REVEALED: The four Conference stars Premier League clubs should be watching
by Will Taylor
If someone said to you 'Skrill Premier League', a large proportion of you would probably have no idea what they were talking about. More commonly known as the Football Conference, it is the highest non-league division outside of the English Football League. Consisting of 24 clubs, both professional and semi-professional, 264 players take to the field week in, week out. Of these, we have taken a closer look at the four players who stand out as potential future stars.
Chris Maxwell Cambridge United (on loan from Fleetwood Town) Goalkeeper
On loan from League Two side Fleetwood Town, Maxwell has been an ever-present between the sticks for Cambridge United this season, helping the U's to top spot in the Skrill Premier League.
He has represented Wales at U17 through to the U23s. Now 23, Maxwell is still a very young goalkeeper when you consider Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel is still making Premier League appearances aged 42. He has conceded just nine league goals this season in 20 outings and at 6 ft 2 ins, he is certainly making his presence felt amidst the toughest defence in the league.
Andrew BoyceScunthorpe United (on loan from Lincoln City) Defender
Boyce arrived at Lincoln City in 2012 for a fee of £10,000 following a season at Gainsborough Trinity, who play a division below the Skrill Premier.
He soon became a fans favourite at Sincil Bank and was rewarded with a two-year contract in the summer of 2013, having then been linked with moves to the Football League. He had featured in every game this season for the Imps, as interest from other clubs continued. Promotion-chasing League Two side Scunthorpe United then triggered a clause in the defenders contract, taking him on-loan until January with a view to a permanent move. At 24, Boyce is not getting any younger, but having moved up two divisions in as many years and his new club vying for promotion, who's to say he can't continue his march to the top.
Caine Winfarrah Grimsby Town Midfielder
Tipped by many for a bright future, young Caine Winfarrah is already catching the eye of scouts from Football League clubs up and down the country.
At just 17-years of age, Winfarrah made his Grimsby first-team debut from the substitutes bench having impressed in a string of youth and reserve team games. He grabbed a last minute assist, too, as the Mariners stole a 2-1 victory away to Woking. Winfarrah, who primarily operates from the left side of midfield, is hoping to establish a regular first-team spot, as the life-long Grimsby supporter looks to further his footballing career. This young man is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
With 16 goals in 16 games this season, Connor Jennings is the Conference's top scorer. Jennings was signed by Scunthorpe in 2012 for an undisclosed fee from Stalybridge Celtic after his rise through the youth teams at Bower Fold.
He has struggled to hold on to a first-team spot at Scunthorpe under two different managers, enjoying spells out on loan at Stockport and now Macclesfield in that time. An initial deal until January was agreed and Jennings will be hoping to continue his run of form to push for a starting place at his parent club.
So can it really be done?
The step-up from non-league football to Premier League football is indescribable. Here are a few examples, however, who have proven it can be done, and by no fluke either.
- 6 ft 3 ins centre-back who started his career in Northern Ireland as a semi-professional for Linfield. - Signed for Lincoln City as a full-time professional in 2004. - Has since played for Leicester City, Ipswich Town and is now a regular starter for West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League. - Has 46 caps for Northern Ireland.
- Known to many of you given he is now an established squad player for both Manchester United and England, but how many of you know how he got there?
- Began his professional career in 2007 at Maidstone United in the Isthmian Premier League. - Fulham remarkably signed him after just 12 appearances in a Maidstone shirt. - Furthermore, after 13 games for the Cottagers, Smalling signed for Manchester United for an undisclosed fee. What a story!
- Started out at Northwich Victoria before joining Leyton Orient in 2001. - Went on to play and score in the top five divisions of English football, enjoying spells at Lincoln City, Huddersfield Town, Blackpool and now Leicester City. - Scored in Blackpool's Champiosnhip Play-Off Final win over Cardiff City and scored the Seasiders' first ever Premier League goal in 2010.
- Started at Grays Athletic in 2004 before joining Southend United in 2006. - After loan spells with Leyton Orient and Hereford United, was signed by Scunthorpe in 2008. - Some prolific scoring action for the Iron saw Scottish giants Celtic pay £2.4m for him in 2010 before he was sold to Norwich City for £5m this past summer. - Has scored in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, Conference, FA Cup, League Cup, Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup, Europa League and Champions League.
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