From non-league to the Premier League: Coral’s rags to riches XI
We all love a Cinderella story, a rags to riches tale. And that made Coral’s football know-it-alls ask themselves are there XI current Premier League players that started in non-league or as amateurs? It turns out there are, so here’s our team which contains one or two surprises:
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
It’s a little known fact that the current England number one played twice for Shrewsbury in their promotion season from the Conference right at the start of his career. From such humble beginnings, Hart has gone to win multiple trophies and become a household name at Manchester City, selling shampoo and shirts alike.
Right back: Chris Smalling
Manchester United defender Smalling began his career at Maidstone United, making his debut in the Kent Senior Cup. Roy Hodgson brought him to Fulham, and his performances there alerted Sir Alex Ferguson. Two Premier League titles and a dozen England caps serve as inspiration to anyone looking to make it.
Centre back: Michael Duff
Burnley stalwart Duff is known for his loyalty, and he first turned out for former club Cheltenham Town when they were in the Conference. The Northern Irishman even scored the goal that got them promoted into the Football League. With Town and the Clarets, Duff rose through the divisions and is currently enjoying a second season of Premier League action in his career.
Centre back: Ashley Williams
Hednesford Town gave Swansea City and Wales skipper Williams his big break before Stockport County came calling. They later cashed in on him, and he shot up to the Premier League at the Liberty Stadium. During his prime years and having proven himself in the top flight, Williams was even linked with Arsenal.
Left back: Andrew Robertson
Did you know Queen’s Park are the only fully amateur side in the Scottish Football League structure? That makes their former player and current Hull City left back Robertson something of a unique story. Fitting him into a non-league XI is bending the rules a little, but his story is just as sensational as the other names included here.
Defensive midfield: Craig Dawson
This West Bromwich Albion player has since converted into a central defender, but prior to turning out for Rochdale he began his career at Radcliffe Borough as an achorman. To go from there to representing Great Britain at the London Olympics in 2012 is some tale.
Right wing: Michael Kightly
Basildon-born wideman Kightly turned out for his hometown team and most famously Grays Athletic before Wolves took a punt on him. It proved a worthy investment from then-manager Mick McCarthy. Kightly has since taken in spells at Watford, Stoke City and Burnley. He has two Premier League promotions on his CV.
Attacking midfield: George Boyd
Another current Burnley attacker, Boyd began at Stevenage Borough in the Conference, then played for Peterborough, earning three promotions before catching the eye of Hull boss Steve Bruce. Eyes have been a major influence on his career, because Alex McLeish wanted him at Nottingham Forest, but Boyd reportedly failed a medical because of a vision-related problem. It was clear enough for the Tigers and Clarets, though!
Left wing: Yannick Bolasie
Crystal Palace winger Bolasie went from non-league Hillingdon Borough to Maltese team Floriana before returning to England with Plymouth Argyle. Loans to boyhood club Rushden and Diamonds as well as Barnet followed, before Bristol City and then the Eagles swooped for him. Bolasie’s assists were crucial to Palace getting into the Premier League and staying there.
Striker: Charlie Austin
Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town and Poole Town all had current QPR frontman Austin on their books while he worked as a bricklayer. Reading told him he was too small to make it as a pro, but spells with Swindon Town and Burnley before firing the Hoops to top-flight promotion proved doubters wrong.
Striker: Jamie Vardy
It’s quite something to go from Stocksbridge Park Steels, via Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town, to putting in a match-winning display for Leicester City against Manchester United. That’s what Vardy has done following his release from Sheffield Wednesday as a boy. He won two penalties, laid on as many assists and scored himself in the recent 5-3 Foxes romp against the Red Devils.