The most unlikely signings in non-league football
By Cam Melling
We all love a bit of non-league football. Muddy pitches, flat balls, small crowds and half time pies so hot you have to take them home for dinner.
It’s a slight change from the glamour of professional football but what happens when the two combine? What happens when some of the game’s finest have to start washing their own kit?
Well, following Hampshire Premier League Division One side Four Marks FC’s recent marquee signing of ex-West Ham winger Luis Boa Morte, what better time would there be to take a look at some of the players who have swapped world class medical treatment for the magic sponge.
Wembley FC - Terry Venables and co.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious attempts for success by a semi-professional side in FA Cup history, Wembley FC became the club on everyone’s lips in June 2012. Backed by cup sponsors Budweiser, the club appointed former Terry Venables as technical advisor.
However, they did not stop there. In an effort to go further than any non-league had gone before, the club signed six internationals. Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Graeme Le Saux, Claudio Caniggia, Brian McBride and Ugo Ehiogu all agreed to play FA Cup matches for the Combined Counties Premier Division side.
The adventure started off well with a 3-2 win over Langford in the extra preliminary round, live in front of the ESPN cameras. Although, it soon turned sour after a 2-2 draw in the preliminary round against Uxbridge was followed by a 5-0 defeat in the replay.
The real disappointment was that Caniggia was the only former professional bothering to feature in the midweek replay, with the others preferring to stay indoors from the harsh conditions of a Tuesday night in non-league football.
Touted as a hot prospect at Aston Villa where he played 22 matches in the Premier League before moving to QPR, Stefan Moore’s career took a significant downturn after he left the Rangers.
In 2008, he signed for Conference Premier side Kidderminster Harriers where he scored just one goal in 14 appearances before being released.
Things did not get much better for the brother of Swansea City’s Luke Moore as in 2009 he signed for Silhill Fourth XI in the Birmingham & District League Division 5. Unsurprisingly, he was a massive success in the lower depths of non-league football, scoring five goals in two games including a hat-trick in the 6-1 thrashing of the mighty Meriden Athletic.
Since then he has been working his way up the non-league ladder, with a very impressive goal scoring record including 62 goals in 75 appearances for St Neots Town. He now plays for Leamington in the Conference North, at the age of 29 after spells with Halesown Town and Brackley Town.
A real legend of football, former Birmingham City striker Steve Claridge has played for no fewer than 23 clubs.
He has made numerous returns to non-league football since his 1,000th career in December 2006 for AFC Bournemouth but none were more successful than the spell he enjoyed with the then Southern League Division One South & West side Gosport Borough from 2011 to 2012.
Claridge was 45 years old when he signed and went on to guide the side to promotion thanks to a late brace in the 2011/12 playoff final victory over Poole Town. Coming on with just 14 minutes to go, the striker scored an injury equaliser to force the game into extra time. He then scored again in extra time to help Gosport to a 3-1 victory.
Now 47, Claridge is without a club but you would be a brave man to bet against yet another return for football’s greatest journeyman.
Matt Le Tissier
A one club man in the terms of professional football, making 443 league appearances for Southampton, Matt Le Tissier ended his career with two years at Eastleigh with a season in the Wessex League before a season in the Southern League.
However, his return to non-league action last season raised many more eyebrows. As honorary president of the club of his birth place, Guernsey FC, Le Tissier announced his availability for the club after it was announced that the side still had seventeen matches to play in April after a series of postponements.
Despite the interest, the former England international managed just one sub appearance for the club. It came as a ten minute cameo in the side’s 4-2 Combined Counties Premier Division loss against Colliers Wood United.