Incredible rise of Jamie Vardy as Leicester star becomes first player to win Golden Boot in Conference and Prem


A decade ago no one had heard of Jamie Vardy.

Now, he’s the most prolific striker in the Premier League, winning the Golden Boot and enjoying another epic season.

The 33-year-old Sheffield-born star pipped Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the award, and made history in the process.

Vardy became the first player to win the Golden Boot in both the Conference and the Premier League, as well as the oldest ever recipient of the award.

But even in his wildest dreams, he could never have imagined that his journey from Stocksbridge Park Steels, FC Halifax Town to Fleetwood Town and finally to Leicester City would bring him here.

Vardy grew up a stones throwaway from Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday – his boyhood club.

He idolised David Hirst growing up – another great Yorkshire goalscorer – and would pretend to be the Owls legend in the school playground or on the streets of Malin Bridge having a kickabout with friends.

“I didn’t want to be anybody else,” he revealed in his autobiography Jamie Vardy: From Nowhere, My Story.

“Once I had a ball at my feet, which was every spare moment of the day, I became the legend that played upfront for the club I loved.

“I idolised David Hirst because he did exactly what I wanted to do – score goals for Sheffield Wednesday.”

And Vardy would get his chance to emulate his hero a few years later.

It was his dream come true.

After impressing former Wednesday academy director Clive Baker in a trial at Middlewood, the club’s training ground in Hillsborough, Vardy earned a place in their youth set-up.

Two-hour sessions took place on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday night after school.

And if Wednesday were playing at home that weekend, Vardy would be watching the players he hoped to follow that Saturday.

He lived and breathed the club.

However, in 2002 Vardy was dealt a cruel blow that nearly saw him give up the game completely.

“It was 2002 when I was fired from the Sheffield Wednesday Academy at the age of fifteen,” he told L’Equipe.

“At a meeting at the end of the season with my coaches, I was told that I was not kept because I was too small… it was terrible.

“From there, I stopped playing football for almost a year. At the weekend, I did everything and anything but not football. I said to myself: ‘There’s no point in continuing, I’m not made for that.”

Vardy’s steely resolve didn’t allow him to give up the ghost completely.

In 2002, he joined a local side aptly named Stocksbridge Park Steel, where he would graduate from the under-18 team to the reserves and the first team.

Earning £30-per-week, it wasn’t enough to sustain a living.

To supplement his football income, Vardy worked at a carbon fibre factory, where for 12 hours a day he helped produce prosthetic limbs.

In 2007, while playing in the eighth-tier of English football, Vardy got into an altercation outside a nightclub.

Despite pleading his innocence claiming he was defending a friend who was deaf, he was found guilty and was forced to play in an ankle tag.

In some games he could only play 60 minutes as he had to get home to ensure he didn’t miss his 6pm curfew.

9 in a row for Stocksbridge Park Steel’s Jamie Vardy

At Stocksbridge Vardy’s prowess in front of goal saw him find the net 66 times in 107 games.

Crewe Alexandra took him on trial, but decided to pass on his talents after a week.

Rotherham United offered him a contract, but he turned them down.

Instead, it was FC Halifax Town who would profit from Vardy’s decision – signing him for just £15,000 in 2010.

And despite only spending one season with the club, he certainly left his legacy.

26 goals in 37 games saw him win The Shaymen’s Player of the Year.

Better still, he fired the club to the title in 2011.

Vardy started the next season with Halifax, until he was signed by Conference Premier club Fleetwood Town for an undisclosed fee.

But his team-mates didn’t know who he was.

“I’d never heard of him,” Vardy’s former Fleetwood strike partner Gareth Seddon told The Guardian.

“At first some of the lads were like: ‘Why have we signed this lad? From a few leagues below?’

“Then, in his first game, he was unbelievable. And we were just: ‘That’s the reason he signed!’

“I’ve never played with anyone as quick, I’ve been a professional for 18 years – he kind of glides across the pitch.

“He’s got nothing to him, yet he was aggressive, and has energy. We did the bleep test and he just went and went and went. We were like: ‘Frigging hell!’”

Vardy took to the Conference instantly, scoring 31 goals in 36 matches for The Fishermen – winning his first Golden Boot.

After playing Blackpool in the FA Cup, manager Ian Holloway offered Fleetwood Town £750,000 for his services, which they turned down because they wanted £1million.

That allowed Leicester City to swoop in 2012.

After helping Fleetwood Town get promoted to the football league, Vardy made the move to Championship side Leicester City for a reported £1million fee.

But it wasn’t plain-sailing in his first season at the club.

He struggled for goals, managing just five in 29 games for the Foxes.

It caused Vardy to question his ability and ask for a move back to Fleetwood Town.

He sat down with manager Nigel Pearson, his assistant Craig Shakespeare and the man that spotted his talents, Steve Walsh for a heart-to-heart.

“When you step up the leagues, the defenders are better at reading the game, better positioned, not as slow as everyone thinks a centre-half should be and that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Vardy divulged.

“I was realising that certain stuff I was doing the year before at Fleetwood wasn’t working.

“For myself and probably for people that were watching as well, it wasn’t good enough.

“It was hard to take. If I wanted to make sure that more goals came, there was a lot of work that I did need to do, not just when I’m at training but obviously on my own.

“I didn’t speak to my family about it but I had a chat with the manager and his two assistants.

“I remember all three of them sitting me down, and saying, ‘Look, we believe in you, we got you here for a reason.’

“That’s what I needed to hear.”

That pep talk inspired Vardy to greater heights.

In 2014, his 16 league goals saw Leicester promoted to the top tier of the English football pyramid.

Vardy had made it, through sheer grit.

In 2015-16, he established himself as one of the most feared strikers in the country as the Foxes recorded an astonishing Premier League title win – with the 5ft 9in hitman netting 24 times.

He went from £30-per-week part-time footballer to Premier League winner in just five years.

It also saw him make his England debut in May 2015 against the Republic of Ireland, coming on to replace Wayne Rooney.

He would score against Wales at Euro 2016 and be part of the squad for the epic run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

With 26 caps and seven goals, Vardy called time on his Three Lions career after that memorable summer in Russia.

Despite turning 33, Vardy still has that fire in his belly that makes him want to be the best.

His Golden Boot win shows his drive and determination to continue playing at the highest level, while making up for lost time playing in the lower leagues.

And after achieving his 100th Premier League goal against Crystal Palace earlier this month, you wouldn’t put it past him to get 100 more before he hangs up his boots.


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