Jamie Richard Vardy; the name of one of football’s biggest underdogs who has gone on to accomplish what no one expected of him. From Stocksbridge to Leicester, non-league to Premier League, we look into the inspirational life of one of football’s best characters both on and off the pitch.
A small young boy from Sheffield grows up in a city that idolises football, with a dream of one day playing football at the highest level and winning the Premier League. A city separated by two teams, with Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United tugging it out for the pride of the city and bragging rights. Families split in two, with half blue and white, the other half red and white. An industrial city that takes pride in their sport and supports all who try and make their way to bigger things. A son of Sheffield by the name of Jamie Vardy was to be one of the lucky local boys who achieved his dreams when all of the odds were stacked against him but received support like others.
After working his way through the youth system at Sheffield Wednesday, he was released at the age of 16. This may have ended any other 16-year-olds dreams of being a footballer, but not Jamie Vardy’s. He then entered Stocksbridge Park Steels youth system to carry on his goal of reaching the highest level. He worked hard, being rewarded when he made his senior debut in 2007. He would go on to become a top goalscorer, slotting home 66 goals. This caught the attention of Halifax Town, with manager Neil Aspin admiring this young goalscorer, signing him for £15,000 in 2010. This move was a success for both parties as he finished the club’s top goalscorer and player of the year, with 26 goals in 37 games as they won the league.
His form put him on the radar, and it was Fleetwood Town who swooped in for him after just a year with Halifax. This spell with Fleetwood would last the same time, as he continued banging in the goals with 31 in 36 games. When Leicester City came knocking in 2012, he couldn’t refuse. Neither Leicester nor Vardy knew what their future was about to hold with this deal, as they would both go on to be their own underdog story and inspire the dreams of millions around the world. The success that was to come, with this one small deal costing only £1 million, was something that no one in football could have envisaged.
Stepping up to the Championship from non-league seemed like it may be a step too far for the non-league goal machine, with outsiders questioning the deal. While he started well by scoring on his debut, his form soon dropped off as the season began which gained him a lot of criticism from the supporters. What they had already questioned seemed to be a reality, as it didn’t look as though he was the same player who was lighting up non-league football. Was the step up too much for him? It got to a point in the season where he considered hanging up the boots altogether as he struggled to find form. Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare, the manager and assistant at the time had to convince him to stick with it and grind through the hard times.
The 2013-14 season was to be the making of Jamie Vardy and a sign of what he was to become over the new few years. His work rate, passion and skill were on full display for all to see as he struck 16 goals for the season in the Championship, to help Leicester finish top to be promoted to the Premier League. He won Player’s Player of the Year that season due to his outstanding contribution to the side during the campaign. From almost quitting football to being on the verge of playing in the Premier League, it was surreal for the boy from Sheffield.
At the beginning of the decade in 2010, he was lining out for Stocksbridge Park Steels, playing in Bracken Moor ground. Seven hundred sixty-one people filled the ground to watch him. The next day he was waking up to the sound of his alarm to head for his 12-hour shift at the Trulife factory. He was helping to manufacture medical splints and crutches. This was the life of a non-league footballer, working a full-time job and getting paid £30 per match. How was anyone in this position supposed to believe that they would be playing in the Premier League and getting an international cap with England further on in the decade? Indeed even Jamie Vardy would have thought this was too much of a stretch of the imagination.
The 2014-15 season is where Vardy made his name known, as he was now in the biggest league in the world. He started the season by signing a new contract to keep him at the King Power until 2018. His first Premier League goal came on 21 September in a match of the match performance against Manchester United He scored and set up another four goals to cause a 5-3 upset. after coming from 3-1 down. This was his “I have arrived” moment. Everyone knew the name Jamie Vardy now, and this was only the beginning of his Premier League dominance. While he only scored five goals in the league that season, he had a taste for it as the next year would show.
His performances in the Premier League, mostly his high work rate, earned him a dream call up to the England squad in May 2015. His years of hard work and grinding in the lower divisions of English football, while working a full-time job, all became truly worth it for this moment. His debut was on 7 June in the Aviva Stadium against the Republic of Ireland in a friendly match where he replaced captain Wayne Rooney. He then remained in the squad for the following Euro 2016 qualifiers, but could not find the back of the net. His first goal came on the 26 March 2016 in a friendly against Germany, and he then scored again three days later against the Netherlands.
After narrowly surviving relegation and finishing up in 14th place, not much was expected of the club as Pearson exited the manager’s chair of Italian veteran Claudio Ranieri. This decision angered a lot of fans, who were more than happy to have survived their first season back in the Premier League under Pearson. Little did they know, bigger things were to come, 5000/1 big things. The 2015-16 season is one that will be remembered for decades to come. Leicester City were about to shock the world and become the most remarkable underdog story ever seen in football, with Jamie Vardy at the front of the ship.
Under Ranieri, they made an exceptional start to the season, with fans soon forgetting all about the shock departure Pearson. They won their first two games and went six undefeated before finally succumbing at home to Arsenal. Vardy scored six goals in these seven matches, which certainly put teams on alert of his threat. Their counter-attacking play and through balls to Vardy was something every defence was having issues with. Every attacking threat from Leicester came through Vardy; he was the star man. They followed up the loss to Arsenal with a ten-match undefeated streak before Liverpool put a stop to them on Boxing Day.
During this run, Vardy was on a roll, netting in 11 consecutive matches scoring, which equalled the Premier League record set by Ruud van Nistelrooy. Not bad for a player who just five years earlier was playing non-league football, now he was in the history books with some of football’s greats. Sadly, he couldn’t break the record by making it 12 when he failed to score against Swansea City, but nonetheless, it was a stellar achievement. Following the defeat to Liverpool, Leicester went on another seven-game unbeaten run, before again losing to Arsenal. The consistency of the Foxes and their hard work ethic for a team that had no recognized big-name players was phenomenal. While sides around them struggled for form, they carried on, one game at a time, remaining top of the table.
As they went into the run-in, they were expected to slip up at some point and fall, but this team was destined to make history. The loss to Arsenal was to be their last defeat of the season, as they saw out the final 12 matches undefeated to clinch the Premier League title. Vardy continued to bang in the goals, ending up with a tally of 24 goals for the season in the league. He was untouchable with his pace and finishing that no defence could deal with. Leicester was confirmed Champions after Tottenham threw away a two-goal lead away at Chelsea, in a game which has now known as ‘the battle of Stamford Bridge.’ The footballing world was in shock, yet all cheered for the underdogs. The fairytale story of Leicester City and Jamie Vardy was complete. He had just achieved everything that the young boy from Sheffield had ever hoped of achieving. However, this wasn’t to be the end of the Jamie Vardy fairytale, it was only the beginning.
Vardy continued to establish himself as one of the best strikers in the Premier League in the years following the league victory, although the club would not come close to what they had achieved that season. Over his five campaigns in the league, he has entered the ‘100 Club’ alongside the greatest goalscorers the Premier League has seen. His 2019-20 season saw him win the Golden Boot with 23 goals, which is up there with the best performing season of his career. He became the oldest player to win the award at 33 years old, and he shows no signs of slowing down. For a man who before every game has two cans of red bull, a coffee and a ham and cheese omelette, he is not yet slowing down. Maybe he has cracked the code for keeping that yard of pace.
The Jamie Vardy story is one of the best you will hear in football. He is a true underdog who went on to be a part of the biggest fairytale story in football by winning the league with Leicester He is still producing his best into his 30s and shows no signs of stopping. He will surely go down in history as one of the greatest strikers the Premier League has seen.