The emergence of Jamie Vardy this season has given a lot of attention to non-league football. The Leicester striker who broke Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of scoring in consecutive games is not a one-off case though, there are a number of players in the English top flight who come from the humble roots of the non-league game.
Far from the billion dollar TV deals and multi-million dollar signings of the Premier League, non-league football teams and players struggle with little resources, often supported by volunteers and the spirit of the local community. The quality of non-league is obviously nowhere near that of the world's most watched and most lucrative sporting league, the Premier League, but there are certainly gems to be found there.
All of the players on this list are current Premier League players who have featured regularly when fit this season. Every one of them has played non-league football at some stage in their careers; some just when they were starting out as youngsters/teenagers, others spending the best part of a decade below the fourth tier of English football. Here are the top 15 Premier League stars who came from non-league:
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15 Rob Elliot
With Tom Krul out injured, Rob Elliot has spent much of this season as Newcastle United's first choice goalkeeper. The 29-year-old shot stopper came through the ranks at Charlton Athletic, and was loaned out four times by the Addicks. His first loan move was to non-league side Bishop's Stortford, where he played six times before being recalled and loaned out to a league team in the form of Notts County the same season. Elliot began the season as third choice at St. James' Park, but injuries to Tim Krul and Karl Darlow have seen him make nine appearances already this season.
14 Lee Tomlin
Unlike some players who make the jump swiftly from non-league football to the top flight, for Lee Tomlin it was more of a gradual move, requiring much hard work and graft. The tricky attacking midfielder has played in all four divisions of the Football League, as well as the four seasons he spent playing non-league football in the Conference for Rushden & Diamonds. Tomlin didn't realize his Premier League dream until the start of this season, aged 26, when he joined newly-promoted Bournemouth from Middlesbrough. Since then, Tomlin has played six games in the top tier of English football, but the former England C international has failed to score.
13 Michail Antonio
Recent West Ham United signing Michail Antonio kick-started his footballing career in non-league football with Tooting & Mitcham United of the Isthmian League Division One South, the eighth tier of English football. The powerful and pacy winger managed an impressive 33 goals in 45 games for Tooting, despite being aged only 17, and joined Championship side Reading. After a series of loans, Antonio joined Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, and eventually West Ham, where he won man of the match and scored his first goal for the club in their last league game against Southampton.
12 Dwight Gayle
Dwight Gayle has never been a regular starter at Crystal Palace, but his goals/minute ratio for the Eagles is mightily impressive. The 26-year-old's rise was a rapid one. He went from the sixth tier (Conference North) to the top tier (Premier League) in less than two years. Gayle spent the first two years of his career at Stansted, where he scored 40 goals in 42, earning a move to Dagenham & Redbridge, where he was loaned back down to non-league football, featuring for Bishop's Stortford. He made a big leap up to the Championship in 2012, joining Peterborough, and after scoring six goals in 20 games, Crystal Palace took an $8 million gamble on the forward, who has since scored 22 goals in 65 games for the club.
11 Craig Dawson
25-year-old central defender Craig Dawson spent the first two years of his career, aged 17 to 19, playing non-league football, before his obvious talents were recognised. Dawson played for Radcliffe Borough of English football's eighth tier, playing 95 games and scoring 15 goals for the club who boast a capacity of 3,500, 250 of which are seats. From there, Dawson rose four tiers to join League Two side Rochdale, before joining West Brom in 2010. Dawson won 15 caps for England U-21's, scoring six goals, and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics. In his five years at West Brom, the former non-league man has played 61 games, scoring twice.
10 Neil Taylor
Another member of Great Britain's 2012 Olympic Games football team, Neil Taylor started life playing non-league football. The Welshman started his career at Wrexham, aged 18, and spent three years at the club, playing 75 games in both League Two and the Conference. In 2010, Taylor switched Welsh strugglers for the countries major success story, Swansea City, in a $220,000 deal. In the five years since, Taylor has played 150 games for the Swans, over 100 of which have come in the Premier League, as well as winning 26 caps for his country, and will almost certainly be part of Wales' squad at the European Championship's next summer.
9 Callum Wilson
Callum Wilson made a flying start to life in the Premier League, scoring five goals in seven games, a record which - if maintained - would have seen him score more than 25 goals in his debut season in the top flight. The former England U-21 international began his career at Coventry City, but made two loan moves into non-league football, with Kettering Town and Tamworth. From the Conference in 2012, Wilson was gracing the Premier League in 2015, after two fantastic seasons, one for Coventry in League One and the other for Bournemouth in the Championship, a pivotal figure in their promotion campaign.
8 Peter Crouch
Stoke City striker Peter Crouch has been playing in the Premier League for 14 years now, but before that, the 6-foot-7 forward played in some rather more humble settings. While at Tottenham, he was loaned to Dulwich Hamlet of the Isthmian League, scoring 1 goal in 6 games, and was later loaned to the Swedish second division. Since then, Crouch has established himself as both a very useful Premier League player and an England international. His record of 22 goals from 42 caps for his country is one of the most impressive ratios in recent England history. Crouch has scored a total of 186 goals in 627 games, and overtook Alan Shearer last season as the Premier League's all-time record scorer of headed goals.
7 Danny Ings
Currently sidelined Liverpool forward Danny Ings had a very brief spell in non-league football. While playing for Bournemouth, where he started his career, the youngster spent nine games on-loan at non-league Dorchester Town, scoring four goals. Ings joined Burnley in 2011 and after a slow start, he became a prolific scorer. A tally of 21 goals in 40 league games and 26 goals in all competitions helped Burnley to promotion in 2014, and 11 goal in 35 games in the Premier League was enough to convince Liverpool that the unattached forward was worth a contract. Since joining Liverpool, Ings has scored two goals in five league games and won his first England cap, but unfortunately picked up an injury shortly after.
6 Ben Foster
England international goalkeeper Ben Foster has won eight caps for his national team and played around 250 games in the Premier League for Manchester United, Watford, Birmingham and West Brom. A product of the Stoke City academy, Foster was loaned out a number of times, twice to non-league teams in the form of Tiverton Town and Stafford Rangers. Three years after his spell in the seventh tier, Foster made his Premier League debut in 2007. Almost a decade later, Foster is currently in his sixth season as West Brom's first choice goalkeeper.
5 Ashley Williams
Ashley Williams has become one of the most solid defenders in the Premier League in recent years, ever-dependable and a rock at the heart of the Swansea City defence for almost eight years. Williams may be a Premier League and international regular now, but the central defender started his life in less glamorous surroundings. His first two seasons were spent at Hednesford Town, where he played 60 games before making the step up to league football at Stockport County. Williams joined Swansea in 2008 and has since played over 300 games for the club winning promotion from League One and the Championship and winning 58 caps for the Welsh national team.
4 Yannick Bolasie
Yannick Bolasie has played at the lowest level of any player on this list, the eleventh tier of English football, with Hillingdon Borough. The Congo international played only 5 games for the club, before joining Floriana of the Maltese Premier League. From there, Bolasie signed for his first Football League club, Plymouth Argyle, and five years later he was featuring for Crystal Palace in the Premier League. Now Bolasie is one of the most feared wingers in the Premier League, with his manager Alan Pardew slapping a supposed £60 million price tag on his head for any potential suitors.
3 Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling started his career playing non-league football at the age of 17 for Maidstone United, playing 16 games for the club and scoring once before his obvious talents were recognised and he was snapped up by then Premier League side Fulham. Even whilst playing non-league Smalling was selected for England at youth level. He played 16 games in two years at Fulham before making a big-money move to Manchester United. After struggling at time, Smalling has been a revelation this season, and arguably the best defender in the Premier League, as well as becoming a leader at the back at Old Trafford. He has played 167 games for the club and won 21 caps for his country.
2 Jamie Vardy
The man who has brought so much attention to non-league football thanks to his meteoric rise this season, Jamie Vardy has been a revelation in the Premier League this season. The England international spent the first 5 years of his career playing non-league football, first in the seventh and eighth tier with Stockbridge Park Steels, then in the sixth and seventh tiers for Halifax Town and lastly in the fifth tier for Fleetwood Town, scoring prolifically for all three. He jumped from fifth tier to second when he joined Leicester City in 2012.
After a slow start, Vardy became accustomed to the Championship in his second season, scoring 16 goals. He had a similar fate in the Premier League, scoring only five goals last season in Leicester's great escape. Few could have anticipated Vardy's form this season though. He has scored 15 goals in 16 games, including eleven in consecutive games to beat Ruud van Nistelrooy's Premier League record, form that has seen him called up to the England national team.
1 Joe Hart
England's number 1 goalkeeper Joe Hart has spent the last decade at Manchester City, but before he joined the Citizens, Hart played non-league and lower league football for Shrewsbury Town. He made his Shrews debut in 2003, aged 16, and went on to play 53 games for the club in the Conference and League Two before joining Man City. In almost 10 years with the Sky Blues, Hart has been loaned out three times before cementing himself as the team's first choice between the sticks, and he has since played 322 games for Manchester City, winning Premier League Golden Glove four times and has become England's number 1 and won 57 caps for his country to date.
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