would go on to spend five seasons in the top flight with Derby, making 119 appearances and scoring 22 goals. His best season in terms of goals in the Premier League came in 1998-99 season, scoring nine goals in 21 games in the league and 12 in 27 games in all competitions.
Darren Purse started his career with Leyton Orient, signing his first professional contract over 20 years ago at the age of 17. After a spell with Oxford United, Purse made the move to Division One side Birmingham City. After four years in Division One with Birmingham, Purse and the Blues got a taste of Premier League football.
That came in the 2002-03 season and Purse made 20 appearances in the Premier League for Birmingham. The following season Purse struggled for a regular starting place, making just nine Premier League appearances.
The summer of 2004 saw Purse moving across the Midlands to West Brom where he made 22 appearances in the Premier League in his sole season at the Hawthorns.
On leaving West Brom, Purse had spells with Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall in the Championship before playing in League Two with Plymouth Argyle and Port Vale.
Before signing for Hayes & Yeading United in the National League South, Purse has had spells with several other Non-League sides. These include Chesham United, Welling United, Staines Town and AFC Rushden & Diamonds, where is currently the manager of their U18s.
Stephen Crainey is a former Scottish international having represented his country on 12 occasions. Crainey came through the youth ranks at Celtic before making the move down south to sign for Premier League side Southampton in February 2004. The full-back made six appearances in the Premier League as Southampton suffered relegation.
Following Southampton’s drop, Crainey moved to Championship side Leeds United in August 2004. Crainey made a return to the Premier League with Blackpool in the 2010-11 season having joined the Seasiders in July 2007.
Crainey made 31 appearances in Blackpool’s only season as a Premier League side as they finished 19th in the table, one point short of survival.
Crainey would remain with Blackpool until the 2013-14 season, when he joined Wigan but after just one season with Wigan he made the move to Fleetwood Town.
Crainey joined Fleetwood’s neighbours AFC Fylde in December of 2015 and has played nine games to date for the National League North side. Crainey will be looking to help Fylde gain promotion to the National League and they currently fourth in the National League North table.
Darren Carter signed for National League side Forest Green Rovers in September on a deal until the end of the season following his release by League Two side Northampton Town.
Carter started his career with Birmingham City and made his first-team debut at the age of 18. His first season in the Birmingham first-team saw the Midlanders earn promotion to the Premier League, with the midfielder scoring the decisive penalty in the shoot-out victory over Norwich in the play-off final.
Following 32 Premier League appearances over three season for Birmingham, Carter moved to Premier League rivals West Brom for £1.5million in 2005. Following the move, Carter initially struggled to break into the West Brom team but would eventually go on to make 25 appearances for the Baggies in his first season, 20 of those in the Premier League.
Carter and West Brom suffered relegation in his first season, and after spending a season in the Championship, he moved on to Championship rivals Preston North End. After four seasons with Preston, Carter played for Cheltenham and Northampton in League Two before making the move to Forest Green.
Carter and Forest Green face a fight with the midfielder’s former team Cheltenham for the one automatic promotion place from National League to League Two.
Manchester-born Danny Webber currently plays for Salford City in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League having joined the club owned by the famous Class of 92 in August 2014. Webber, like the Class of 92, came through the youth ranks at Manchester United, though he never made a Premier League appearance for United. After loan spells with Port Vale and Watford, Webber made a permanent move to Vicarage Road.
Webber had to wait until the 2006-07 season to make his first appearance in the Premier League, with Sheffield United. He made 22 appearances and scored three goals for the Yorkshire side but Webber and Sheffield United suffered relegation and the striker would have to wait until the 2009-10 season to return to the Premier League.
That came after he signed for Portsmouth in September 2009 as they looked for attacking reinforcements. Webber made 17 appearances for the south-coast side before suffering a cruciate ligament rupture in a game against Tottenham in March 2010. In total Webber has made 39 appearances in the Premier League and has spent the majority of his playing career in the Championship.
Before signing with Salford, Webber played for Doncaster Rovers and Accrington Stanley. In his first season with Salford, he helped the club gain promotion as champions from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North and helped the club into the first round proper of the FA Cup this term for the first time. Webber scored the opening goal as Salford caused a shock in the first round with a 2-0 win over Notts County.