By Matt Badcock
Jamie Vardy has dipped into his own pocket to make sure his V9 Academy keeps unearthing Non-League gems.
After the success of year one that saw five players get moves into the Football League, the Leicester City and England striker is determined to give even more players the opportunity to showcase their talent.
The five-day training camp at Manchester City’s Etihad campus was featured on Sky Sports and culminated in matches watched by scouts from Premier League and EFL clubs as well as across Europe.
Nuneaton Town defender Alex Penny landed a move to League One side Peterborough United, Tamworth’s Danny Newton is now banging in the goals at Stevenage, where he was joined by Blair Turgott, while Lamar Reynolds moved from Brentwood to Newport County. And last week Carshalton Athletic’s Mickel Miller moved to Scottish side Hamilton Academical.
As well as players from Steps 1 to 5, entries are also welcomed from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
At the big launch on Thursday it was revealed that no sponsor had come forward with head of recruitment Lee Tucker and Vardy’s agent John Morris starting to plan for 2018-19. But Vardy and wife Becky had other ideas and, once again, will fund the academy.
“We always wanted it to run again because it was successful,” Vardy said. “I can’t repeat exactly what I said, but there was no way I wasn’t going to have it running again this year so we’re more than happy to put the money in.”
The search is now on for this year’s crop of 42 players ahead of the training week from June 3 to June 8.
“We set a target of four, and four have gone and now one more has gone,” Vardy said. “This year we’ve set out a target of four again, hopefully we’ll get more, but it’s getting that opportunity to be in front of so many scouts that they might not get at a normal game on the weekend.
“It’s a chance to showcase their skills and show they are capable of playing higher up. I’ve said before I don’t think it was happening enough.
“People have taken a gamble – Danny Newton got picked up and he’s scoring goals for fun. It just shows the standard is not that much different and if they knuckle down and improve in areas they need to then it works.”
Penny (pictured with Vardy at this week’s V9 launch), who played against Vardy in the FA Cup fourth round yesterday, says he’s grateful for the platform V9 Academy gave him and says Vardy’s story inspires all Non-League footballers.
“When someone has gone from Non-League into the Football League they’ll say, ‘He’s done it the Vardy way’,” Penny said. “In Non-League you’ve got another job, you’re up at six in the morning, working all day, stop off at a local shop to get food before a game or training – it’s tiring mentally and it’s draining.
“I think that’s the side people miss. They just see Non-League guys playing games here and there, but they don’t see what actually goes on when you go to games.
“From Jamie doing it and going on to achieve what he’s achieved, people are looking and thinking there’s no reason why they can’t do the same.”
Vardy, who won the The NLP’s Player of the Year in 2012 before signing for Leicester from Fleetwood for £1m, now has a Premier League winners’ medal and 16 England caps. But he admits it still feels strange it’s his footsteps people want to follow.
“It’s strange,” Vardy said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say I’m a role model. I’ve never gone out there to be that. I just managed to get my chance to be a professional footballer and luckily it went like that (gestures upwards) and didn’t really stop with winning the league.
“I can understand why people see it like that but I was just doing what I was bought to do. Play football, be the best I can be and that’s what I’ve done.”
To apply for this year’s V9 academy, or find out more information simply visit http://www.v9academy.co.uk
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday and Monday