Training in cow fields and working on a construction site can make the Championship seem a million miles away, but Kyle Vassell always pictured himself there.
The striker has finally made it to England’s second tier after signing for Rotherham United from Blackpool in the summer and after working his way up from non-league, he’s not about to let this chance slip.
“I appreciate everything”
The gaping chasm between the Premier League and non-league has never felt greater.
TV companies pay billions to stream the world’s richest league to a global audience, with the money now trickling its way down into the Championship.
Meanwhile, non-league clubs struggle to exceed three-figure crowds on match days.
The FA were even contemplating selling Wembley to save the grassroots game.
It seems almost impossible to breach that gap, but Kyle Vassell believes if you feel you’re out of place, you’ll show you are.
Vassell became somewhat of a journeyman during his time outside the professional game.
A six-year-spell saw the forward play for nine non-league clubs before Peterborough United eventually gave him his EFL chance, snapping him up from Bishop’s Stortford.
During these days, he was working in construction more than he was playing football, but the forward feels that’s what made him the person he is today.
“When I was in non-league I started off as a bricky (bricklayer) and then sort of did everything in terms of extensions and houses.
“Then I got a job at a construction company working in the city. That was the stage where I was working more than I was playing football.
“Non-League made me the person I am today and the outlook I have on life. I appreciate everything.
“I’ve been at Blackpool where everyone knows the training ground is horrendous but there I would never moan about the facilities or anything like that because I knew where I had been.
“I trained in cow fields and car parks and things like that.
“In terms of the step, I’ve said all this time from non-league up I’ve been improving as a player as well.”
“It’s a mental thing”
Vassell always saw himself as a Championship player and took inspiration from UFC fighter Conor McGregor to get himself there.
But could he seriously see himself making it?
“If I’m honest, I did. I do believe that’s probably what got me here.
“Look at Connor McGregor his stories the same, in any of his interviews he says he always just pictured it. He always knew he was going to be a successful fighter and I always knew I could be a good footballer, I always pictured me getting to where I got and maybe even going further.
“I think it’s more of a mental thing, in non-league I played with some unbelievable football players, who just couldn’t do it on a matchday. Training, they were unbelievable and technically too.
“If you’ve got tools use them. If you don’t find out how to you won’t progress and you won’t develop.
“You just need to keep believing and working hard, that’s my mantra that’s my motto and it’s worked wonders for me.”
“I’m a striker, I’ve played there my whole career”
Vassell has been given a new role since moving to Rotherham United.
Manager Paul Warne has favoured Michael Smith as the lone striker this season.
This has seen Vassell move to an unfamiliar position out on the left wing and he’s determined to earn his chance up front.
“I’m a striker, I won’t ever make any bones about that, I’ve played there my whole career.
“I’ve spoken to the gaffer and he likes me wide because I’m always in the box, because I’m a striker.
“I’m going to have to improve my heading if I want to be down the middle, that’s something I’ve never really had. That’s something I’ve got to improve on and that’s what I’m going to do.
“Playing out wide is something I still enjoy doing because I’m playing and hopefully I can get goals out there as well.
“The gaffer’s demanding of his forward players, especially on your output and how much running you do.
“That makes you fitter, this is probably the fittest I’ve ever been.
“I’ve been playing out wide and learning the position, where to be defensively and taking it all in my stride.”
“It was a very proud moment”
Ironically, Vassell’s performances on the left-wing earned him his first international call-up.
The forward was added to Michael O’Neill’s squad for their UEFA Nations League defeats away to Austria and Bosnia.
He was born in Milton Keynes but qualified for the Green and White Army through his Northern Irish grandfather, and the forward was proud to represent Michael O’Neil’s men.
“It was a very proud for me and my family. I’ve had loads of support from my friends back home. It was a very proud moment.
“I met Michael O’Neil in February time, so I wasn’t far away. I could have gone into the squad in the summer, but unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% fit.
“He just expected what he’d seen from me, the reason I was in the squad, to begin with. I went on up front and I know what to do there. Run in behind and try and be a nuisance.
“I was wide in the second game, I play there for Rotherham so I know what do there as well.
“I think he’s happy with what he’s seen so far, so I don’t think I’ll be that far away from the next squad.
“The manager wants legs and he wants players that are hungry. That’s basically me. That’s why he’s called me up and given me the opportunity and hopefully, I can play more games going forward.”
A Championship survival scrap with Rotherham can make a potential chance to represent your country at Euro 2020 seem a million miles away, but bet your bottom dollar that Kyle Vassell has pictured himself there.