The English non-League has come a long way in recent decades, with more and more clubs becoming professional and more money flowing into English clubs outside of the Football League.
A host of investors willing to sink their money into non-League clubs has increased the quality of the players on the pitch. Some clubs have splashed out some significant fees on players, too. Here are the top ten most expensive signings by non-League clubs:
(All fees are accurate as far we are aware, although some may be estimates due to the fees being undisclosed)
Ollie Palmer (AFC Wimbledon to Wrexham for a fee of around £300,000)
The experienced forward joined Wrexham in the January transfer window of 2022 for a club-record fee of around £300,000 from AFC Wimbledon. Palmer had played most of his football career in the lower tiers of English football, with his most prolific spell coming during two years in League Two with Crawley Town.
Palmer enjoyed a promising start to his Wrexham career, scoring 15 goals in his opening 21 matches for the Robins. He also built a strong partnership in attack with Liverpool-born forward Paul Mullin.
Richard Brodie (York City to Crawley Town for £275,000)
In 2010, Crawley Town completed the transfer of the prolific Brodie for what was reported as a fee of £275,000, which at the time was a record fee paid by a non-League club for a player.
The striker had been relatively prolific in front of goal for his previous club York City, scoring 69 goals in 165 appearances in all competitions.
Brodie scored 13 times in 45 appearances in his debut campaign to help Crawley win the Conference title and promotion to League Two. Unfortunately, the Gateshead-born star couldn’t settle in the area and spent the next few seasons on loan at Fleetwood Town, Morecambe and Grimsby Town.
In August 2013, Crawley released Brodie, and he joined his hometown club Gateshead.
Wullie Gibson (Dunfermline Athletic to Crawley Town for £150,000)
The Scottish full-back joined Crawley Town in the same summer as Brodie, costing the club a reported fee of around £150,000 when he moved from Dunfermline Athletic.
Like Brodie, Gibson struggled to settle at Crawley and made just 14 appearances for Town before returning to his homeland in the January transfer window of 2012, joining Falkirk until the end of the season.
Jamie Vardy (Halifax Town to Fleetwood Town for £150,000)
Undoubtedly, the most high-profile player on this list is the former England international. Having been released by Sheffield Wednesday as a youth player, Vardy spent time with Stocksbridge Park Steels.
However, it was at Halifax Town where he first caught the eye, scoring 28 goals in 41 appearances for the Shaymen in all competitions.
His talent was recognised by Fleetwood, who, in the summer of 2011, paid a reported £150,000 to sign the forward. Vardy was a massive success with the north west outfit, scoring 34 goals in 42 appearances.
It wasn’t long before the lively striker was on the move again, as then-Championship Leicester City paid Fleetwood a non-League record fee of £ 1 million, possibly rising to £1.7m with add-ons.
Vardy’s goals inspired Leicester to the most surprising Premier League title in 2016 and the FA Cup in 2021. He also made 26 appearances for England, scoring seven goals before effectively retiring from the international game in 2018.
Jamie Day (Peterborough United to Rushden and Diamonds for £125,00)
The left-sided midfielder joined Rushden and Diamonds from Peterborough United for around £150,000 in 2010. Day only played for his new club for one season, making 38 appearances before joining Crawley Town in the summer of 2011 on a free transfer. Day called time on his football career in 2012 after suffering from back issues.
Scott Garner (Mansfield Town to Grimsby Town for £100,000)
The centre-back started his professional career at Leicester City. However, he failed to make a senior appearance before joining Mansfield on a free transfer in 2009. Garner impressed with Mansfield in his one season with the club, which led to Grimsby paying a reported fee of £100,000 to sign the defender.
He spent two seasons with the Mariners, making 36 appearances before moving to Cambridge United on a free transfer at the end of his Grimsby deal in 2012.
Sergio Torres (Peterborough United to Crawley Town for £100,000)
The Argentinian midfielder joined Crawley Town for a reported fee of £100,000 from Peterborough United in the summer of 2010. Torres became a key figure in Town’s midfield as he helped the club reach League One by the time of his exit in 2014 on the expiration of his contract.
Torres continued his non-League career in England with spells at Whitehawk and Eastbourne Borough. Torres also joined the latter’s coaching staff after ending his playing career.
George Donnelly (Plymouth Argyle to Fleetwood Town, initial fee of £50,000, potentially rising to £100,000)
Donnelly joined Fleetwood Town in 2010 after impressing in two loan spells with Stockport County. The forward made just 25 appearances for Town, scoring five goals in his one season with the club.
He moved to Macclesfield Town in September 2011, initially on loan, before moving the following January permanently for an undisclosed five-figure fee.
Jack Hindle (Colwyn Bay to Barrow for a fee of £90,000)
The forward had spells with Radcliffe Borough, Northwich and Colwyn Bay before joining Barrow in 2018 for a reported fee of around £90,000. Hindle had three seasons with the club, making 70 appearances and scoring 13 goals.
However, in 2020, Hindle had loan spells with both Gateshead and South Shields, leaving the club temporarily for reported personal issues. He left Barrow permanently in January 2021 after his contract expired.
Anthony Elding (Rochdale to Grimsby Town for £90,000)
The forward had a long and interesting career before Grimsby Town splashed out a reported fee of around £90,000 to sign him from Rochdale. Elding spent a season and a half with Grimsby, scoring 18 goals in 66 appearances for the Mariners. Elding left the club by mutual consent in February 2013.