When Jamie Vardy watched England take on Germany in a World Cup second round match in Bloemfontein in 2010, things were a bit different for the Leicester City striker than was the case when the two giants met in Berlin over the past weekend.
First of all, he found himself 14 000km away from the Free State and in front of a television set if he did bother to watch. My bet is he was too busy at the time. You see, Vardy’s plan to play professionally for his beloved Sheffield Wednesday never materialised.
When he was 16, Wednesday released him as a youth player and he was left to realise his dream the hard way He was left to ply his trade at Stocksbridge Park Steels in a division that is pretty close to double digits as far as tiers go in English football. The £30 he earned each week for the Steels wasn’t enough for him to make ends meet, and like most players in the lower leagues he had to balance his football career with a day job.
This he did as a technician making medical splints, where he put in 12-hour shifts and often hurt his back reaching up to put the splints in the ovens. But by the time Frank Lampard’s dramatic goal in the City of Roses was disallowed in June 2010, Vardy’s future looked a tad brighter than the three years he spent in South Yorkshire as he was just signed by fifth-tier side Halifax Town for all of £15 000.
And the cross-town move to the Shaymen is pretty much what set the ball in motion for the Yorkshireman. Over the next few years even the Championship was a long way off for Vardy, who left Halifax for Fleetwood Town and eventually ended up at Leicester while the Foxes where still trying to win promotion. But he kept on believing and kept on fighting, scoring goals by the dozen and impressing bystanders with his big heart.
Apart from struggling for form in his first season at the Foxes, he did not give up and came back with a bang the next season to help Leicester win promotion to the big time. Any lesser player would have been happy with ending his career with a few Premier League appearances after a fairy tale rise through obscurity that saw him take to a stage where he had to punch way above his weight just to survive against £200 000-a-week superstars.
Conventional wisdom would have predicted that this guy would not last in the Premier League. Imagine a guy making his top-flight debut at 27 competing with players who had been groomed at the top academies since their early teens, let alone outscoring them. Turns out that is exactly what he did, firstly saving the Foxes from relegation and then boosting their unlikely title charge, even topping the scoring charts for a long time this season.
And then of course, the obvious next chapter in his incredible fairy tale, that magical moment in Berlin where he scored his maiden international goal when he equalised as a substitute for England on their way to a come-from behind 3-2 win. Is that the biggest moment of Vardy’s career? With Euro 2016 coming up and a World Cup two years later, don’t bet your house on it.