SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY reject Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin feel their remarkable and unorthodox journeys into the England squad have prepared them perfectly for the international arena.
When footballers say they have to pinch themselves when they get their first England call-up, it is always treated with a degree of cynicism, but in this case the surprise was genuine.
For had Vardy and Austin been told they would end up representing their country six years ago, they would have burst into laughter.
Back then Austin was turning out for part-timers Poole Town in the Wessex League. Two years earlier, he took a job a job as a bricklayer in order to make ends meet after being released by Reading.
Vardy, meanwhile, was plying his trade with Sheffield club Stocksbridge Park Steels in the eighth tier of English football for a wage packet of just £30 a week.
The Leicester striker can barely believe, therefore, that he stands on the verge of representing his country.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Vardy said.
“There’s been a lot of hard work put into it, and I have to pinch myself most days before I even got here, but I’ve been given the chance now and hopefully I can take it.”
While their respective routes to the top have been unorthodox, they are remarkably similar.
Austin was rejected by Reading because he was deemed too small. Vardy was given the same reason when he was released by Sheffield Wednesday, the club he supported as a child.
“It was the lowest point. Real heartache,” Vardy says.
Wednesdays’s decision would turn out to be a foolish one. Vardy became disillusioned with the game for a few months and stopped playing before a friend persuaded him to play for Wickersley Youth in Rotherham.
Like Austin, Vardy had to take a job in the real world to make ends meet. “I was a carbon fibre technician,” he explains. “My job involved making splints for disabled people with drop-foot.We had to do a lot of lifting into hot ovens. We were continually lifting things hundreds of times a day and it was damaging my back.”
Vardy initially struggled at Stocksbridge, but soon found form. It was not all plain sailing, however. After being convicted of assault on a night out, Vardy was forced to wear an electronic tag.
His 6pm curfew proved problematic at times.
“If the away games were too far I could only play an hour,” he said.
“It was a case of hope that we were winning, take me off and I’d get straight in the car to make sure I was home in time. That was for six months.”
Playing with the tag did have its advantages, though.
“You could wear it like an ankle guard,” Vardy says.
“It would protect your ankles. There was no way of breaking it so you were fine.”
Other clubs sent scouts to watch Vardy after talk of his goal-scoring exploits spread. He moved to Halifax and then on to Fleetwood in 2011.
Austin has yet to decide on his future at relegated QPR, but one England player who has sorted up his next club is former Leeds United midfielder James Milner.
Liverpool have agreed a deal to sign the Manchester City midfielder, subject to a medical.
Personal terms have been negotiated and the 29-year-old will join on a free transfer on July 1 after his contract expires at the Etihad Stadium.
The England international, who has won 53 caps, will add some much-needed experience to a midfield which, for the first time in 17 years will be without captain Steven Gerrard as he begins a new career in Major League Soccer with Los Angeles Galaxy.
Milner is reported to have turned down better terms offered by City in order to move to Anfield, where he believes he can play more regularly after making just 18 league starts last season.
Another out-of-contract signing in the form of 22-year-old Burnley striker Danny Ings is expected to be next through the door at Anfield.