Every professional footballer started somewhere.
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy rose from non-league to become an England international and Premier League winner.
John Terry, Ledley King, Bobby Zamora and Jlloyd Samuel all played together as kids for Senrab boys club in east London before reaching the Premier League.
Not everyone is plucked from a young age into a top club’s academy. There are different avenues to the top, with Vardy’s story standing out as a true rags-to-riches tale.
There will be many people out there who remember coming up against a pacy, energetic striker for Stocksbridge Park Steels and Halifax Town. That’s where Vardy caught the eye of Fleetwood Town, and the rest is history.
They’ll all have a story to tell.
And that’s the theme of a thread on Reddit, where football fans have been recalling their stories of playing against professional footballers before they turned pro.
It makes for a great read, with fans sharing their experiences. We’ve decided to pick out some of the best.
andrew_a7 | Simone Zaza
“My cousin is Italian and once, while visiting him, he took me to play 6 a side with his friends. There was a bald guy there that said we should play 5 v 7 with me and my cousin in his team of 5.
“I was like…’are you crazy, we'll have to be much better than them and run a lot more’.
“But he said not to worry. The guy was scoring for fun, dribbling everybody, doing tricks and we beat them by like 10 goals.
“Bald player was Simone Zaza.”
chazmuzz | Scott Sinclair
“Scott Sinclair scored the winner in extra time to knock my team out of the U15 Somerset County Cup. He was playing as a ringer for Bath Arsenal at the time and came on as a sub for Bristol Rovers’ first team a few months later.
“I played against him a few times. When we were under 9s he scored 8 against my team. I played in defence for Saltford Stars and it was so traumatic I still remember some of the goals he scored 23 years later.”
graveyeverton93 | Ross Barkley
“Played against Ross Barkley in the Echo Cup Final at Anfield in 2008.
“He was by far the best player on the pitch, it wasn't even funny how much better he was than us.
“We lost three one and he scored two belters.
“What I do remember is all my school mates all the time for weeks before the game talking about their team having this lad who is sponsored by Nike and is on the books at Everton...
“Yer, didn't realise I would be playing against a future England international.”
TMillo | Kyle Walker
“I played against Kyle Walker and watched some of Harry Maguire’s games.
“Kyle was the typical over-talented kid at the Blades academy. He was absolutely rapid and strong for his age, despite never looking that strong.
“He was a cut above a lot of the players but wasn't the best on the field. However I remember that I hated him because as a CB he used to deliver f***ing deadly balls as a winger and caused us mayhem.
“He also absolutely skinned me for a whole game when I was asked to play full back. They used to have a CM who was a machine, no idea if he ever got to any other level but I remember thinking him and Walker would make it to their first team in some regard.
“Now, a lot of years on, I think his mentality was evident. He was always screaming at teammates and we used to think he was a nutter, but he obviously knew what he wanted and that's why he continued to improve and is now a multiple time Prem champion and the rest aren’t.”
FFG20 | Bernardo Silva
“Watched my friend play against Bernardo Silva as an under-15, when he played for Benfica.
“He was the smallest player on the pitch but absolutely bossed the game as a CM. Everything went through him and no one ever got nowhere near tackling him.
“His maturity was miles ahead of anyone else on the pitch.”
racingrats | Kieran Trippier
“Kieran Trippier used to play on the top park near me as a kid. He'd run up and get the ball off 17/18 year old lads and there was no way they were getting it back.”
L0L303 | Mario Balotelli
“I played for a top youth club and Division 1 NCAA, so played against a bunch of guys who went on to MLS including a teammate who played for the Red Bulls… nothing that memorable but I'll never forget playing against Balotelli.
“We participated in this international tournament in Italy .. I think I was 12 .. he was literally a one man team. We thought we were good and could handle any situation, yes we're an American ‘soccer’ team, but half the squad were new lads from Europe & South America or the children of immigrants so we weren't phased traveling abroad or scared of anyone.. lol then we got WHOPPPED.
“I can't remember the exact score but maybe it was like 11-2 or 13-1 ?? We def scored, but Mario was scoring for fun and really aggressive. We were all lil kids, but I remember compared to us he was a beast. Physical .. fast as hell.. no one could take the ball away unless we got two guys on him.
“I remember we were pretty disciplined group of kids but our formation just went to s*** chasing the guy.
“It was clear he was on another level.. I've played around other incredible players who totally put me to shame.. but Balotelli was just god mode compared to everyone else.”
camfa | Radamel Falcao
“My cousin in Colombia was on the semi-finals of a youth tournament back in the day... let's say sub-14.
“His team went against Falcao's team. They lost something like 7-0, with Falcao scoring all of the goals.
“Cousin said that Falcao looked rather bored and didn't even really try.”
garages | Ashley Barnes
“Ashley Barnes was a few years below me at school but was playing full Sunday league at about 14 and running rings around everyone.
“Only played with/against him at school lunch breaks and he was clearly very good and bloody hard to tackle but wouldn't say he stood out above everyone else.
“Gobby back then too so don't think he's changed much.”
neonmantis | Derby County first team
“I trained with the Derby County team as part of a charity thing and they were all unreal. Ludicrously strong, technically faultless, just so, so good. Jeff Hendricks, Will Hughes, Robbie Savage, even the old men coaches were ridiculous.”
CitizenIndrid | Shaun Wright-Phillips
“Played against Shaun Wright-Phillips at Dulwich Hamlet 7-a-side. He would have been around 14 or so. Was very good, quick.
“Everyone knew who his dad was and assumed he'd make it to the Pros.”
dark_fruit_cider | Scott Dann
“I played against Scott Dann in Sunday League when I was about 14-16. On Stanley Park, literally between Goodison Park and Anfield.
“There were some good players in that league, a few went on to become professionals but it was only Dann that made it to the Premier League (and even became captain of Crystal Palace).
“Dann was a good player but I wouldn't have guessed he would go on and get to where he did, fair play to him.”
Some quality tales.
Click HERE to read the Reddit thread in full.
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