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Non-League Day

Pickford: Non-league matches made me a man

9 Oct 2019
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Ahead of this weekend's Non-League Day, Everton goalkeeper recalls important moments from his time with Darlington and Alfreton Town

Ahead of Non-League Day on Saturday 12 October, we spoke to Premier League players who once plied their trade in levels of the game beneath the top four divisions of the English football pyramid.

Jordan Pickford

The Everton goalkeeper says his spells with non-league clubs as a teenager made him the man he is today and helped him develop the mental fortitude required to succeed at the top level.

Pickford came through Sunderland's academy and, at the age of 17, joined Darlington on loan.

"I remember my first game for them," he says. "About 10,000 fans turned up for Fleetwood Town at home.

"It was when Jamie Vardy was getting big hype, but luckily he wasn't in the game that day. It was Richard Brodie, a big centre-forward.

"I remember coming for a cross. He was meant to be a big lad and I've absolutely nailed him, and that just settled me right down. I started to become a man from that day really."

'Learning curve'

While Pickford had confidence-boosting moments in the non-league game, he also learned how to shrug off mistakes, most memorably during a match with Alfreton Town in 2012/13.

"I remember playing Lincoln at home, and Mark Prudhoe was coming and watching me all the time, the Sunderland goalkeeping coach," says Pickford.

"There was a big 6ft 4in centre-forward for Lincoln. I thought, 'I'll come for this ball', and he's beaten me in the air somehow. I've tried to recover the save, couldn't, and the ball's gone in the back of the net.

"I was gutted. But then I turned around to Pruds and said, 'It's a learning curve.' The next thing I did was fine and I turned round to him then and started laughing.

"To this day, he keeps mentioning that story, to say that's how he knew I could become a top keeper."

Show your support on Non-League Day

You can show support for the hundreds of semi-professional and amateur clubs around England by going to a non-league match this weekend.

To find your nearest non-league match, visit nonleagueday.co.uk/map.

Also in this series

Part 1: Vardy: I rediscovered love of football in non-league
Part 2: Murray: Non-league has a pool of talent
Part 3: Burn: Playing non-league gave me the belief to reach the top
Part 5: Foster: Tiverton gave me the chance I needed
Part 6: Wilder: My non-league days still guide me now

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