Football isn’t all glitz and glamour, y’know.
Sometimes we should take time to appreciate those footballers who plied their trade elsewhere before hitting the jackpot in the game we all love.
From cleaning to winning the treble, from bricklaying to winning the FA Cup, and from the beetroot factory to Wembley, we’ve rounded up the footballers who lived ordinary lifestyles before taking to their newfound profession.
In an era where you only make it if you dedicate your life to it, it’s rare to find players who just months prior to their professional career were grinding the 9-5.
With that in mind, here are 14 players, of varying abilities, who made it professionally.
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Previous occupation: Beetroot factory worker
Professional debut: 2001
While training with Macclesfield Town in 2001, Lambert was earning nothing, so had to get by with a wage from the local beetroot factory putting lids on jars. From there Lambert’s career in football took off, as five years later he was finding his feet at Bristol Rovers after a breakthrough 2005/06 at Rochdale, in which he bagged 22 League Two goals .
He then bounced from Southampton to Liverpool to an England call-up in 2013. Unfortunately his career has somewhat declined since then, but he was still knocking around with Cardiff City in the Championship before retiring in 2017.
Previous occupations: Cleaner, textiles and sales manager at the WWF
Professional debut: 1987
Before his professional career really took off, Schmeichel accrued quite the CV ahead of joining Brondby in 1987. Originally starting out with a textiles department, Schmeichel took to cleaning in a care home before landing A dream role with the WWF. Not wrestling, the World Wildlife Fund.
It wouldn’t be long before the great Dane jacked in his charitable side and took to the sticks. After a successful spell with Brondby, he became a Premier League legend at Manchester United, winning five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one Champions League during a stellar career.
Previous occupation: Carpenter
Professional debut: 1998
Before moving to Kaiserslautern to start his professional football career, Klose was training as an apprentice carpenter.
That’s just about as ordinary as Klose got, as he subsequently went on to become Germany’s record international goalscorer, the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup history and the third-ever player to score in four different World Cups.
The Polish-born striker finished his career in Italy with Lazio, and officially retired in 2016 when he joined up with Joachim Low’s German coaching staff.
Previous occupation: Electrician
Professional debut: 1978
Pearce’s professional career started in Wealdstone, and seven years on he moved to Nottingham Forest to play under Brian Clough. Not certain as to whether his future was in football, ‘Psycho’ took the opportunity at Forest to advertise his services as an electrician around the club and in the matchday programme.
Over 400 appearances on, Pearce was cemented in the club’s history and was an England regular. After retiring at Manchester City in 2002, with spells at Newcastle United and West Ham United in between, he went into coaching where he managed the GB Olympic side, England U21s and Forest, but now serves as David Moyes’ assistant manager at West Ham.
Previous occupation: Sausage seasoning-maker
Professional debut: 1980
Before largely successful spells at Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur, Marseille and Sheffield Wednesday, the nimble winger used to concentrate his skills on sausage delicacies; more specifically, their seasoning.
Once his professional career was up and running, the sausages took a backseat as Waddle became an England international. Now focusing on a career in commentary and punditry, it’s fair to say Waddle has moved on.
Previous occupations: British Aerospace
Professional debut: 1988
Yes, Iain Dowie is a rocket scientist – and we may have lied a little when we said these would all be ‘normal jobs’.
After multiple rejections at the age of 16, Dowie dusted himself off and sought pastures new by studying Engineering at Southampton University. Once landing a job with British Aerospace, Dowie saw it as important to keep up football and played regularly for Cheshunt FC in non-league.
Luton Town were so wise to notice his talent that they deployed him as their inelegant centre forward in the first division. He went on to represent Northern Ireland 59 times, playing for Southampton, West Ham and QPR on the way.
Since then, he’s coached sporadically, most significantly achieving promotion to the Premier League with Crystal Palace. Now he’s a Sky Sports pundit. Oh, what could’ve been.
Previous occupation: NASA Intern, Engineer
Professional debut: 1992
Very seldom do two geniuses play in the same team. But that was the case with Dowie and Shaka Hislop in 1998. Hislop took it one step further with his qualifications, graduating with a degree from Washington’s Howard University, to then become an intern with NASA and get involved in a prestigious engineering project in the Caribbean.
The Trinidad and Tobago international played for Reading, where his professional career started, before being the man between the sticks for West Ham, Newcastle and Portsmouth. Hislop ended his career in Dallas in 2007, and now works for ESPN in America.
Previous occupation: Banfield’s gardener
Professional debut: 1993
‘El Jardinero’s story is spectacular. Officially the club gardener with Banfield in Argentina, Cruz was a temporary stop-gap for an injured first-teamer. Once his talent was realised properly, he swapped shears and tools for the luxuries of one of Argentina’s biggest clubs: River Plate.
After a successful spell there, he went on to play for Feyenoord, Bologna, Inter Milan and Lazio, accruing 22 caps for Argentina. A fine example of being in the right place at the right time.
Previous occupation: Carbon fibre medical splint factory worker
Professional debut: 2010
As is a necessity of a non-league footballer, Jamie Vardy supplemented his income as a technician making medical splints.
A true late-bloomer by definition, Vardy had lived a very ordinary lifestyle up until his move to Leicester City, where he’s now won the Premier League, played in the Champions League and scored for England at a major tournament. We all know the story by now; a genuinely astounding turn of events.
Previous occupation: Roofer
Professional debut: 2008
Craig Noone’s previous working day comes as no surprise to Steven Gerrard, who had his roof tiled by the winger. Once the two came up against each other in the Premier League when Cardiff City took on Liverpool, the story resurfaced publicly.
Most of us will never get the opportunity to meet Gerrard once, let alone twice in two separate environments. Noone was signed by Plymouth Argyle in 2008, and has since gone on to play for Brighton and most significantly Cardiff, for whom he played in the Premier League.
He’s now with Australian side Macarthur FC.
Previous occupation: Bricklayer
Professional debut: 2009
When restarting his football career with Poole Town after his release from Reading’s youth academy, the now-Southampton striker funded his life as a bricklayer. Once Swindon Town came calling and Austin was offered a professional contract, the bricklaying was dropped and he made his living scoring goals.
After both successful and prolific spells with Swindon, Burnley and QPR, Austin spent time in the Premier League with Southampton before returning to Loftus Road
Édouard Mendy in the league and UCL since the start of the 2020/21 season:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 17, 2022
Previous occupation: Registered for unemployment at 22
Professional debut: 2012
Edouard Mendy’s rise to prominence is as unlikely as it is inspiring. After starting out at French third-tier side Cherbourg, Mendy found himself without a club in the summer of 2014. For an entire year he was club-less and even registered for unemployment as he grew disillusioned by his prospects of making it in a notoriously cut-throat industry.
“I did genuinely have my doubts about whether I would carry on,” Mendy commented about that period of uncertainty.
However, after being recommended to Marseille by a former teammate, Ted Lavie, Les Phoceens picked up the free agent to serve as their fourth-choice goalkeeper. In search of more regular playing time and with the added status of having Marseille on his CV, Mendy joined Reims in 2016 and from there, his stock skyrocketed, moving to Rennes in 2019, and Chelsea in 2020.
At the Bridge, Mendy has been near-impervious, helping the Blues to Champions League success last term having equalled a competition record for most clean sheets kept in a single debut campaign (nine). For his efforts, he was recently named FIFA’s Best Men’s Goalkeeper.
Previous occupation: Delivering fridges for an Italian amateur team
Professional debut: 2016
In Milan’s 3-0 win over Genoa this season, Junior Messias helped himself to a brace after Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke the deadlock. Equals on the pitch, their respective journeys to the top of the footballing ladder could not be more different.
When Ibrahimovic was 20, he scored a Champions League brace on his European debut for continental heavyweights Ajax. When Messias was 20, he was struggling in northern Italy with no residence permit and no job.
His route to stardom is a humbling tale of desire and determination, going from turning out for a team of Peruvian refugees and delivering fridges in the working week, to rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s greats at the San Siro.
Messias worked his up each stage of the Italian football pyramid and recently bagged against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Previous occupation: Bus conductor’s assistant
Professional debut: 2006
Coming through the ranks at Barranquilla-based Atletico Junior in his homeland of Colombia, Bacca balanced his aspiring football career with a second job working as a bus driver’s assistant. But, he was a footballing menace in South America and soon Europe’s covetous eyes started to wonder across the Atlantic.
In 2012, Bacca joined Club Brugge despite interest from Lokomotiv Moscow and Chievo. He would go on to claim the Belgian First Division Top Goalscorer award in his first full season, eventually moving to Sevilla, then Milan and Villarreal. An upward trajectory of unparalleled proportions.