Norfolk football talent Ryan Hawkins determined to Achieve his professional dream
- Credit: IAN BURT
Football League hopeful Ryan Hawkins remains adamant he can take an alternative route to the top.
The former Norwich City youngster has caught the eye of Leyton Orient and more recently Peterborough United as he continues to impress in non-league circles. Despite failing to land a full-time deal the Dereham-based talent is refusing to give up on his professional dream.
And the 21-year-old feels his hopes are still moving in the right direction after being signed up by football agency Achieve.
The winger, who now plays for St Neots Town, said: 'I think for me this is massive. When you live in Norfolk there are very little options to play professional football. If you are not lucky enough to get picked up by Norwich City then you are a bit stuck.
'It is not like bigger cities such as London, for example, where if you get released by a Tottenham or a Chelsea you can drop down to teams like QPR or Millwall.'
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Jamie Vardy's miraculous rise from obscurity to the Premier League has given hope to thousands of footballers.
Little more than six years ago the Leicester hitman was scoring against King's Lynn at The Walks for part-time Stocksbridge Park Steels. Now he's closing in on a place in England's squad for Euro 2016 as a result of his stunning first international goal in Germany on Saturday and spearheading his club's fairytale push for top-flight glory.
While the striker's journey has become the stuff of legend, he's not alone in having been forced to make it the hard way. And as it becomes harder and harder for young English players to make the transition from academy football to the big time, it's a path many others will have to take to reach the top.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington is another player who has provided inspiration for pro wannabes from going all the way from St Ives Town in the United Counties League (UCL) Premier Division, at Step Five of the non-league pyramid, to the Championship with QPR in three years. Yet for another hopeful, Ryan Hawkins, his encouragement comes from a little closer to home.
The versatile Dereham-based winger was playing with former Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division hitman Tom Meechan earlier this season at St Neots Town before his team-mate got his big break. And now Hawkins has taken another step towards trying to follow in the goal machine's footsteps by joining the same agency that represents him.
Hawkins said: 'Tom has got a great move in Newport (League Two) and I, of course, called him to wish him well. He was so full of praise for the Achieve team and for what they had done for him and how they had treated him in the whole move, so Tom had a big part in helping me to decide to sign with the agency. I speak with Tom most weeks and I think his move has given me extra motivation and hope that, at 21, I haven't missed the boat to realising my dream to play pro football.'
Former Norwich City youngster Hawkins' rise to prominence at Dereham Town earned him a 2012 trial with Leyton Orient. A move to higher-level Neots in the summer of 2015 helped him catch the eye of Washington's former side Peterborough United, well known for raiding the lower leagues for talent.
But a recent trial period earlier this year with Posh ended in heartbreak for the Football League hopeful – among an impressive list of Achieve clients, many of which are already professionals – after he damaged his ankle ligaments while playing for Neots.
Hawkins, still sidelined with the injury, added: 'I really felt I did well on the first day. I was asked to come back the next day to go through set plays and formations, which was brilliant. Peterborough treated me like I was one of the squad.
'I was told I was wanted back in on the Monday but I had to play for St Neots on the Saturday (against Stratford, January 23). Sadly after only six minutes I was taken out and I knew straight away it was a bad injury. I would be a liar if I said I was not devastated.
'Things happen in football and getting injured is one of them. I hope Posh will want me back in again after I'm fit.'
Despite that setback, Hawkins is sure he can join a small list of other Norfolk-raised players who have made the grade without featuring for Norwich City.
'Players have so more opportunities in places like London,' he added.
'It's not that we don't have good players in Norfolk. It's just the lack of opportunities. Being part of the Achieve team will definitely help me get noticed.
'I've always believed in my ability. I think I have what it takes to turn pro and so do Achieve. Hopefully this is the start of something for me.'