The Football Association’s State of the Game report in 2018 revealed that there were over 11 million playing football at some level in England.
So you can bet there are a large number of people in England who have the huge dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Unfortunately it’s not easy to make it and becoming a professional in the nation’s favourite sport is a pipe dream for most of us.
The scouting system does usually whittle out those who are good enough but there are some players who just haven’t got that break that their talents deserve.
However, stories like Jamie Vardy gives all aspiring footballers hope that they can go from the bottom to winning the Premier League and representing your country at major tournaments.
Vardy started his career at non-league side Stocksbridge Park Steels – juggling that with a job in a factory.
He then went to Halifax Town before getting signed for Fleetwood Town.
The striker then moved to Leicester City in 2012 which was his big break as four years later he reached the pinnacle of English club football by winning the Premier League with the Foxes in incredible fashion.
This new-found success for Vardy led to him opening up his V9 Academy – an academy specially designed for non-league players, who were in the same situation he was once in, to get a chance at signing a pro deal.
And in 2017, the 42 successful applicants for V9 were given the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of scouts from England and even some from Europe in the hope of becoming ‘The Next Jamie Vardy’, which was the name of the Sky Sports documentary recording the progress of the players at the academy.
There were a number of V9 success stories and just over two years on, talkSPORT.com has had a look at seven players who got pro contracts after attending Vardy’s academy and how their careers have gone since.
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One of four players to receive a pro deal straight away was Reynolds, who joined League Two Newport County from non-league Brentwood Town.
He made a blistering start to his pro career and was a favourite among the Newport faithful but an injury led to his form fading and he was sent out on loan to Leyton Orient in the second half of the 2017/18 season.
Reynolds moved on to Dagenham and Redbridge, while having a loan spell at Chelmsford City before joining National League South side Concord Rangers in the summer.
Talking about signing for Newport, Reynolds exclusively told talkSPORT.com: “At the start it was incredible. It was a dream because I went from Ryman North straight to League Two and I’ve gone there and everyone loved me. I was welcomed there like as if I was one of their own.
“I picked up an injury and reality really hit then. I’m not in the Ryman North anymore so if you get injured, once you step to that level you have to stay there and because I maybe wasn’t used to it, I didn’t work as hard at recover, I was a bit laid back.
“I wasn’t so much a favourite after recovering and I was making appearances off the bench and it plays with your mind. I thought I was fine at the time but now looking back it hit me and affected me mentally and it really made me drop my game.
“At the academy, because we only had like five days, it was almost like 100mph. It wasn’t rushed so much but we only had a little bit of time to get everything in. I thought they got a reasonable amount of information in and got a lot of stuff across to us. Because they had so many players to deal with I thought they did really well. I’m not sure what more they could have done.”
Striker Newton was banging in the goals for non-league Tamworth but got a move to League Two Stevenage after joining V9.
And Newton took to professional football like a duck to water in his first season, scoring 14 goals and providing seven assists in 45 league appearances.
He won the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year award in 2017/18 at Stevenage, where he’s still at now.
We didn’t see him get a pro deal on the documentary but Miller moved to Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Academical in January 2018 from Carshalton Athletic.
The forward scored five goals and provided two assists in his first full season at Accies, who are currently eighth in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Frenchman Ngwatala got a move to Scottish club Dundee a year after attending the academy.
The midfielder now plays for AFC Fylde, who are in the National League.
Midfielder Durrell signed for Macclesfield Town in the summer of 2017 and helped them get promoted back into the Football League in his first season.
He made 19 appearances in 2018/19 before moving to York City in September.
One V9 graduate got a move to League One though, with Penny penning a deal with Peterborough United from Nuneaton Town off the back of his impressive displays at V9.
He was actually in the matchday squad for Peterborough’s FA Cup tie at home to Vardy’s Leicester in January 2018.
The defender made seven appearances for Posh in 2017/18 before joining Miller at Hamilton the season after. Penny is currently without a club.
The former West Ham prodigy also took part in the trials organised by the V9 Academy and Turgott ended up joining Newton at Stevenage.
However, Stevenage didn’t work out and the winger had spells at Boreham Wood and Maidstone United.
But in July, Turgott signed for Swedish first tier side Ostersunds. He has one goal in nine appearances for them.
Despite failing to secure a move to a pro club when attending the V9 academy, goalkeeper Montgomery signed for Forest Green Rovers in May 2018.
He suffered a gruesome injury after getting booted in the face during a League Two match against Mansfield in January.
He made 23 appearances for them last season but has since moved to Fylde.
The winger was actually the first product of the V9 Academy to sign a pro deal and this was before the big trial even happened.
He joined League Two at the time Barnet for a club-record fee in January 2017 but moved to Ebbsfleet six months later. He’s now playing for Bromley, who are in the National League.
And due to the success of the academy in 2017, they opened their doors the following year and below you can see seven players who got pro deals and what they’re doing now.
V9 Academy Class of 2018
- Morgan Williams – Coventry City (still at Coventry)
- Joan Luque – Lincoln City (now at Dagenham and Redbridge)
- Andy Dales – Scunthorpe United (still at Scunthorpe)
- Sam McCallum – Coventry City (still at Coventry)
- Ashley Nathaniel-George – Crawley Town (still at Crawley)
- Ben Stephens – Macclesfield Town (still at Macclesfield)
- Cody Cooke – St Mirren (still at St Mirren)
- Josh Heaton – St Mirren (now at Bradford Park Avenue)
- Ryan Pryce – Cardiff City (still at Cardiff)