It was the 5000-1 bet. An impossible dream, or so everyone thought. But Leicester City really are Premier League champions, and Jamie Vardy has played a pivotal part in their historic win. Having spent most of his career in the Conference, playing for a Premier League team seemed improbable at best. However, since signing with Leicester City in 2012, Vardy and his team have experienced a meteoric rise. Leicester’s incredible feat has transcended ordinary sports coverage, and newspapers and sports channels around the world have devoted headlines to the team as the world’s media has descended onto the East Midlands. In the age of the "boy wonder" soccer player trained by an academy since childhood, Vardy’s story is truly refreshing and, thanks to his pivotal role in Premier League history, he has suddenly become one of the sport’s most recognized names. The book is completely up-to-date to include the moment Leicester City finally sealed the Premier League title, as a country rejoiced with them and the world watched in wonder.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Frank Worrall is the author of Giggsy, Rooney, and Rory McIlroy.
Read an Excerpt
IN THE DEEP MIDWINTER
The day is 11 January, 1987, and the Steel City is blanketed with snow. The locals shiver as they try to shovel up to eleven inches of the white stuff away from their front doors and driveways. Most don't bother, deciding to take the police's advice on the Radio Hallam breakfast show and stay at home for the day. It's an excuse to miss work – you can't get in if you're snowed up – and it's an excuse to miss a day in the classroom, since all the schools are shut for the day anyway. 'It's like being in bloody Russia!' one plucky old-timer jokes as he manages to make it to the corner shop to stock up on milk and bread. Some aren't so lucky and have to go without, as the city struggles through one of the worst winters in its history. The whiteout would claim eight lives and the Northern General Hospital would be overrun with accident victims.
Temperatures drop to minus 5.4 degrees Celsius – the lowest for more than one hundred years – and the big freeze shows no sign of easing. Into this unforgiving scene in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, on this particularly harsh winter's day, the footballer who would become the biggest name of the 2015–16 season is welcomed into the world.
To some, he would one day become a 'footballing messiah of the North'.
But to his happy mum and dad on that white winter's day, he was simply 'Our Jamie'.
Jamie Vardy was born James Richard Gill to dad Richard Gill, aged twenty-four, and mum Lisa Clewes, who was eighteen. Lisa would change her son's name when Richard walked out on them after getting another woman pregnant. Labourer Richard would later tell The Mail on Sunday, 'It is a real shame that things did not turn out differently. But his mother and I were really young and I completely lost touch with them after we broke up. Jamie was a cute baby – I used to feed him and change him and push him out in the pram – but her parents did not approve of me and I spent most of my time in the attic. He was still in nappies when I left. I saw Lisa a few times shopping with her mother but Mavis just walked off, telling Lisa to ignore me. I knew she had changed his surname.'
Jamie was brought up by Lisa and stepfather Philip Vardy, whom Lisa married and whose surname she and Jamie took. It was Philip he would call 'Dad' as he grew up in the shadows of Sheffield Wednesday's ground, Hillsborough. His upbringing would be steady and happy and Jamie was football-mad from the day he first kicked a ball. He would spend hours out in the street and the park playing the game with pals as they used jumpers for goalposts. He always wanted to be a footballer and at school told teachers that he would 'make it' and play for Sheffield Wednesday, the club he supported and loved.
It looked like that was more than just a youthful pipe dream as he signed to the club as a youngster and impressed those in charge during youth team matches. But at the age of fifteen he was left distraught when the club showed him the door, telling him he was 'too small' to make it as a professional.
'When I got released by Sheffield Wednesday, the club I'd supported all my life, it made me think football wasn't for me,' he would later say. 'As soon as that happened I never thought I would play football again. It was a real heartache as a kid. The reason I got released was I was too small. I wasn't physically built enough. It does hit you hard. I was very angry and upset.'
Indeed, he was so angry and upset that he turned his back on the game. He went to college but the football bug took a hold again when he was seventeen and a pal pleaded with him to start playing again. Jamie explained, 'He got me playing for his Sunday league side, Wickersley Youth, but you can imagine what that was like. The refs let you get away with murder. There were two-footed, knee-high tackles coming in at you and, to be honest, you'd rather not be going near the ball in games like that.'
Despite that, he started to make a name for himself in amateur football in Sheffield, and Stocksbridge Park Steels signed him in 2003. Steve Adams, then the club's youth team manager, told Sky Sports, 'We played a cup game against Wickersley. They had a striker who was busy and fast, and I said to my assistant, "I wouldn't mind that lad in our team. It wasn't easy getting him [Jamie] to Stocksbridge, as he was showing his loyalty to his pal he was playing alongside at Wickersley.'
But Steve did persuade him to join the club. Dad Philip went with Jamie for a talk with Steve, and after twenty minutes he had agreed to sign. Jamie said, 'It was getting back to enjoying football and I kicked on from there.'
Yet he would spend four seasons in the reserves before finally getting his first-team chance. Club chairman Allen Bethel invited Gary Marrow, the first-team manager, to take a look at Vardy, and Marrow said he knew immediately that Jamie was good enough to play for the first eleven. Marrow knew that Jamie was a natural talent after watching him in training and in a five-a-side session, while Bethel had recommended him after being impressed with the young player's speed and energy.
Jamie earned just £30 a week in the first team at Stocksbridge, which wasn't enough to live on. So he also worked full-time as a technician at a factory that made medical splints. His job involved producing carbon-fibre splints that helped disabled people who had a condition called 'drop foot' to walk naturally. He described the work as 'rewarding' but admitted that it was difficult to fit in playing football around it. Often exhausted, he would put in a full week's effort at the factory and then play a game on a Tuesday or a Saturday for Stocksbridge.
He also had to deal with the fallout from an incident that led to his having to wear a police tag on his ankle for six months. He had been convicted of assault, and the electronic tag meant that he had to leave night games half an hour before the end to avoid breaking a curfew. Jamie told reporters in 2015, 'I was out with a friend who wore a hearing aid and two other lads thought it would be funny to start mocking him and attacking him. I'm not proud of what I did but I will always stick up for a mate. So I defended him and it ended up getting me in a bit of trouble. I was playing in the Northern League at the time, for Stocksbridge Park Steels. If the away games were too far away, I could only play for the first hour or I would break my curfew. My mum and dad would wait outside in the car and it was often a case of hoping we were winning, taking me off after sixty minutes and jumping over the fence to get home before six o'clock. It was a hard time for me and my family. I had to be in the house from six at night to six in the morning.'
His performances at Stocksbridge were not going unnoticed – indeed, the scouts flocked to the Bracken Moor ground to watch Vardy notch goal after goal. They included visitors from league clubs and he had a week's trial with Crewe Alexandra. The local Sheffield daily newspaper, The Star, summed up his situation like this in January 2009: 'Jamie Vardy, star striker with UniBond League club Stocksbridge Park Steels, is on trial with Crewe Alexandra. The pacy 21-year-old, who plays wide or down the middle, is spending a week with the League One club, who began watching him last year. His performances have also attracted the attention of other clubs including Oldham, Cheltenham and Sheffield United. Vardy joined Stocksbridge's youth setup when he was 16 and has worked his way up through their Under 18s and the second team. He is top scorer with 16 goals this season.'
The trial at Gresty Road did not lead to a move; it was later revealed that Crewe boss Dario Grady decided he wanted a more experienced striker to beef up his team rather than a boy from non-league. But a move did materialise when FC Halifax Town came in for him. They had been the most persistent suitors and had most impressed him and his family. 'I think it was always going to be Halifax Town because they seemed to be friendlier, persistent and nice people, and they convinced him,' Allen Bethel told Sky Sports.
Bethel later also told reporters how the two big Sheffield teams had also come in for the player but not followed up their interest. Bethel said, 'Sheffield Wednesday came in for him, we offered them first choice as they were only six miles down the road and they said they weren't interested. Sheffield United came [to watch him] eight times. Neil Warnock said he'd sent one guy several times and said the club couldn't risk him because he has been sent off twice in eight games he'd been to watch.'
Steels' boss Gary Marrow said at the time how sad he was to see his star player move on but added that he wished him all the best and was sure he would do well at Halifax. He said, 'Jamie has been a pleasure to work with and goes with all our best wishes.'
Halifax signed him from the team in the eighth tier of English football in June 2010 for a fee of just £15,000. Six years later, when he was in the top flight of English football and playing for England, you would be lucky to get him for £25 million. In three years in the first team at Stocksbridge, he had scored sixty-six goals in 107 appearances. He had spent seven years at the club and was sad to leave Steels, who had helped him fall in love again with the game.
He was moving on to a club who were UniBond Premier League rivals, and that in itself was a surprise, as he was easily good enough to have starred for a Football League outfit. As The Star pointed out at the time, 'Whilst the much sought after Vardy's departure comes as no surprise, it is however perhaps surprising that a league club didn't take a chance on the talented player and their loss is undoubtedly Halifax's gain. Vardy hit 19 goals last term despite his campaign being blighted with injury and suspension having netted 22 the previous season when helping Steels to promotion via the play-offs. Steels said that 12 months ago an offer from Rotherham United was rejected by both the club and the player as they were only prepared to give him a three months contract.'
Yes, Rotherham were prepared to give Jamie Vardy only a three-month contract. But the Millers, as The Star pointed out even back in 2010, were far from the only league clubs to look a gift horse in the mouth back then.
Jamie made his Halifax debut on 21 August 2010, in the home game against Buxton, scoring the winning goal as Town triumphed 2–1. It was the first of many in that campaign as he grafted to help the club win promotion and quickly became their standout player. Now aged twenty-three, he hit twenty-seven goals in thirty-seven appearances in that first season – a feat that resulted in his being named the Players' Player of the Season. Towards the end of the campaign he almost notched a hat-trick of hat-tricks, failing to find a third goal only in Halifax's 3–1 win over Nantwich Town at the end of March 2011. The Halifax Courier reported his brilliant feat, saying, 'Jamie Vardy took his goal tally to an incredible eight in three games as Town's march towards the Evo Stik Premier Division title continued to gather pace. He struck in each half, with Liam Hogan heading home in between, as the Shaymen extended their winning run to five matches. The win increased Neil Aspin's side's lead at the top of the table to 14 points and kept alive their hopes of clinching a second successive promotion at the weekend.'
And Jamie had missed out on that hat-trick of hattricks by only a whisker as the Nantwich keeper saved his injury-time header with a fingertip. But his goalscoring antics were now becoming impossible to ignore and the scouts were a regular sight at the Shay. Would it be only a matter of time before he signed for a Football League club? It was the next inevitable step on his journey from nowhere to the higher echelons of English football.
A few days earlier, Town boss Aspin had revealed to reporters just what having Jamie at Halifax in his debut season had meant to the club, saying, 'When we signed him at the start of the season, he was a player not many people knew much about. Sometimes supporters look for a big name, someone who has played at a higher level. But I knew if we could get Jamie Vardy it would be a big signing for us. I had tried to sign him when I was at Harrogate. He was always on the top of our shopping list and credit is due to the chairman, who backed me when I wanted to sign him. He's got better as the season has gone on, but certainly over the last few weeks his assists and goals have helped us out in many games. I'm just delighted he's at the club.'
Aspin also regaled reporters with the tale of how Jamie had turned up for his first training session in a rather less-than-professional manner: 'The first time I've seen him he was playing in a pre-season game for Stocksbridge against Sheffield United Under-21s and I only had to watch him the one time. You could tell immediately that he has great potential but when he first turned up for pre-season training, he didn't have the correct footwear. All the other players who didn't know who he was looked at him and said, "Who's that we've signed?" But, once he started playing, everyone realised we had someone who was going to be a bit special. I was convinced within one game. He played on the right wing; he played on the left wing all in the same game. He played different positions; there was his pace, his touch, so I didn't need to see much more.'
Clearly, he was a massive asset at Halifax – and Aspin, to his credit, had emphasised to Jamie upon signing that he would now play only at center-forward rather out on the left or right wing – but his goals meant he would not be there long-term. They helped Halifax secure the Northern Premier League title for the 2010–11 season and many Town fans feared he might be snapped up then. Yet he was still at the club at the start of the next campaign for Halifax – but not for long. The player hit three goals in the opening four games of the 2011–12 season and his obvious goalscoring feats meant bigger clubs now began to circle like vultures.
Yet once again Jamie would defy expectations by remaining in non-league. It was as if his experience of rejection at Sheffield Wednesday all those years earlier had soured his Football League ambitions. But, according to sources who knew the boy, it was simply that Fleetwood showed him the love he needed to move. Never an insecure boy, he was, however, a player for whom the arm around the shoulder always worked better than so-called tough love. And he was ambitious and he did want to make it to the top of his trade; it was just that he seemed happy to take it a step at a time in the belief that he would get there in the end. Which, of course, he did.
So it was that, after those four games for Halifax in the new season, he moved across the Pennines over to Fleetwood on the northwest coast for a fee of £150,000. The club, based just outside Blackpool, had ambitions of their own to make the Football League and believed that Vardy's goals could help them win promotion into the bottom tier from the Conference National. Vardy signed towards the end of August 2011, and would wear the number 33 at Fleetwood. Always a popular character wherever he went, Jamie would soon become known as 'Vards' to his teammates. The team was strong already and Vardy only added to a potent combination of talents, with many pundits of the time agreeing that it was the best ever chance to win promotion from the Conference National.
The move meant he was now a full-time footballer, earning more than £300 a week, which was especially good news since he had quit his job as a full-time technician just days earlier. It was becoming too stressful both physically and emotionally to combine that work with a blossoming football career. 'We were constantly lifting the moulds into the oven,' Jamie would later recall. 'They were so heavy. Thirty an hour takes its toll. My back was just hanging off. I left and four days later I was full-time at Fleetwood.'
And Vardy would more than repay the faith shown in him by Fleetwood boss Micky Mellon and chairman Andy Pilley, who had combined to sell the club to him and persuade him to sign from Halifax. Fleetwood vice-chairman Phil Brown would tell reporters in 2015, 'Our chairman, Andy Pilley, came to me and said we should have a punt on Vardy and I am happy to fund the fee. I remember questioning his logic at the time, I have to say, though we laugh about it now, but I did think it was a lot of money at the time.
'We signed him on the Friday morning and he made his debut in the evening against York City. I do recall, he might be a bit embarrassed about it, but because he was playing that night and after everything had been concluded and all the paperwork had been done, I organised for him to go to a local hotel in Blackpool to relax for a few hours and get something to eat. I remember his dad going, "What, and we don't have to pay and we can have whatever we want to eat?" I said, "Yes, just help yourselves." I remember his dad replying along the lines of "Bloody hell, son, we've done all right here."'
Excerpted from "Jamie Vardy"
Copyright © 2016 Frank Worrall.
Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 In the Deep Whiter 1
Chapter 2 The Power Ranger 15
Chapter 3 Blue is the Colour 27
Chapter 4 Just Champion 41
Chapter 5 The Great Escape 59
Chapter 6 In the Footsteps of Legends 69
Chapter 7 The Lineker Link 87
Chapter 8 Ruud Awakening 109
Chapter 9 The Record Breaker 125
Chapter 10 On Cloud Nine 149
Chapter 11 England Expects 165
Chapter 12 Dreaming of France 189
Chapter 13 Euro Express 201
Chapter 14 Jack the Lab 217
Chapter 15 League of is Oil 233
Chapter 16 Diamonds in the Rough 259
Chapter 17 Jamie Vardy's 'Avin' a Party 279
Chapter 18 Crème De La Prem 287