Why achievements of England squad member and Leicester City star Jamie Vardy mean so much to non league fans
Everyone loves an underdog, rising to the top of a sport that welcomes so few into its elite level.
But non league supporters feel an extra special bond to players who played for or against their clubs, before going on to star ‘on the tele’ week in and week out.
Vardy is one of those players, perhaps one of the finest examples.
He didn’t come out of a shiny new academy, straight into a Premier League first team, he did it the hard way.
The Sheffield lad was released by his beloved Wednesday at the tender age of 16, but his road back to the professional ranks started at Stocksbridge Park Steels.
While Steels have always been a well run outfit, relying on friendlies against Sheffield’s big two, some cash from the steel giant based in the town and the support of the area’s free newspaper, they’re not what you’d call one of non league’s fashionable clubs.
This just adds to Vardy’s appeal.
Long before he was terrorising the Manchester United defence and leaving the Match of the Day pundits purring, he was raising eyebrows in what was then dubbed the Unibond Northern Premier Division One.
Football League scouts were all too aware of his pace, ability and promise.
Steels chairman Allen Bethel isn’t a man to get too excited about a player, or at least he doesn’t verbalise it, but he knew that Vardy was special, and it’s no slight on the man who has worked so hard for that club when I say that he could see pound signs.
Stocksbridge deserved some payback for nurturing Vardy’s career back to life.
But the closest he came to a big move was a trial at Crewe. It led to nothing.
It wasn’t until 2010, three years after he broke into Gary Marrow’s first team at the Look Local Stadium and after helping Steels to a promotion to the Northern Premier, that Vardy moved up in the footballing world.
And even then, it was to a club in the same division, FC Halifax Town.
They, like the winger-cum-striker, were working their way back up.
With the Shaymen, Vardy was all but guaranteed to taste life in the Conference North before long.
Twenty-seven goals that season, and plenty of assists, had the scouts flocking to the Shay, where Vardy and his team-mates secured the NPL title and promotion to the Conference North.
A little over one year with Halifax was long enough for Vardy to get his foot on the next rung of the ladder, through a move to big spending Fleetwood Town.
Steels and Halifax both did well out of the transfer, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a fan at either club with anything other than praise and misty eyed nostalgia when his name crops up.
The Conference Premier, seemingly, was no trouble for the player - 31 goals in 36 games, another league title and yet another promotion tell the tale.
By now Vardy’s name was on the lips of national journalists and supporters of clubs as high as the Championship.
The fairytale just kept getting better, with a reported £1million move to Leicester City.
If he’d simply adapted to his new, plush surroundings like a duck to water the story wouldn’t be quite as rich - and Vardy himself has admitted he considered leaving the sport after struggling with form, and the magnitude and intensity of his new life.
The fact that he fought back from that low ebb to help fire the Foxes into the Premier League, where he has performed admirably, and on occasion brilliantly, adds to the charm of his rags to riches tale.
When Alan Shearer et al are showing slow motion replays of chances and goals created by the now 28-year-old, there will be non league supporters up and down the country turning to a disinterested spouse and saying: “I saw him play against our lot. I said he was special even then.”
The magic of Vardy, who has been called into the England squad today in yet another superb twist, is that followers of non league knew long before those who pack the stands of the grandest stadiums, long before those whose interest is soley in the millionaire superstars, that this one could play.
Can he do it on the international stage? Who’s to say. But he did do it on a cold Tuesday night at Retford, Colwyn Bay and Belper Town.
He knows that Buxton is the coldest football ground in the world, and that you’re in for a physical battle at Frickley.
He’s made the never ending soul destroying treks to King’s Lynn and Workington.
And that’s why he’s one of our own.