THERE aren’t many greater achievements for young Non-League players than pulling on the England shirt – which is exactly why the England C Player of the Year award has returned.
Backed by the FA, the prize will go to the one player who has stood above his colleagues and consistently shown the qualities you expect from somebody wearing the famous Three Lions on their chest.
As always, England C boss Paul Fairclough has picked the winner and they will be crowned at our big awards ceremony at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, May 17.
Andy Yiadom – now in the Championship with Barnsley – last took home the award at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and while Non-League’s Three Lions have played only two games this season, they’ve both been big, big fixtures with plenty of key contributions.
Fairclough’s men suffered heartache last June, conceding a 97th-minute winner to Slovakia at Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane as they fell to a 4-3 defeat after leading 3-1.
A gutsy 2-1 victory in chilly Estonia five months later booked their place in the International Challenge Trophy final, where they will go up against Slovakia again.
What makes this award one of the hardest to win is that performances for the national team aren’t the only criteria.
Fairclough, who is constantly out watching Non-League games for the next big talent, has also taken club form into account.
And most importantly of all, that deserving player must have demonstrated qualities off the pitch that are sometimes missing at the top end of the game.
Once you’ve been capped by England C and received your cap after belting out the national anthem, you are considered a flag bearer.
That continues when players return to their clubs so only the best of the best, both on an off the field of play, will be considered.
Plenty of former Three Lions players have gone on to enjoy successful careers in the Football League and the winner of the England C Player of the Year award could well be next on the conveyor belt.