Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy hailed as 'one-off' by his former non-league chairman
After reaching 100 Premier League goals, the 33-year-old's former Stocksbridge Park Steels chairman pays tribute to his old player
Jamie Vardy has been hailed as a "total one-off" by his former non-league chairman after firing his way into the Premier League's 100-goal club.
Leicester City striker Vardy, 33, reached the century mark with the first of his two strikes during Saturday's 3-0 win over Crystal Palace.
He has certainly come a long way after being released by Sheffield Wednesday. He joined non-league side Stocksbridge Park Steels where he laid the foundation for what would turn out to be an incredible footballing journey.
Allen Bethel was Stocksbridge chairman for 38 years before retirement in 2019 and, along with his wife Janet, avidly follows the fortunes of a player he sold to Halifax for an initial £15,000 a decade ago.
"My wife screams when Vardy scores – and my wife hates football," 78-year-old Bethel told the PA news agency. "We always watch Vardy matches.
"There hasn't been anyone like him who has come from nowhere, come from non-league into a position like he is now. He's a total one-off.
"I feel very proud of his achievements. I am a Vardy fan, I always have been. All right, there's some criticism about him but nobody's perfect.
"He's moved from stage to stage, he's taken it in his stride. He's taken a lot of kickings in his life, people do kick centre-forwards.
"I am very pleased – on behalf of all at the club I now represent indirectly – that he is still at his best."
Stocksbridge are members of the Northern Premier League Division One South East, the eighth tier of English football.
After leaving Bracken Moor – the South Yorkshire club's stadium which now has a stand named in his honour – in 2010, Vardy continued his red-hot form at Halifax.
He eventually became the first £1 million signing from a non-league club when he moved to the King Power Stadium from Fleetwood in the summer of 2012, lifting the Premier League title with the Foxes four years later.
Bethel believes the top-flight's 21-goal leading scorer is deservedly reaping the rewards of his determination to play professionally.
"He's done it on his own. He was football-mad; he must have been because he never missed training, did all the hard work," said Bethel.
"He was a phenomenal player who could stand being kicked and get up. He was very strong-willed.
"Occasionally – and I mean very occasionally – he flipped but on the other hand he'd just been kicked for about half an hour. He was the life and soul of the party."
While Vardy has continued to thrive at club level with Champions League-chasing Leicester, his fleeting international career has all but ended.
He scored seven times in 26 appearances for his country but effectively called time on his international career following the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Bethel thinks Vardy still has plenty to offer national team boss Gareth Southgate and is saddened that he is unlikely to win further caps.
"I don't think he wants to play for England now and England probably don't want him to play," said Bethel.
"I don't think the current manager of England will pick him. And I think that's sad because he's still as good as anything – if you give him the ball, he'll score.
"He still is the same figure and he's still sharp over the first five, 10 yards, and he's still energetic at the end of the match, so he's super fit."
After his goals against Palace, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said it is "a privilege" to work with Vardy.
"From the first moment I came here I told him I was happy he was here because he is a master finisher," said Rodgers.
"Sometimes these milestones can weigh on you a little but it was only going to be a matter of time before he reached it.
"You see the last goal, in the dying seconds of the game to get away – it is a good sign for us for the remainder of the season. And it is a phenomenal achievement – 101 goals, coming into the Premier League at the age that he has.
"I am very privileged to work with him."
Updated: July 5, 2020 08:41 PM