Non League and Sunday League Football

6 non-League footballers who joined the Premier League

Written by: Alex Morrey-Jones

The Premier League has seen some special talents come through from the youth academies to the first team. Giggs. Gerrard. Terry. Rooney. Fabregas. Kane. Foden. However, the journey to the top of English football isn’t always clear cut. Many pros have plied their trade in England’s semi-professional leagues before climbing to the Premier League. Let’s look at some of our favourites.


Ian Wright. The one and only. Wright played for amateur club Ten-em-Bee until he was signed by semi-pro Greenwich Borough at the age of 21. After only a handful of games, Crystal Palace invited him for a trial, and eventually signed him in exchange for a set of weightlifting equipment. Wright went on to sign for Arsenal, scoring 128 goals and picking up a Premier League winners medal and two FA Cups. Wright was also awarded and MBE and inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame.


Jamie Vardy. Premier League Party. One of football’s greatest fairy-tale stories, Vardy won the Premier League with Leicester City in 2016 after narrowly avoiding relegation the season before. The Fox’s hitman was playing for Stocksbridge Steels for £30 a week before signing for Leicester City and making it to the Premier League aged 27. Vardy became the first player to score 100 PL goals after the age of 30, as well as winning the golden boot in 2020. A remarkable career that also includes an FA Cup, 26 caps for England and a goal against Wales at Euro 2016.


Les Ferdinand. Grassroots to Goal scorer. Les, cousin of Rio and Anton, is one of the best strikers to ever play in the Premier League, netting 149 top-flight goals. Not playing professional football until the age of 20, Les played semi-pro for Viking Sports and later Southall, featuring in a 3-0 defeat in the 1986 FA Vase Final. After moving to QPR in 1987, Ferdinand scored 80 goals and went on to secure moves to Newcastle, Tottenham and West Ham in his career. The clinical striker was capped 17 times by England and was part of the Euro 96 and 1998 World Cup Squad.


Chris Smalling. Semi-pro to serving Rome. Whilst studying for his A-levels, Chris Smalling was playing for Maidstone United after being released by Millwall’s youth set-up. Following a short spell at Fulham, Sir Alex Ferguson was impressed with the young centre-back and signed him for Manchester United. Smalling went on to make over 200 appearances for United, winning two Premier League winners medals, an FA Cup, a League Cup and the Europa League. Now playing for Jose Mourinho’s Roma, Chris Smalling’s journey from non-league to working with two of football’s greatest ever managers is a special one indeed.


Joe Hart. England number one. Throughout his youth, Hart played for his local club, Shrewsbury Town. The goalkeeper worked his way up through the youth ranks and made his debut for the first team aged 17 while the club were playing in the National League. After three years in the Shrewsbury Town first team that resulted in their promotion back to League Two, Hart was signed by Manchester City. The commanding keeper spent twelve seasons at City and played a vital role in the clubs first ever Premier League title in 2012. During his time at City, he won two Premier League winners medals, an FA Cup, four Premier League Golden Gloves and appeared in the PFA Team of the Year twice. 75 caps for England is also nothing to sneeze at.


Michail Antonio. Powering to the top. The Jamaican strikers rise has seen him not only climb through the leagues, but also climb up the pitch. Starting out as a right-back in his early days, Antonio played for Tooting & Mitcham from 12 years old. After breaking into the first team, Reading scouted him and quickly brought him to the Madejski Stadium. Antonio then moved on to Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest before signing for West Ham in 2015 and making his Premier League debut. After progressing from a right-back to a right-winger, Antonio is now a powerful striker and leading the line for the Hammers.


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