The Premier League and Football League are full of players who learned their trade in non-league or even Sunday and pub football. The likes of Bradford’s James Hanson and West Brom’s Craig Dawson both know what it’s like to start at the bottom, playing in conditions that would make a ‘wet and windy Tuesday night in Stoke’ seem veritably tropical.
Hanson, having been released by Huddersfield as a schoolboy, worked up from Sunday football through the non-leagues before eventually securing a move from Blue Square Bet North side Guiseley to Bradford City. Similarly Dawson was working at, and playing for, a Manchester pub when he got offered the chance to join Radcliffe Borough and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not all non-league starlets go through that route, with others not getting sufficient chances at high-level clubs and then being snapped up by shrewd non-league managers when they are released.
So, who are the ones to watch in non-league at the minute and how likely are they to be on the move in the near future?
Luton forward Andre Gray is arguably the Blue Square Bet Premier’s hottest property. After starting life at Shrewsbury Town he trickled down the leagues before hitting form at Hinckley United.
He then got his big move to Luton and hasn’t looked back. A quick, pacy forward with an eye for goal, he notched at Wembley in last year’s play-off final and is also a regular fixture in the England C squad.
Millwall were rumoured to be interested in him but he still has around two years on his contract so any bid to land him would need to be a big one.
One of the driving forces of Chester FC’s Blue Square Bet North season, midfielder Sarcevic has a goal tally of 11, which most strikers would be pretty pleased with, let alone someone who operates in the centre of the park.
He started off at Crewe before dropping down to Woodley Sports and promptly moving to the Exacta Stadium, with Chester quickly tying him down on a permanent deal after an initial loan spell.
At just 20 years old he is only going to get better and if the Blues do self destruct and miss out on promotion, there could be a few Conference sides in for him.
Have a look at this special goal to see what all the fuss is about.
Guernsey striker Ross Allen has a goal record that could almost see him mixing it in the Dean Windass Hall of Fame, so brace yourself goal fiends. The 2010 Channel Islands Sports Personality of the Year nominee has bagged 113 goals in 73 games for the club, making quite a name for himself as a result.
Boss Tony Vance believes he is well capable of going professional while assistant Colin Fallaize is intent on keeping him at the club.
“Scoring goals is what Ross loves doing and that’s what he does. Sometimes it’s sublime, sometimes it’s orthodox and sometimes it’s unorthodox but whatever it is, he’ll score,” he enthused to the BBC recently.
Altrincham’s winger-cum-forward Duncan Watmore is easily one of the Blue Square Bet North’s best players. What sets him apart from the rest? He’s only just turned 18.
Described as an “exception” by gaffer Lee Sinnott, Watmore has electric pace, as can be witnessed with this fine solo effort, and he also has an eye for goal and excellent ball control.
Currently a student, he prefers to spend his time tormenting defences across the country rather than larging it in the union, and is likely to remain at Moss Lane until he’s finished his studies.
However, that’s not stopped clubs such as Peterborough expressing an interest, with Darren Ferguson confirming to the Peterborough Telegraph that, in a non-sinister way, he would “carry on looking at him”.
“We have been made aware of Watmore and we’ve been monitoring him for a while,” he confirmed.
As the Blue Square Bet South’s leading scorer, Salisbury’s Jamie White will no doubt have alerted clubs of a higher stature to his ability as he looks to climb his way back up the leagues.
He started at Southampton, playing three games for the first team, before dropping down to play for a number of clubs in the south of England, with his most successful stint being a 51-goal period at Winchester City.
Salisbury snapped him up and he’s helped power them to joint-top position in the league and, at just 23, if they don’t gain promotion, they could have a fight on their hands to keep him.
These are just a handful of the best talents available and, if clubs have their scouting networks doing their job, they could pick up a real bargain who is hungry to work up the leagues, as opposed to signing someone coming the other way and on the hunt for a last pay cheque.
Seen a player at your local non-league club that could do it at a higher level? Who? Drop it in the comments section below.
Matt Rogerson is a writer and a press officer for Guiseley AFC. You can follow him on twitter here.