In the modern-day, players from all over the globe don’t just flock to England in order to play Premier League football.
Many arrive in the country to ply their trade in the EFL, occasionally for eye-watering fees. In a pool of players already brimming with talent, their arrivals improve the standard of football even further and many go on to spend their entire careers in England. The widening of the market gives managers even more options when they look to bolster their squads.
This makes it even more impressive when a player emerges from non-league football to shine in one of the three EFL divisions, which are all intensely competitive. We will be taking a look at five players who have emerged from non-league football and currently compete in the Championship, League One or League Two.
After failing to make the grade at Sheffield United, forward Gregory turned to non-league for regular football. He joined Staveley Miners Welfare, where he impressed and earned a move to Mansfield Town, then of non-league’s top-tier. However, his first-team opportunites were limited and Gregory admitted that his time with the club was ‘frustrating’. Whilst on Mansfield’s books, he spent time on loan at F.C Halifax Town and helped them win promotion from the Northern Premier League. He returned to The Shay on a permanent basis in 2011 and led the line as they won promotion again in 2013. Emerging from the shadow of former teammate Jamie Vardy, Gregory established himself as Halifax’s talisman and eventually made the leap into league football with Millwall in 2014. Over four years on, Gregory is still with the Lions and was key as they won promotion to the Championship last season.
A former lifeguard, 20-year-old Wildin has saved League Two side Stevenage on many occasions this season with his never-say-die attitude and excellent defending. He joined the club during the summer from National League North outfit Nuneaton Borough, having previously represented Grantham Town. He was released by Notts County in 2017 and like many, was forced to drop out of league football. However, the physical defender impressed enough to work his way back into the EFL and become an Antigua and Barbuda international. He cites Stevenage boss Dino Maamria as an influence on him, having previously worked with the 47-year-old at Nuneaton:
“The manager’s professionalism and the way that he instills a winning mentality into his players is something he taught me massively whilst I was at Nuneaton.
“I really enjoyed having him around the club and he helped me as a player, personally. As a team, we got some great results under him and that is why I am where I am now.”
Yesterday, 24-year-old striker Kayden Jackson came on as a substitute for Ipswich Town as they overcame Swansea City in the Championship. Despite making a late entrance, it was a symbol of how far the Bradford-born forward has come in a short space of time. He was playing in non-league as recently as 2016, representing Wrexham in the National League. After being released by Swindon Town, Jackson had stints with Swindon Supermarine, Oxford City and Tamworth before arriving at the Racecourse Ground, where he earned a move to Barnsley. Although the move to Oakwell didn’t work out, it was the beginning of Jackson’s career in the EFL and after leaving for Accrington Stanley, he began to thrive. His 16 goals for Stanley were crucial as they lifted the League Two title, propelling themselves into League One and Jackson into the Championship as a move to Ipswich Town materialised.
Now 31, McFadzean is an established player in the EFL. A League One runner-up with MK Dons, he has forged a respectable career for himself and now represents Burton Albion in League One following their relegation from the Championship last season. Despite ascending the youth ranks of Sheffield United, the defender failed to break into the first-team and was moulded into the player he is today by Alfreton Town and Crawley Town. After being released by the Blades, he spent four years with Alfreton in what was then known as the Conference North, becoming a firm fans’ favourite. He made the switch to Crawley in 2010 and was named in the Conference Premier Team of the Year as the Reds gained promotion to League Two. McFadzean was then key as Crawley achieved their second consecutive promotion and reached the third tier of English football. After leaving Crawley, he played in the Championship with MK Dons and Burton Albion but suffered relegation with them both.
The 28-year-old’s meteoric rise the divisions took him all the way to the Premier League and he represented both Crystal Palace and Newcastle United in the top-tier. The clinical forward won the Championship title with Newcastle in 2017, a year after being part of the Crystal Palace side that reached the final of the FA Cup. These are extremely commendable feats for someone who was released by Arsenal as a teenager and dropped into the Essex Olympian Football League. The club he represented in that division was named Ryan and he spent two years with them before joining Stansted of the Essex Senior League in 2009. Gayle was snapped up by Conference North side Bishop’s Stortford in 2011, scoring 29 goals in 42 games and earning a move into League Two with Dagenham & Redbridge. His spell with the Daggers was short as Peterborough United came knocking and the forward made the leap into the Premier League with Crystal Palace after just a year with the Posh. Gayle is back in the Championship with West Bromwich Albion and is a shining example of what non-league players can achieve with talent and dedication.