Jamie Vardy at Fleetwood Town. The lad's got potential.

13 elite ballers who rose from non-league to superstardom: Vardy, Watkins, Trundle…

The football pyramids in the UK mean that almost anybody can lace up a pair of boots and start a journey that could take them anywhere and everywhere – as the success of this lot proves.

If your grandad has a decent right peg and enough petrol in the tank to go the full ninety minutes on a Sunday, nothing is stopping him from turning out at Wembley in a few years. And that is beautiful.

We’ve picked out 13 wonderful footballers who put the hard yards in before they made it to the big time.

Jarrod Bowen

Neither Aston Villa nor Cardiff thought Bowen was good enough and, if not for non-league, that would’ve been it for him. Instead, he joined Hereford in what is now the National League.

Bowen played just eight games for The Bulls before a scout from then Premier League Hull City decided that Villa and Cardiff had been wrong about the teenaged Bowen, and snapped him up.

The West Ham forward will almost certainly be going to the Euros with England this summer. Also, Football Manager has him valued at £61m, which is over twenty times Cardiff’s transfer budget on the game.

Camgymeriad mawr, Cardiff.

Ollie Watkins

Some players—think Cole Palmer, Phil Foden, Kobbie Mainoo—spend their youths in top academies, transition into the first team, and that’s that. Set for life.

When Watkins was 19 (older than Kobbie is now), he was on loan at Weston-Super-Mare in the National League South.

He was on loan from Exeter City, who were in League 2 at the time. It was a one-month loan at first, but Weston-Super-Mare were basically like, erm, can we keep him a bit longer, please, because he is f*cking mustard.

After a couple more years at Exeter, Watkins has turned out for Brentford, Aston Villa and England. It’s been less than a decade after a prolific half-season in the sixth tier.

Gabriel Agbonlahor celebrates scoring for Aston Villa in their Premier League match against Sunderland at Stadium of Light, Sunderland, March 2015.

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Les Ferdinand

If the Royal Family had anything about them, they’d knight Les Ferdinand to fulfil the Geordie prophecy.

If you’re young enough that you don’t remember Sir Les, do yourself a favour and get yourself on YouTube. In his two seasons at Newcastle under King Kevin Keegan, he scored 50 goals in 84 appearances.

He was the f*cking truth, and that’s why the Toon fans made him an unofficial knight of Geordieland.

This nobleman was leading the line for first Southall, and then Hayes, until he was 20 years old. He lost the 1986 FA Vase Final to Halesowen Town during his time with Hayes.

F*ck knows who Halesowen had playing centre-back. Paolo Maldini on a one-game loan?

Chris Smalling

Speaking of Maldini, allow us to present you the man Roma fans affectionately call Smalldini, these days.

Christopher Lloyd Smalling cut his teeth at Maidstone United before becoming a Premier League-winning international and Serie A stalwart.

Ian Wright

Wrighty played literal Sunday League football until he was 21. That’s after spending a month in prison because he was too poor to pay a driving fine.

Neither Southend nor Brighton bothered to sign him when he had trials with them as a teenager. Dear oh dear. Deeeaaar. Oh. Dear.

God bless non-league football, and God bless Ian Wright.

Michail Antonio

You head down to Tooting & Mitcham United, and there’s a really lovely man there called Phil who, if you’re nice to him, might show you some brilliant framed photos of the Prem’s second-most-jacked player in a black & white striped kit the locals call ‘The Wonky Donkey’.

Try the jerk chicken from the food stand, too. It’s infinitely better than anything at a top-tier stadium.

Steve Finnan

Pub Quiz FC’s Finnan is the only footballer to play in the World Cup, Champions League, Europa League, Intertoto Cup, Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, and the National League.

Wimbledon released the Irishman from their youth setup when he was 16, so he went to ply his trade at Welling United for a couple of seasons.

Thus began a long journey to the pinnacle of club football and the biggest international stage.

Champions League Forgotten Players Quiz

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Yannick Bolasie

Arguably the most FIFA Street footballer of all time is one of the less obvious products of non-league football.

We don’t want to contradict ourselves, we know we said non-league is so much more than big tackles and agricultural tactics—and it is—but if Bolasie was busting out those skills for Hillingdon Borough and Rushden & Diamonds and Barnet, then we’re fairly shocked he’s still alive.

Jimmy Bullard

These days: Good head of hair, silly antics on telly.

Those days: Good head of hair, hell of a footballer.

Bullard was pushing 21 when he was plucked from non-league by West Ham. Respect the hustle.

Jamie Vardy

Vardy has played for four clubs in his senior career: Stockbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town, Fleetwood Town, and Leicester City. Made his PL debut at the age of 27. Played at the World Cup. Scored in the Euros.

We cannot stress this enough — support your non-league club.

Lee Trundle

Lee Christopher Trundle loves football. Foreign readers might be unfamiliar with Trundle but, we promise you, that you will not regret watching his highlights reel.

We’re taking liberties here, because he never quite made it to the Premier League, but that is the PL’s loss and, quite frankly, he should have.

The first player outside the PL to sign an image rights contract because he was so beloved (and had a fairly dodgy trim), was an absolute baller. He just scored gorgeous, gorgeous goals, and was seemingly loved by all.

The man is 47 and still playing in the Welsh third tier. He just can’t kick the habit. Played one game for Mumbles Rangers since he signed. Scored a hat trick. We love Trundle, and so should you.

Jordan Pickford

He might have a hairdo like Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but he is better at sports than the fictional pub owner. Probably.

The Everton goalkeeper learned his trade through loans at Darlington and Alfreton Town. He’s now on his way to a fourth major tournament with England this summer. Fair play.

13. Troy Deeney

Deeney screams non-league – in a good way.

The big striker left school at 16 with no GCSEs after a difficult childhood, and started training to be a bricklayer.

Then came two-and-a-half seasons with Chelmsley Town in the Midland Football Combination Division Two, where he scored a goal every other game (on average), and took baby steps toward the Premier League.

Giza can keep its ‘Great’ Pyramid, the Louvre is welcome to its little triangular greenhouse, the football pyramid is the peak of human engineering as far as we’re concerned.

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