These days the top players in the world mostly come through academies with the best coaches, outstanding facilities and an upbringing geared towards making them superstars from an early age.
Not all of our top players come through this route though. Sometimes, star players must fight their way through the non-league system, experiencing real football.
So with that in mind, let’s look at five players who came from the bottom to emerge at the top of English football.
Charlie Austin didn’t breakthrough with a single non-league team – it took four spells with different clubs before he was finally picked up. He turned out for Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford and Thatcham before being spotted by Swindon playing for Poole Town.
He’s since played for Southampton in the top flight where he finished as a runner up in the League Cup Final, before a return to the Championship with West Brom.
A Daily Echo story told how he recently helped Poole Town out by loaning them his box at Southampton to help them raise funds.
“That’s typical Charlie,” said manager Tom Killick. “He’s always done the right thing by the club.
Che Adams is one of the biggest current Premier League stars to have come out of non-league. After being rejected by Coventry City at the end of his apprenticeship he wound up at Ilkeston Town.
Sheffield United watched him whilst he was there due to his goalscoring prowess and he has recently joined Premier League Southampton after a spell at Birmingham.
“It’s just a question of how hard you’re going to get kicked,” he recalled of his time at Ilkeston, during an interview with the Guardian.
“You definitely get kicked harder in non-league because the referee is all the way in the other penalty box or on the other side of the pitch.”
Jamie Vardy became the name on everyone’s lips when he helped Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City to an unlikely title in 2015; so much so that a Sports Joe article suggested his story might get turned into a movie one day.
Ladbrokes’ in-depth guide to Premier League managers documents how the odds of Ranieri’s team winning the Premier League were 5000/1, yet they ended up with the title after a thrilling season, thanks in no small part to Vardy’s goals. He had previously been with Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town in non-league.
His time with Fleetwood has led to their young striker Harvey Saunders being labelled ‘the next Jamie Vardy’.
Deeney was also rejected by a big club early on and drifted into semi-professional football. In this case, it was Aston Villa who rejected him, but only after he failed to turn up to the final day of a trial. Fortunately for Deeney, Chelmsley Town were there to give him a second chance.
From there he went to Walsall where he realised how lucky he was; “I used to go to work at 6.30am in the morning and come back at like 8pm at night and then have to go to football, compared to training at 9am and finishing at 2pm at Walsall,” he said in an interview with the Watford Observer.
He later moved to the Hornets where he was a Championship runner up in 2015 and an FA Cup finalist in 2019.
Kevin Phillips once scored 30 Premier League goals in a single season, but after being released by Southampton as a youth he ended up playing as a full back for Baldock Town.
An injury saw him shifted up front for one game and after bagging two goals a star was born. He was sold to Watford for £10,000, a fee that is still the record fee received by the non-league side.
He ended up being promoted from the Championship five times, three times as a winner with Sunderland, Leicester and West Brom. He won the European Golden Shoe in 2000, as well as the Premier League Player of the Year.