Less than a decade ago, Jamie Vardy was playing in the ninth tier of English football and was being paid £30 a week. Today, he is a £30 million rated star that has just broken the record for scoring the most goals in consecutive games in the Premier League.
Incredibly, Vardy’s story is not a one off. Joe Hart was signed by Manchester City from Shrewsbury Town, Chris Smalling made the step up from fifth tier Maidstone United to join Fulham, while Andre Gray is banging the goals in at Burnley despite playing in the sixth tier of English football as recently as 2010.
And in 2009, Charlie Austin – now a full England international – was playing in the Wessex Premier Division, whom it would take eight consecutive title wins to be playing top flight football.
So which other lower league players look set to follow in Vardy’s footsteps?
Most of the players on the list above – Vardy included – are strikers, and it is perhaps easier for them to catch the eye of top level scouts as their goalscoring exploits become widely known.
The same can be said for Barwell FC’s Brady Hickey; although his net-busting antics have come from a deeper midfield role – a sure sign that a young player has bags of quality.
Hickey’s manager at Barwell, Jimmy Ginnelly, told the Daily Mail: “He’s sort of a non-league version of Frank Lampard. He always seems to arrive in the box in the right place from midfield.
“He has scored 10 in 20 odd games for us this season and he hasn’t even started all of those because he is only 18. He has a natural goalscoring knack from midfield, like Lampard, and is a pleasure to work with.
“There are between 15 and 20 clubs watching him.”
Having just turned 19 and operating in the seventh tier of English football, Hickey has recently enjoyed a trial at Vardy’s club Leicester City, where he spent several days training with the Premier League high flyers. If he can keep his feet on the ground, then the footballing world could be his oyster.
Tom Meechan will have watched the goals flying in from Vardy, Austin, Gray et al and think that he has an opportunity to emulate these fine scorers in and around the top flight in English football.
Goalscoring is a natural ability, being able to finish chances is something that cannot be taught. And, as we’ve seen with the likes of Vardy and Austin, being able to put the ball in the net is a skill that travels. Simply put, somebody who has a knack for scoring goals is worth their weight in goal.
Meechan signed for sixth tier St Neots after bagging 53 goals in a single season for his former club. And with 16 goals already this term, the 24-year-old clearly knows where the net is.
What is most impressive about Luke Berry is that he has already made more than 150 first team appearances; and he has only just turned 23.
That is a measure of the maturity that this young midfielder possesses, and after cutting his teeth at Cambridge United he attempted to step into the professional ranks with Barnsley.
That move didn’t quite pan out and he is back at Cambridge now, but if he continues to improve his game while learning his craft at a lower level then he will surely move up English football’s pyramid in due course.