Rise of non-league players shows power of football

It is something deeply embedded within our human nature that makes us automatically love a good story.

Tales, particularly those in the sporting world, where individuals overcome personal problems or go the extra mile to be the best they can be resonate with us.

Perhaps there is no better story than seeing non-league footballers, most of whom occupy ordinary jobs and simply play the game because they love it so dearly, earning the opportunity to make the step up to the pro ranks.

Keshi Anderson last week became the latest in a long line of players who have made the jump from part-time to full-time football, as he penned a deadline day deal that saw him move from Step 8 Barton Rovers of the Southern League Division One Central to the Premier League with Crystal Palace.

After several impressive displays this season, and after knocking in 19 goals in all competitions for the Bedfordshire club, Anderson was on trial for Brentford when he caught the eye of the Palace scouts.

Scoring a hat-trick in a friendly game against his new employers certainly made a lasting impression, convincing them to make a move for him at the expense of the likes of Norwich City, Cambridge United and Oxford United who were also rumoured to be keen on him.

Now, there is no guarantee that Anderson will make it. The likes of Troy Hewitt who swapped Step 7 Harrow Borough for Queens Park Rangers in 2011 unfortunately did not, and the forward was released by Walsall last summer following a one-year stint at Bescot Stadium.

Yet, in some ways that’s irrelevant here. Whether Anderson makes it in the long term is one thing, but having the chance to prove himself in the professional ranks is a heart-warming story really, and shows that it is indeed possible for non-league players to make the jump.

Anderson is not alone in having a remarkable tale to tell. Back in 2004, Watford signed defender Jay DeMerit from non-league side Northwood, after impressing then Hornets boss Ray Lewington in a pre-season friendly.

The American put pen to paper on a one-year deal at Vicarage Road, and it was in his second season that DeMerit played a starring role in Watford’s promotion to the Premier League in 2006, scoring the first goal in a 3-0 win over Leeds United in the play-off final.

His remarkable story continued when he was handed the captaincy after the departure of Gavin Mahon, and in 2010, DeMerit achieved the pinnacle of any footballer’s career by representing his country, the USA, at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which included an appearance against England in Rustenburg.

DeMerit departed Watford after six years in 2010 to join MLS franchise Vancouver Whitecaps, but his story will go down in football folklore as one of the most remarkable ever: A story of grit, determination and a never say die attitude which saw him achieve the improbable.

DeMerit is simply one of many who have gone from dreaming the dream to living the dream.

Dwight Gayle at Anderson’s new side, Crystal Palace, is another, along with striker Charlie Austin, while Vinnie Jones, Stuart Pearce, Kevin Phillips, Ian Wright and Jamie Vardy are further examples of those who went from balancing an ordinary job on the side, to mixing it with the best.

In an age in football where one would expect opportunities of this nature to be harder to come by, it is refreshing to see stories of non-league players having their crack in the professional game.

Anderson may find that his opportunities at Palace are limited, at least in the short term, but his story sets a precedent for other non-league players to follow.

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