8 Premier League/Championship players who’ve played non-league
Clubs spend millions on their academies these days as they seek to produce their own talent.
But, as striker Jamie Vardy proved last season with Leicester City, players with non-league backgrounds can still make it to the top of the game.
Here are eight other players who also once plied their trade at levels below the football league.
Michail Antonio (West Ham)
West Ham’s powerful winger played plenty of non-league football as a youngster, signing for Tooting & Mitcham at the age of 17.
He scored 33 goals in 45 games for the south London side who play in the Isthmian League Division One South. So Antonio, 26, is now operating at a level eight tiers higher.
Before joining the Hammers in 2015, he also had spells at Reading, Southampton, Colchester, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest. He’s currently West Ham’s top goal scorer.
Neil Taylor (Aston Villa)
New Aston Villa and former Swansea left back Neil Taylor, 28, started his footballing career with non-league Wrexham.
He spent three seasons at the Racecourse Ground, playing 75 games in League Two and at National Conference level.
Taylor then left football’s lower tiers behind to sign for Swansea City in 2010 in a deal worth £220,000, spending seven years at the Liberty Stadium.
Taylor also featured for Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic football team and played a major role as Wales reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth’s goal-scoring machine Callum Wilson didn’t start his career in non-league football but has had a taste of it whilst being on loan from Coventry City at Kettering Town and Tamworth.
For Kettering, Wilson scored just one goal in 17 games, and only played three times for Tamworth thanks to a fractured foot.
Despite being plagued by injuries, Wilson, 24, has scored 31 goals in 71 appearances for Bournemouth.
He also played a vital role in the Cherries promotion to the Premier League.
Ben Foster (West Brom)
Former England international and current West Bromwich goalkeeper Ben Foster, 33, played on loan at several non-league clubs early on in his lengthy career.
Originally signed by Stoke, the Potters loaned him to Tiverton Town, Stafford Rangers, Wrexham and Kidderminster Harriers before selling him to Manchester United in 2005.
He only made 12 appearances for United in five seasons, but enjoyed two successful seasons on loan at Watford, before signing for Birmingham and then the Baggies. Foster has played eight times for his country.
Yannick Bolasie (Everton)
Everton’s tricky, powerful winger Yannick Bolasie once played in English football’s 11th tier for Hillingdon Borough.
He then played for Maltese side Floriana before three seasons at Plymouth Argyle, followed by two loan spells at Barnet. A productive spell at Bristol City earned him a move to Crystal Palace in 2012.
In five seasons at Selhurst Park, his price tag rocketed thanks to some great performances. He even has a skill move featured on the Fifa 2017 game called the ‘Bolasie Flick’ after performing it against Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen.
Dwight Gayle (Newcastle)
Newcastle’s top scorer also leads the Championship with 2o league goals, but has also featured in the lower tiers of English football.
Gayle earned recognition by scoring 40 goals in 42 games for Stansted in the Essex Senior League, leading to a move to Dagenham & Redbridge.
He was then loaned back to non-league Bishop’s Stortford and his excellent performances earned him a step up to Championship level with Peterborough.
Gayle then signed for Premier League side Crystal Palace for £4.5m and bagged 22 goals in 65 games but the Magpies swooped for him last summer.
Ashley Williams (Everton)
The Wales captain spent two seasons playing non-league football for Hednesford Town after being released from West Bromwich as a teenager.
A five-year spell at Stockport County put his career back on track, and an initial loan to Swansea City was made permanent in 2008.
Williams played over 300 times for the Swans as they climbed the leagues, established themselves as a Premier League club and won the League Cup in 2013.
He helped Wales the Euro 2016 semi-finals last summer before earning a big-money move to Everton.
Lee Tomlin (Bristol City)
Bristol City’s tricky attacking midfielder has played in all top four tiers of English football.
On the books of Leicester City as a youngster, he played four seasons in the Conference with Rushden & Diamonds, including a loan spell at lowly Brackley FC.
After four years with Peterborough, Tomlin spent a season at Middlebrough before being signed by Premier League newcomers Bournemouth for £3.5m.
However, he made only six appearances for the Cherries before being loaned to Bristol City, who made him a permanent signing last summer.
Tomlin won’t be the last player to pay his dues in the non-league game before going on to achieve every footballer’s dream of playing at the highest levels.