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From Non-League to the England national team: The men who made it

| 02.09.2016

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Sam Allardyce’s first England squad selection was the inclusion of West Ham midfielder Michail Antonio, who – at the age of 26 – could be set to earn his first ever international cap.

Given that Antonio was playing for non-league side Tooting and Mitcham United as recently as 2009, it’s no surprise that much of the attention this week has been on the former Nottingham Forest man. But he’s not the first person to rise from the depths of English football to the national side.

Ladbrokes News takes a look at other players who’ve enjoyed a similar journey to Antonio, starting with a certain fox in the box…

Jamie Vardy

One of the biggest success stories of modern football, Jamie Vardy’s rise to stardom came relatively late in his career, having played for non-league outfit Stockbridge Park Steels as recently as 2010..

But in the last few seasons, the 29-year-old’s stock has massively increased. An England debut came in June 2015 in Ireland, and the striker has since represented his country on a further 10 occasions, grabbing four goals in the process.

And the one which will live longest in the memory of fans will undoubtedly be the equaliser he grabbed against Wales in the group stages of Euro 2016, where Vardy came off the bench at half-time to net for the first time at a major tournament just 11 minutes after the interval.

Chris Smalling

It’s hard to imagine an England and Manchester United star ever playing in a division lower than the Premier League.

But that’s exactly the case with Chris Smalling, who began his career with non-league outfit Maidstone United before being snapped up by Fulham for just £10k back in 2008.

And after making 137 appearances for the most successful club in English football, Smalling is now considered a key figure for the Red Devils.

A £7m move to Old Trafford in 2010 meant a call-up to the national side was inevitable. And that came just a few months later, although Smalling didn’t make his senior debut until the following September, where he was part of a side that beat Bulgaria 3-0.

Kevin Phillips

Back in 1991, an 18-year-old Kevin Phillips was released by Southampton and snapped up by Baldock Town, where he played as a… right-back!

And it was only an injury crisis at the non-league club which forced his manager to put Phillips up-front, where he scored two goals in his first game in the position.

He spent the next three years at the club before being spotted by Division One side Watford in 1994, where he scored an impressive 24 goals in 59 games.

Sunderland acquired the striker’s services in 1997 and a phone call from the then-England manager Kevin Keegan wasn’t too far away.

However, though he enjoyed an extremely impressive career at club level, he couldn’t maintain a regular spot in the international side, with the likes of Alan Shearer and a young Michael Owen often being preferred – and in eight games for his country, Phillips failed to find the net.

Les Ferdinand

He has 443 club appearances and 184 goals to his name in a career that stretched across three decades, but before representing teams such as Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, Les Ferdinand was plying his trade for non-league side Hayes, in Greater London.

A 20-year-old Ferdinand spent a year in Hillingdon before Queens Park Rangers found him.

But even at that point, nobody would have thought that the striker would go on to represent his country 17 times, scoring five goals in the process. He made his international debut aged 27 and went on to represent England at two major tournaments.

Stuart Pearce

Though many will know Stuart Pearce for his hard-hitting, no nonsense approach, many won’t know that he probably picked up a lot of those attributes at grassroots level, where the former Nottingham Forest man spent five years with Wealdstone United before moving to Coventry City.

Arguably Brian Clough’s best bit of business, Pearce swapped Coventry for Nottingham Forest in 1985 in a deal which saw the Forest boss part with £300k for the defender’s services.

And after just two years at Forest, Pearce caught the eye of England manager Bobby Robson, making his international debut against Brazil at Wembley.

‘Psycho’ went on to represent his country 78 times and is arguably the most successful product of non-league football in recent history.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.



Alex Apati

Alex has been with the Ladbrokes PR team since 2017 having previously worked for the news department. From sparring with Peter Fury to talking interviews on the Duke and Duchess' baby names, he's covered a range of sports and novelty events.

A frustrated West Brom fan who is no stranger to an oche, Alex is originally from Dudley, although he's worked hard to rid himself of the Black Country twang.