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The Rise of Jamie Vardy, Chris Smalling & Jarrod Bowen: From Non League to Premier League

Publish Date: 07/12/2023
Fact checked by: James Leeland

As football evolves and develops, more and more players from down the pyramid are getting noticed by professional clubs. While there is a current crop of National League players who may fancy their chances of playing in the Premier League, we look at five players who have made the transition to the Premier League from Non-League.

Jamie Vardy

You can't talk about meteoric rises without mentioning Premier League winner Jamie Vardy.

Released at the age of 16 by Sheffield Wednesday, Vardy joined Stocksbridge Park Steels, earning £30 a week to play on top of working in a factory. Three years later, he signed for FC Halifax Town for £15,000. The 23-year-old impressed in his only full season for the club, scoring 25 goals in 36 appearances and helping the Shaymen win the Northern Premier League title in 2010/11.

This prompted a move to Fleetwood, plying their trade in the National League at that time. 31 goals in a season saw Leicester come calling, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After making his top-flight debut at the age of 27, Vardy has gone on to have a stellar professional career. Not only was he instrumental in Leicester's heroic Premier League title, he has also won the golden boot, been named in the PFA Premier League team of the season twice, as well as breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy's record of scoring in 10 consecutive games.

Jamie Vardy is the pinnacle of Non-League to Premier League success. Many players will look up to the 36-year-old, looking to emulate a legendary career.

Chris Smalling

Another Premier League winner to start off in Non-League is Chris Smalling.

After being released by Millwall, Smalling played for Kent outfit Maidstone United. It was apparent that the youngster was too good for this level after just a few appearances. This led to Fulham securing his signature. Again, it only took a few appearances for Smalling to show his ability, with Manchester United snapping up the 20-year-old.

The 6'4 centre back went on to have an established career, winning the Premier League twice, the Europa League, and the EFL Cup with Manchester United before going on to win the Europa Conference League with Roma. Smalling has also been capped 31 times by England.

Jarrod Bowen

Jarrod Bowen is another player who has been called up to represent England after starting off in Non-League.

Bowen started his career as a scholar at Hereford United, making his debut at the age of 17. Hereford were unfortunately expelled from the conference in 2014, meaning Premier League side Hull City could sign the talented teen for free. In 2016, Bowen made his debut in the EFL Cup. The following season, Bowen established himself as the Tigers key man, scoring 15 goals in all competitions in the 2017–2018 season, finishing the season as Hull's top scorer and winning two of the club's player of the year awards.

The 2018–2019 season saw him emerge as Hull's top scorer again, with his 22 goals in all competitions earning him a place in the Championship team of the season and winning three club awards at the end of the campaign. 16 goals by January the next season saw West Ham sign the 23-year-old for £22 million.

Since this move, Bowen has gone from strength to strength. In the 2021–22 season, Bowen became the first West Ham player since Paolo Di Canio in 1999 to record 10 goals and 10 assists in a single season. He also won player of the season, with 18 goals in all competitions. Bowen has been a constant goal threat for West Ham since joining, even scoring the winning goal in their European Conference League final.

Ethan Pinnock

Ethan Pinnock is yet to be capped by England, but the Brentford centre back has still had a meteoric rise nonetheless.

After being released by Millwall, Pinnock spent happy years at Dulwich Hamlet, arriving to the youth system in 2010. Pinnock made a name for himself as Dulwich Hamlet captain by the 2014–15 campaign. He was a member of the team that won Division One South for the club, and in both the 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons, he was named Player of the Year. Pinnock left Champion Hill in June 2016 after 195 games played and 12 goals scored, signing for National League side Forest Green.

In his one season at Forest Green, Pinnock was pivotal in helping Rovers gain promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. This alerted Championship side Barnsley, who signed him for over £1 million pounds. Injuries affected his first season as Barnsley were relegated to League One, but Pinnock forced his way into the first team the following season, winning player of the season as Barnsley got promoted back to the Championship.

Brentford secured his services for £3 million, with Pinnock earning a place in the Championship team of the year after he helped the Bees get promoted to the Premier League for the first time. He is now an integral defender for a Brentford side pushing for Europe.

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu

The last on this list is certainly the most unique. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has been at Luton for ten years, making well over 300 appearances, and is the only player to ever go from Non-League to the Premier League with the same club.

The 29-year-old left West Ham as a youngster to join National League side Luton, a move that proves to have been a stroke of genius. Mpanzu now captains the Hatters and has etched his name in Luton and football history with this landmark.

There are many players who have also progressed from Non-League to Premier League who didn't make this list. Who will be the next player to achieve such a feat?

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