The List

Top ten: Former Premier League stars who now play non-League football

The players who fell from grace but refused to quit

Alan Wright and Keith Gillespie

Such is their love of the game, a number of former Premier League stars have forged managerial careers in the ever-so-slightly less glamorous world of non-League football: Luton’s Mick Harford and Newport’s Dean Holdsworth are notable examples. Some however, are still plying their trade on the pitch in the lower echelons of the football pyramid.

Spoiler correspondent Russell Greaves brings us ten former top flight heroes who have swapped the international acclaim of the top flight for the bumpy pitches and humble attendances of the grass roots game…

Paolo Vernazza
(4 Premier League appearances for Arsenal)
Once a promising youngster at Arsenal, Paolo even got a run out in the Champions League, but has since worked his way down the leagues – way down. Having scored the winning goal against Coventry City in front of 37,000 fans at Highbury in 2000, the midfielder’s most recent goal was for Conference South giants Woking, and 2,000 people were fortunate enough to see it. A cautionary tale for the current crop of Arsenal youngsters. Credit where it’s due, though, his supporting lady is top-class.

Jason Lee
(69 Premier League appearances for Nottingham Forest)
If you recognise the name, it could be because he scored over one-hundred career league goals, but it’s more likely to be because he was relentlessly lampooned on Fantasy Football League. He’s now banging them in for Corby Town in the Conference North, minus the pineapple.

Alan Wright
(Over 300 Premier League appearances for Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa)
Perhaps best remembered as the shortest player in the history of the Premier League (a pocket-sized 5’4’’), Alan Wright is now best known as the shortest player in the Blue Square North. Aston Villa once paid £1m for his services, but Fleetwood Town recently secured his signature without a fee and gave the 38-year-old his non-league debut in a 2-1 victory at Solihull Moors.

Nicky Southall
(18 Premier League appearances for Bolton Wanderers)
Dover Athletic are a club on the up, having won back-to-back promotions, and Middlesbrough-born Southall has joined the revolution being led by their much sought-after manager Andy Hessenthaler. The industrious midfielder has played in all four Football League divisions, and despite playing for seven different clubs, he has only ever attracted a total of £40,000 in transfer fees. His only top-flight goal came against perennial crisis-club Newcastle United, but then again, most people would fancy their chances of scoring against them.

Des Lyttle
(Over 150 Premier League appearances for Nottingham Forest, Watford and West Bromwich Albion)
Desmond won promotion to the Premier League three times – twice with Forest and once with West Brom – but was relegated from it just as many times. His zenith was being part of the Forest side that finished third in the Premier League, ahead of Liverpool. Last season he helped Tamworth win promotion to the Blue Square Premier, completing a journey that began in the non-league with Worcester City in 1991.

Darren Barnard
(Nearly 200 Premier League appearances for Chelsea and Barnsley)
Left-sided midfielder Barnard was born in Germany, won twenty-four caps for Wales and once missed a penalty for Barnsley in a play-off final at a packed Wembley Stadium. He began his career in the non-league with Wokingham Town, before being signed by Chelsea for a not-inconsiderable £100,000. He later warranted £1.5m in transfer fees from Bristol City and Barnsley respectively, and is now playing in the Combined Counties League for Camberley Town, combining his playing duties with a Director of Football role. Wales manager John Toshack refused to comment on speculation that Barnard may be included in his next squad.

Steve Basham
(19 Premier League appearances for Southampton)
Fallen giants Luton Town were playing in the second tier when Steve Basham was born, now he’s preparing to assist them in their bid to put a stop to a downward spiral which has seen them suffer back-to-back-to-back (that’s three) relegations. He began his career at Southampton, another club who find themselves as a big fish in a small pond, under the watchful eye of Graeme Souness, under whose nose was a rather large moustache. Of his 19 appearances, 18 were from the bench, though a super sub he was not (he scored just the one goal).

Trevor Benjamin
(32 Premier League appearances for Leicester City)
You’ve heard the name, haven’t you? Take a guess at how many club’s he’s played for. Ten, you say? Not even close. Fifteen? Well, that may have been enough for Steve Claridge, but not our Trev. Try twenty-one. From Cambridge to Coventry, and Northwich to Norwich, he’s the exemplar of a journeyman footballer. Leicester City fans remember him – though they do try hard to forget – as one half of the most impotent strike force the Premier League has ever seen. Trevor Benjamin and Adi Akinbiyi had people trembling with fear every week – unfortunately, those fearful folk were Leicester City fans. Peter Taylor paid £1.5m for him. He scored one Premier League goal. If you fancy watching football’s most-travelled player, he’s at Tamworth in the Blue Square Premier (at the time of writing!)

Stefan Moore
(22 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa)
This constitutes the most rapid and farthest fall from grace of any player on the list. In 2004 Stefan Moore played the entire second-half of a Premiership match at Anfield alongside Juan Pablo Angel. Last season, he was turning out for Birmingham and District AFA League Division Five outfit Sihill FC…for their fourth team, to be more precise. To be fair to him, he did score five goals in his two appearances last term, which is three more than he ever scored in the Premier League. Emile Heskey is said to be concerned about the possibility of Moore returning to Villa Park.

Matt Jansen
(Over 100 Premier League appearances for Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers)
He’s gone from the Premier League to the Northern Premier league, so this might appear to be an even more remarkable fall than that of Stefan Moore, but there are mitigating circumstances involved here. Jansen scored forty-four goals for Rovers and was once touted as a future England striker, but all that changed in the summer of 2002, when he was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in Rome. Despite staying on at Ewood park for another four seasons, he never mentally readjusted to the pressures of the top-flight. It was former Blackburn team-mate Garry Flitcroft who signed him for Leigh Genesis after he ended a brief spell with Dean Saunders’ Wrexham.


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