Josh Gordon made the leap from non-league to Premier League in April when he joined Leicester City from Stafford Rangers. Adam Bate caught up with him to discuss the trial that earned the move and why the part-time game prepared the young forward for the challenges ahead…
It was the first day of his trial with then Premier League champions Leicester City and Josh Gordon could have been forgiven for thinking he had drawn the short straw. The Stafford Rangers striker found himself up against club captain and man mountain Wes Morgan.
The pitch was small so there would be little chance to use his superior pace. Gordon would have to show he could hold off his marker. It was a good time to remember the advice of his old workmate, the former Macclesfield striker Ben Mills. Just let them know you are there.
“I tried to pin Wes,” Gordon tells Sky Sports. “He just laughed. But he knew I was trying to put myself about. You can’t get starstruck. You just have to get on with it and show that you should be there. I got a bit of respect off him just because I had treated him as an equal.”
Easier said than done when you are a 22-year-old trialist desperate for a second chance in the professional game. Gordon had been released by his hometown club Stoke City aged just 16 and, by his own admission, had been left unsure of what to do next.
“It was a bit of a shock when it happened because I had been there from such a young age that it just felt normal to be there,” he says. “I did not know what I was going to do. But my mum and dad backed me up so much and would not let me drop my head.
“We went through the options. My dad did not want me to go to another professional club yet, he wanted me to go into a non-league side against men but also get my education. I went to college and then university so that I had that to fall back on if it did not work out.”
Gordon studied sports development and coaching while working part-time, alongside Mills, for a company that went into primary schools to teach PE. “You are looking after 30 kids and there’s a teacher there looking to learn from you too,” he adds. “It was a good experience.”
There has been something of rethink about the merits of non-league football in recent years. Away from the cossetted world of academy life, there is much to learn. “The winning mentality is the big aspect,” says Gordon. “It is hard to get that playing development games.
“At that level, it is all about shape and focusing on the technical side. In non-league you win or you lose. When you’re playing against big blokes who don’t treat you as a kid and are putting their elbows into you trying to rough you about, it is character building.”
At Newcastle Town, Gordon played with Cohen Bramall, who has since earned a contract at Arsenal. Now armed with a Premier League deal of his own, he finds himself alongside Jamie Vardy, the poster boy for those dreaming of going from non-league to England stardom.
Gordon feels he has seen more than enough in spells at Newcastle Town, Nantwich Town and Stafford Rangers to be certain there are many more like him out there. “I know a lot of people who lose so much hope because it does not happen for them first time,” he adds.
“But if you want it you just have to keep trying and trying. There are a lot of people out there so I am glad it is getting more recognition. I played against some players who could just rip it up and show they should not be there. Sometimes it is just the luck of the draw.”
Gordon is certainly feeling lucky. It is the little things that he appreciates now. “To go from paying a gym membership every month to having it all there for you at your work place is fantastic,” he says. “Cooked meals too, it’s all there for you to help yourself improve.”
There are already signs that Gordon is doing just that. Two fine finishes in a 4-1 win over Tottenham in the final game of the season helped keep Leicester’s under-23 side in the top division and the hard work for the forthcoming season has already begun.
Ahead of linking up with his team-mates, Gordon travelled up to Manchester to take part in a special sprint camp. “It was really good,” he explains. “It strips you back to the basics and adds the things you can miss out when you are running so that it all just feels so natural.”
It is this obsession with fitness that helped to make the transition to the full-time game a relatively straightforward one. “It is a bit quicker but every day you do it you just get more used to it,” he adds. “If you don’t stay fit then you don’t give yourself the best chance.”
But what are Gordon’s chances of a Premier League opportunity? For now, he has no thoughts of a loan move. His ambition is to earn a first-team place during pre-season. After all, he has come this far. Why settle for second best now?
“I am a very humble person but I always think that when you hit one target you have to aim for the next one,” he adds. “My aim is to get in the team but the only way to do that is to make a better impression every day. I still have a lot to learn.”
And Josh Gordon is learning all the time.Soccer Accumulator Bonus
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