Ask any young player that has flirted with non-league how difficult it is to make the step up to full-time, professional football.
Academies are over-subscribed and incredibly competitive, and when Solihull-born striker Will Grigg broke his leg aged 15 whilst at Birmingham City, you’d be right to assume that would be it for his professional career.
So when he signed for Midland Alliance outfit Stratford Town aged 16, it was thought he’d be another ‘so close, but so far’ story. But credit to the Northern Irishman, he earned a junior scholarship with Walsall and his progress back into the Football League returned.
He played just-shy of 100 games for Walsall after being fast-tracked into the first-team and he quickly became a fans’ favourite. He scored 30 goals during his tenure at the Midlands outfit before earning a transfer to fellow League One side Brentford. The Bees paid just shy of £400,000 for his services, and was easy to see why.
But this was a patch in his career where he struggled, and where some questioned whether or not he was good enough. A 10 game barren spell being played on the wing led to some of the poorest form of his professional career, and he seemed to lose a lot of confidence – the same confidence that saw him become a Bescot Stadium hero at Walsall.
Brentford were promoted automatically that season and despite being part of a side the lifted the second place crown, Grigg was not thought to have been an inaugural part of the side, He was quickly shipped back to League One on-loan at MK Dons.
It was here where he got his mojo back, and under the guidance of Karl Robinson he helped the Dons to a second placed League One finish- he ended the campaign with 22 goals in 50 appearances.
Many Brentford fans wondered why Uwe Rossler was so keen to let Grigg leave upon his return to Griffin Park, but he was sold to Wigan Athletic last summer for a fee thought to be in the region of £1m. And as his transfer value began to rise, his value on the pitch did too.
The Latics were in footballing transit after rapid relegations from the Premier League. The fans expected more from the players and spirits were in decline. Some questioned Grigg’s ability before his first game, citing his inability to break into Brentford’s Championship side before he’d even stepped foot onto the DW turf. But not for the first time Grigg defied the odds.
He’s been scoring goals for fun this season and has even broken into Northern Ireland’s national squad. Many have touted him for bigger and better things again, but with Wigan seemingly running away with the League One title, Grigg will finally get his chance in England’s second division.
It’s the story of hard work, a bit of luck and down-right resilience. Will Grigg could be on the brink of something special and it’s safe to say he deserves it.