JAMIE VARDY’S meteoric rise to the top of the Premier League goal-scoring charts and a place in the England squad has led to a sudden rush of football scouts beating a path to non-League clubs in the hope of discovering an unearthed gem or two.
It is an understandable response to how the Sheffield-born striker has gone from turning out for Stocksbridge Park Steels and FC Halifax Town to being on the verge of matching a new top-flight record for scoring in consecutive matches.
James Hanson, who went from stacking shelves to scoring the goal that took Bradford City to the League Cup final at Wembley inside four years, believes this new-found willingness to cast the scouting net into the Conference and below is long overdue.
“There has always been some talented players at that level and some just need a chance,” said the 28-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s League One game with Crewe Alexandra.
“Jamie Vardy’s success seems to be making clubs look to non-League a lot more. That has to be a good thing, as I reckon there are a lot of players who could make the step up to the Football League.
“So many foreigners have come in that maybe a few lads have been overlooked. But that could be about to change.”
Hanson’s own rise from part-time football has not quite been as spectacular as that enjoyed by Vardy.
But there can be no doubting the impact that the striker has made since leaving his job at the Co-op in Idle, Bradford, during the summer of 2009 to follow his dream of making it as a professional footballer.
He was 21 at the time, a rejection from Huddersfield Town as a schoolboy being the closest the striker had come to realising his ambitions.
At first, progress was steady rather than spectacular as the Bantams continued to struggle in League Two. Then, though, came the integral role Hanson played in City reaching not only the 2013 Capital One Cup final but also clinching promotion via the play-offs.
Further plaudits have followed, most notably last season when John Terry pulled joint-chairman Mark Lawn aside after Bradford’s shock FA Cup triumph at Chelsea to laud the 6ft 4in striker’s performance.
Hanson, as modest off the field as he is troublesome for defenders on it, is not one to get carried away by such praise.
But the lifelong Bantams fan does admit to a sense of satisfaction at how, like Vardy when rejected by Sheffield Wednesday, he has bounced back from adversity.
“When I left Huddersfield at 14 or 15,” adds Hanson, “I had been playing left-back. So, it was a relief to be released as I just hadn’t been enjoying it.
“Them letting me go gave me the chance to just go out and enjoy my football again. I went to play Sunday League with Eccleshill United. They also had a Saturday team and, by the time I was 16 or 17, I was playing for that team as well.”
A star showing against Guiseley persuaded the then Northern Premier League outfit to take a chance on Hanson. He repaid that faith by netting 25 goals in his first season and 22 the campaign after.
“After leaving Huddersfield, I went back to playing up front,” he adds. “I had found it weird that after signing for Huddersfield they put me at left-back.
“Once I started scoring at Guiseley, I always knew I could play at a higher level if given the chance. But I never imagined playing in League One.
“Year on year, though, I trained harder and harder to improve myself at Bradford. I think the fans do appreciate me for that, they know I will work hard.
“Anyway, I established myself as a League Two striker and I am trying to do the same now in League One. But the aim is to get into the Championship with Bradford City.”
After a slow start that yielded just two points from the first four games, Bradford have been on an upwards trajectory for the past couple of months.
Phil Parkinson’s side, unbeaten in six league outings, sit ninth in the table going into today’s meeting with bottom club Crewe Alexandra. A path to the third round of the FA Cup has also opened up courtesy of a second round home tie with Chesham if City can beat Aldershot Town in Wednesday’s replay.
“We are starting to pick up some momentum,” said Hanson. “There is a bit of steel about us and we are getting a lot of clean sheets.
“I spent a bit of time out of the side recently and noticed the difference straight away when I got back in. The mentality was different to what it had been earlier in the season.
“Something does feel to be building again. Credit to the gaffer for that, as we have improved our league position in each of the (four) seasons he has been here.
“When I first signed, I couldn’t have imagined things going like this. My debut was a 5-0 defeat at Notts County when I came on at 4-0. Then, in my first two years as a Bradford player, we were struggling in League Two and only a couple of results from going out of the League.
“But since then everything has changed. We have had the Cup runs and also won promotion. Last season, we finished seventh and, thanks to the two chairmen, there is a good bit of stability about the club.
“I do feel this is a team that can take the club back to where it belongs, which is the Championship.”