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14 Premier League stars who came through the non-league

Andrew Butler

We often assume that Premier League players are just born as Premier League stars.

While many fans get agitated about the fact one of their club’s 14-year-old starlets has treated himself to a Rolex and Aston Martin three years before they can drive, for some it hasn’t always been this way.

For some of the best Premier League players, they had to graft through the Non-League before getting noticed by the big boys. Here’s a selection for your eyes…

1 Peter Crouch

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The Premier League’s most recent inductee into the 100 goals hall of famer was once tearing it up in the semi-professional game, having played six times for everyone’s favourite hipster South Londoners Dulwich Hamlet in the year 2000.

2 Michail Antonio

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The popular West Ham player’s rise to the big time is genuinely one of the most touching stories in the game. From turning out for Tooting & Mitcham in 2007 to getting an England call-up in 2016, Antonio’s dedication and subsequent success cannot be underestimated.

3 Yannick Bolasie

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The greatest footballer/rapper hybrid in the world today, Bolasie’s journey to the top is as inspiring as Antonio’s. Growing up in Lyon, moving to England to play for West Londoners Hillingdon Borough in the 2006/07 and Maltese club Floriana FC before being spotted by Plymouth Argyle, Bolasie’s mega-money move to Everton is a world away from his non-league days.

4 Danny Ings

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Ings may have thought his football career might be over when he was shipped out to non-league Dorchester Town from then League Two Bournemouth in 2010. Seven years on, and he’s playing for Liverpool (in between frustrating injuries).

5 Ashley Williams

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Wales stalwart and Everton rock Ashley Williams may have well over 50 caps for his country under his belt, but it was always thus. Starting this century at non-league Hednesford Town, the big centre-back then moved to Stockport County and the rest is history.

6 Joe Hart

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England’s number one keeper (yes, he is still, check) may be in everyone’s minds as a Premier League stopper from day one, but he actually started his career at lowly Shrewsbury Town for three years. Scouted as a young talent by City and signed for just £100,000, it’s a bargain bucket transfer that is often overlooked.

7 Charlie Austin

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Southampton striker Charlie Austin was born a goalscorer. Fact. And not just in professional football – across the board, too. He banged in goals for fun for Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, and more than a goal a game for Poole Town saw him picked up by Swindon, before moving to Burnley, QPR and now Southampton.


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8 Jimmy Bullard

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Cult hero Jimmy Bullard recently returned to his roots to manage non-league Leatherhead, having spent a couple of years hanging around those parts by starting his footballing career with Dartford and Gravesend & Northfleet.

9 Troy Deeney

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Deeney has now played more than 300 games for Premier League club Watford, but his form on loan for Halesowen Town from Walsall saw him become a starter for the Black Country club, before moving to the Hornets in 2010.

10 Chris Smalling

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It’s easy to forget that only as recently as 2008 the Manchester United and English centre-back was turning out for non-league Maidstone United. A move to Fulham followed before his rather surprising move, and subsequent success, at the Red Devils.

11 Les Ferdinand

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Sir Les is fondly remembered by many football fans, but it all could have been a very different story – Spotted by QPR after playing for Hayes in 1987, nine years later he was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. Not bad.

12 Rickie Lambert

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His beetroot bottling days are well documented, with Lambert having to make ends meet in the non-league before turning pro. He moved to his boyhood club Liverpool in 2014 to complete a remarkable circle of footballing life.

13 Kevin Phillips

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One of the most prolific strikers of the Premier League era, Kevin Phillips had to spend three years at non-league Baldock Town before signing for Watford in 1994. He moved to Sunderland in 2007, where he scored at a rate of over a goal every other game, including a remarkable 30 in the 1999/2000 Premier League season.

14 Jamie Vardy

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You didn’t think we’d forgotten him, did you? Obviously the star of the 2015/16 season had to be included here. You will all know about Vardy’s Stocksbridge Park Steel days by now, but even he couldn’t have predicted he would one day be lifting the Premier League trophy when he was working in a factory back in 2007.


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