Ipswich Town should continue their search for another non-league gem, says Steve Foley

Steve Foley issues instructions as Needham Market coach

Steve Foley issues instructions as Needham Market coach - Credit: Andy Abbott

Ipswich Town should continue their search for a non-league gem, says Steve Foley.

The former Colchester United midfielder has a foot in both the professional and amateur game at present, combining his role as academy coach with the Blues alongside first-team coaching at Ryman League Division One North side Needham Market.

Town plucked Tyrone Mings from Chippenham Town for £10k in 2012 and sold him to Bournemouth for £8.1m last summer, while more recently they have had the likes of Keiran Morphew (Needham Market), Brady Hickey (Barwell), Dumebi Dumaku (Grays) and Shilow Tracey (Ebbsfleet) on trial.

On a bigger scale, Jamie Vardy’s fairytale success story with England and Premier League leaders Leicester has once again got everyone talking about hidden gems at non-league level given that the striker started out with Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood.

“It doesn’t cost that much to have a few scouts going around the local leagues and you never know what you might find,” said Foley. “It does take something like the Jamie Vardy success story to open peoples’ eyes up. Maybe in the past people turned their nose up at non-league.

“I must admit, when I started working in non-league, first with Leiston and now with Needham, I was surprised by the standard of it. To be fair, it caught me on the hop.

“I think there are a few rough diamonds out there to be discovered.”

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Blues boss Mick McCarthy took Michael Kightly from Grays at Wolves and turned him into a Premier League player, while two of his recent Town recruits – Ben Pringle and Liam Feeney – both had spells in the non-league game at the start of their careers.

“I was talking to a coach the other day who released Harry Kane from Arsenal aged 10 – we all make mistakes on youth players,” said Foley. “Some players just aren’t ready when you’re making decisions on them at 17/18 years old though. Some boys thrive in the first-team environment, I think Andre Dozzell is one of them, but others are scared of it and overwhelmed. Some of them need to go away and mature as people before giving it another go.

“Whenever we release young players at Ipswich we tell them ‘prove us wrong’. A couple of years in non-league football can be the making of them. If they keep that hunger, they can bounce back into the professional game.

“I’m not being funny about academy football, but sometimes it’s all focussed on fanning out, playing the ball around and looking pretty on perfect pitches. At non-league level it’s wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. It’s direct and physical and you have to fight your corner on poor playing surfaces. You quickly see which ones can handle that. I think that’s good for their all-round development.

“The bottom line is they’ve got to be good enough. It’s a big leap from non-league to the Championship and I’ve seen some players in non-league who think they’re the bees-knees and underestimate that. Some of them are capable of it though.”