The gulf between non-league football and the top flight of the English game has never been bigger. Today, the Premier League is watched by millions of fans around the world, whilst gates at non-league games are often unlikely to far exceed triple figures. Premier League players, meanwhile, can make more money in the course of one half of football than non-league players would make in their whole careers.
It seems almost impossible, therefore, that that gulf between non-league and the Premier League could ever be traversed. There are more players than you might think, however, who have proven that exactly that is possible. In fact, there are a good number of players who are now household names with Premier League fans, who first ran out for non-league sides.
Who’s Done It In The Past?
The most famous and most notable example of a non-league player come good, is Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy. Vardy began his playing career at Stocksbridge Park Steels and would also represent Halifax Town before he secured a move to Leicester via Fleetwood Town. Once he reached the highest level, there was no looking back for Vardy and he can now boast a Premier League winners medal and the record for the most consecutive Premier League games with a goal (11).
Vardy is far from alone in today’s Premier League, either, as there are a number of other players who have worked their way up from non-league level. They include Watford captain Troy Deeney, West Ham and England goalkeeper Joe Hart and Burnley forward Andre Gray.
Those players, then, give hope to every footballer currently plying their trade in the non-league that if they work hard, they might be the next to make the huge leap to the top flight. The following are five players who are either currently playing non-league football, or who have just recently made their first step up from that level, and who all might just be able to reach the Premier League one day.
Who’s Next In The Pipeline?
You’d think the favourites with the bookies to win the National League, Salford City, would be the providers of those most likely to next sport this fine accolade but across the leagues we’ve already got some willing prospects in the pipeline:
James Hardy (AFC Fylde)
22 year old attacking midfielder James Hardy is a tricky dribbler with skills that are arguably beyond the current National League North level at which he finds himself. Hardy represented Man City at youth level, before moving on to AFC Fylde to begin his senior career. Whilst at Fylde, Hardy has gained a call up to the England C side and produced two assists against Estonia on his debut.
The young player’s previous experience with the City youth setup could stand him in good stead moving forward, as could the fact that Fylde is a really progressive team in their own right. They’ve achieved five promotions in the past decade alone and aim to be a football league side by 2022. Hardy, however, may well have already departed for greener pastures by then.
Jack Munns (Dagenham & Redbridge)
Midfielder Jack Munns has more experience than you may expect for a player who is still only 24 years of age. In fact, he has already been close to playing senior football at a high level, having been in the Spurs youth setup and having made a number of matchday squads for Charlton Athletic when they were in the Championship.
Munns’ best performances to date, however, have come at non-league level, most notably for Cheltenham Town in 2015-16 when he helped the side to promotion to the football league. Since then, Munns has moved back down a tier to Dagenham & Redbridge and has perhaps been hindered by his diminutive 5’ 5” stature. The greater breadth of experience he gains, however, the more able he will be to mitigate any potential physical limitations.
Sam Dolby (Leeds United)
Whilst technically on the books of Championship Leeds United, Sam Dolby has yet to play any senior football above League Two level. In fact, almost all of the 18 year old’s competitive football so far came while he was at Leyton Orient in the National League. The talent he showed there, however, has made him a hot tip to be a star performer at a very high level in the future.
Standing at a lofty 6’ 3”, Dolby is a speedy left-footed striker, who was an absolute star in the Leyton Orient youth ranks. He had a trial at Premier League Crystal Palace before being signed by Leeds United early this year and could easily find himself in the top flight before his career is done.
Dan Scurr (Birmingham City)
Another player whose non-league performances have already seen him move a rung up the ladder which could ultimately end in the Premier League, Dan Scurr is a centre back with a great deal of promise. Aged 23, Scurr represented Causeway United, Redditch United and Stourbridge in non-league football before moving to Birmingham City.
It was at Stourbridge that the defender really caught the attention, especially during the team’s near-miraculous run to the FA Cup third round in 2016-17. That cup run gave Scurr national exposure and he was offered a trial at then-Premier League West Brom before signing for Birmingham. Opportunities at the Blues have been few and far between since, but Scurr still very much has time on his side to continue his climb up the divisions.
Idris Kanu (Peterborough United/Port Vale)
Speaking of having time on your side, striker Idris Kanu is aged only 18 but has already started to turn heads. The pacey and skilful forward spent six years at West Ham at youth level and scored twice in a match against Middlesbrough when subsequently on trial with Manchester United. It was in non-league football with Aldershot Town, however, that the young Kanu got the first real leg up toward a senior career.
At just 16, Kanu became the club’s youngest league player and youngest league goalscorer, before going on to produce a string of performances which attracted the attention of Peterborough United. Now on loan at Port Vale from Peterborough, Kanu is beginning to bank the kind of competitive experience required to make the next big step forward in his burgeoning career.