Ones to Watch: The Norfolk non-league gems we think could still make it in the professional game
- Credit: Ian Burt
It was a dream come true for Keshi Anderson when he swapped non-league football for the Premier League. GAVIN CANEY wonders whether some of our local players could follow suit.
Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew proved part-time players are still not off the professional game's radar when he signed Keshi Anderson on deadline day.
The 19-year-old striker – who used to appear at the same level of the non-league pyramid as Dereham Town and Wroxham – bagged 19 goals for Barton Rovers this season but secured his move to the Premier League after notching a six-minute hat-trick against Palace in a trial match for Brentford. Pardew said he deserved a chance – something the man in charge at Selhurst Park was given himself when the club signed him from Yeovil in 1987.
With the influx of foreign imports littering our top-flight and Football League the transfer was a surprise to many. But the pathway has been used in the past by many teams who have even dipped into Norfolk's semi-pro scene to unearth a diamond. Paul Warne left Wroxham for Wigan in 1997, Mark Paul arrived at Southampton a year later from King's Lynn while in 2011 Jake Reed – now at Lowestoft Town – swapped Great Yarmouth Town for Dagenham & Redbridge.
The chances remain there for those players who still compete in the lower reaches. And clubs could do a lot worse than give some of our brightest talent a go.
1 Jordan Yong (24) – King's Lynn Town - Defender
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The left-back is one of many players from the county who has spent time with Norwich City's Academy. After his hopes of making the grade at Carrow Road fell through, Yong rebuilt his career with Wisbech Town and then Lynn – after a brief stint playing in New Zealand. The defender has improved year–on–year at The Walks and typifies many modern-day full-backs. He's super quick, has energy to burn and, impressively, rarely seems to get injured.
2 Andy Wilton (20) – Dereham Town – Goalkeeper
The Magpies' shot-stopper is recognised as one of the best in Ryman North, with many predicting he will go on to play at a higher level. Norwich City had a look at him a couple of seasons ago and are thought to be monitoring his progress at Aldiss Park. Wilton's just one of many to progress through Dereham's highly-rated youth set-up and continues to flourish at senior level. This season he has also grabbed the headlines for making a number of big saves during penalty shoot-outs in national competitions.
3 Ryan Hawkins (20) – Dereham Town – Winger
Like his team-mate Andy Wilton, was released by Norwich City as a teenager. It didn't take long for him to impress at Dereham Town shining in the club's under-18 side during their memorable FA Youth Cup run in 2012. A dazzling display against Leyton Orient saw him earn a trial with the O's. Since then Hawkins, also comfortable as a full back on either side, has become a mainstay of Matt Henman's first team. He has the talent, power and skill to destroy opposing defenders.
4 Matt Blake (26) – Norwich United – Striker
The Steak Blake, as he is known by some, has been producing tasty form in front of goal for most of his days in and around the Thurlow Nunn League. Thetford Town is where he first shot to county-wide prominence by forming a lethal partnership with Matt Dixon. A move to Wroxham in 2012 was perhaps not quite as successful. But his stock has risen back to perhaps even greater heights during his sensational spell at Premier Division Norwich United. Blake has banged in 32 goals in 34 games this term – a sublime record at any level – and knows where the net is.
5 Christy Finch (22) – Wroxham – Striker
Struggled to cut the mustard at the higher levels of the part-time game with Cambridge United and Lowestoft Town. But a move to Gorleston helped the frontman begin to prove his doubters wrong as he bagged a hatful of goals for the Greens. A move with boss Stewart Larter to higher-tier Wroxham in the summer has paid off so far with Finch scoring 28 times. Greater things look destined for him and time is on young Finch's side.
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