In this post I will be looking back through my time as a professional footballer and selecting the top ten best players to rise from the non league in my opinion. The list of players who began their careers in the non league is forever growing with more and more getting the chance to make their mark at the highest level of the English game.
Back when I was a young player I believe it was more difficult to get that dream move up the divisions but as their is more and more money for the top teams these days they’re willing to take a chance on a player who may become the next Premier League star..
Here are ten players throughout my career who have gone from non league to Premier League.
10 George Boyd (Stevenage Borough)
George Boyd was a player I heard an awful lot about when I actually signed for Stevenage in 2009. Nicknamed ‘The White Pele’ at the Lamex Stadium as he skillfully dribbled his way through non league defence’s to earn himself a move to Peterborough. After impressing over six years he made the move to Hull City where he made his Premier League debut. He has gone on to play Premier League football with Burnley before leaving last summer to join Sheffield Wednesday in the championship.
9 Dwight Gayle
Gayle is another player who has benefitted from making the move from non league football to Peterborough. Peterborough are renowned for giving non league players a chance to play league football. He moved from Dagenham and Redbridge in November 2012 before making that loan permanent a month later. It was a short stay because in the summer of 2013 Premier League side Crystal Palace tabled an undisclosed bid reportedly in the region of £4.5 million for the natural goal scorer. After briefly dropping into the Championship with Newcastle he scored 23 goals in securing promotion back to the Premier League in his first season.
8 Craig Dawson
Former glass collector Dawson was playing his non league football when I came across him whist playing for Clitheroe. Straight away you could tell he was head and shoulders above the rest and within two years he moved to the league with Rochdale. The commanding defender’s rise didn’t stop here after a fantastic 2009-10 season he managed ten goals and made the PFA League Two team of the season. This alerted West Bromwich Albion who signed Dawson on a three year deal. He is still a Premier League regular with the Baggies to this day
7 Michail Antonio
Antonio started his career with Tooting and Mitcham United before making a move to Championship club Reading in 2008. After a host of loan spells it was his move from Sheffield Wednesday to Nottingham Forest that really saw his career explode into life. In 20015 it was West Ham who secured his signature and he finally made his Premier debut seven years after making the move into the football league with Reading. He was called up to the England squad by Sam Allardyce in 2016 but was an unused substitute.
6 Yannick Bolasie
Bolasie started his career in the Southern League with Hillingdon Borough before working his way through the leagues until the summer of 2016 when Everton paid a reported £25 million for the wingers services. Non league spells with both Rushden and Diamonds and Barnet helped unearth this gem. Now a Premier League regular alongside starring for DR Congo while on international duty I believe there is still a lot more to come from Bolaise in the 2018/19 season.
5 Ashley Williams
Williams went from a non league regular with Hednesford Town to Premier League captain with both Swansea City and Everton over a 17 year career. The Welshman also has 72 caps to his name and captained his country to the semi finals of the European Championships against Portugal in 2016.
4 Chris Smalling
Smalling went from a non league player with Maidstone United in 2008 to becoming a Premier League winner in just three years time. After a move to Fulham in 2008 he was snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson joining Manchester United for an undisclosed fee. Smalling has gone on to win the Premier League twice, along with the FA Cup, the EFL Cup and the Europa League during the United career. He has also been capped 31 times for England.
3 Kevin Phillips
A position change was the key to Phillips fulfilling his potential. Playing as a defender in his youth it wasn’t until an injury crisis at Baldock Town forced the right back up front and he never looked back. Watford saw something in him and took him to Vicarage Road before he eventually became a golden boot winner in the Premier League with Sunderland as part of a lethal partnership with Niall Quinn. Phillips managed eight caps for England at a time when the country was blessed with many excellent centre forwards.
2 Stuart Pearce
A fantastic 24 year career starting in non league with Wealdstone and ending at Manchester City saw Stuart Pearce play nearly 750 games as an aggressive full back earning him the nickname ‘psycho’. After missing a penalty in the 1990 World Cup which knocked England out he turned that around in Euro 96 scoring a Penalty against Spain to send England through and turn him into a national hero. He made 71 appearance’s for his country before coaching the Under 21 national team guiding them to the final of the 2009 European Championships.
1 Jamie Vardy
Vardy is the latest to make the move from non league to Premier League. He made the move from Fleetwood Town to Leicester City where he become one of the stars of the league. He was part of the Leicester team that won the Premier League in 2015-16. He broke the record for most consecutive Premier League games scored in breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record scoring in 11 consecutive games. At the age of 31 now he still looks to be improving every year. He went from non league to Premier League in one step and made it look easy.