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Hungry Vardy spurred by his tough non-league days

Jamie Vardy on the ball in England's 2-0 win over Estonia last Friday. He aims to be in the squad for Euro 2016 in France.
Jamie Vardy on the ball in England's 2-0 win over Estonia last Friday. He aims to be in the squad for Euro 2016 in France.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy will never forget his time in the lower leagues and they will always be part of him.

"Long days," the footballer says, wincing. "I'll tell you that."

His alarm was set for 7am. He had to get to the factory for an early shift. The work was tiring, on a production line, making leg splints for the disabled.

After clocking off at about 4.30pm, he would jump into a car with a group of lads and drive to his other job. That was playing for Halifax in the Northern Premier League and training was on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

When the sessions were over, it was back on the road "and not getting home until 10 or 11pm. Then straight to bed", he recalls.

NO HOLDING BACK

I don't give them a chance. I tell them which way I'm going to shoot but I make sure it's hard enough so they can't see it.

JAMIE VARDY, on practising his shooting with his children

Fuel for training? "The England chefs probably wouldn't approve," he grins. "It was dinner at work then stop off at the service station before we met the lads. It was whichever fast-food shop was at the service station, simple as that."

England's last, dead-rubber qualifier, in Lithuania today, may be their least important match between now and Euro 2016. But a hungry man - albeit better fed than in his motorway burger days - will give everything if selected.

It is only four years since Vardy was at Halifax and three since he went from non-league football to Leicester, who were in the Championship when Nigel Pearson signed him from Fleetwood Town.

Vardy plays like a man voracious to grab every precious second of the big time, still mindful of whence he has come.

"Do you ever stop running?" Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho asked him recently.

The top scorer in the Premier League with seven goals is the striker Halifax bought for £15,000 (S$32,000 currently) from Stocksbridge Park Steels. The secret of moving up the levels is hard work.

He does all the practising he can, even if it is just in the back garden. There, his training partners are his four children.

"I don't give them a chance. I tell them which way I'm going to shoot but I make sure it's hard enough so they can't see it," says the 28-year-old.

Only when he joined Leicester, initially, did he ever wonder whether he could succeed, after finding the levels of sharpness, strength and energy needed in the Championship were on a different plane to the Conference. Pearson reassured him.

In his second season in the Championship, he scored 16 goals, having scored just four in his first. In the Premier League, a similar leap seems under way: He has already surpassed his 2014-15 total (five).

"I'm just getting into the right positions more often this year," he says. "Last season was a bit of a learning curve."

The lessons have been learnt off as well as on the field. In August, in a row at a casino, Vardy racially abused an Asian man. Security film of the incident became public and Vardy - having made his debut against Ireland in June - battled to save his nascent England career.

He did so by taking responsibility, meeting face-to-face the man he insulted and paying his club fine towards a charity of the victim's choice. He underwent diversity awareness training and seems genuinely contrite now.

"I regretted it massively," he says. "Things were said on both sides, we shook hands and that was it, it was done."

England manager Roy Hodgson braved criticism to pick Vardy for the September qualifiers against San Marino and Switzerland, where progress to Euro 2016 was secured.

Inclusion in next summer's squad depends, probably, on Hodgson selecting a fifth striker to supplement four who seem established picks: Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Harry Kane.

Vardy is quick but the even quicker Theo Walcott is competition; so, too, the hard-working Danny Ings.

Hodgson is a Vardy fan, admiring his knack for using wide channels to time runs.

"If I want to be in that squad, I've got to keep banging in the goals and if I've done that come summer we'll see," says Vardy.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Hungry Vardy spurred by his tough non-league days'. Print Edition | Subscribe