Jamie Vardy’s much-hyped Fleetwood return may be scuppered by a groin injury but there are no doubts who will be the first name on everybody’s lips when Leicester visit Highbury Stadium on Saturday.
Vardy spent nine months with the then non-league outfit from August 2011, scoring 34 goals in 42 games to help them clinch promotion to the Football League before attracting the attention of the Foxes.
With a Premier League title and 19 England caps in the bag it is no surprise that Vardy is still hailed as a stellar example of what is possible at a club whose own trajectory is almost as miraculous as that of Vardy himself.
Fleetwood’s rise is encapsulated by the career of captain Nathan Pond, whose name is in the Guinness Book of Records after experiencing six promotions since joining them as a 17-year-old midfielder in 2002.
Pond told Press Association Sport: “I won’t lie and claim I always knew Jamie would go on to win the Premier League and play for England, but it was always pretty obvious he was capable of playing at a much higher level.
“He was a great character in the dressing room and he would run through a brick wall for you on the pitch. What you see him doing in the Premier League now is exactly the kind of commitment he showed for us.
“His story will help attract young players to the club. You can show them Jamie Vardy as proof that you don’t need to start at a Premier League club if you want to make it big.”
While Vardy is unlikely to be fit to play at his former club on Saturday, he is expected to be present for the FA Cup third-round clash and his wife Rebekah, who featured in last year’s ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ programme, has booked one of the club’s executive boxes for the occasion.
Local businesses are also making the most of the occasion with the Strawberry Gardens pub launching a limited edition ‘Vardy’s Return’ ale in his honour.
It is all a far cry from the pre-Vardy days in the North-West Counties League, where Pond made his debut as he juggled his part-time playing commitments with a job as a delivery van driver.
Pond added: “We got to the first round twice in our non-league days but we didn’t have the best of luck – we lost 3-0 at Salisbury on one occasion, and on another I found myself getting sent off.
“But this club has been great for me – I don’t care much about having my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but it has just been great to be part of the journey and hopefully we can keep going even further.
“We’ve all got a dream and we’ve got the chairman’s money and ambition to go with it. The odds are stacked against us on Saturday but it is a special occasion and we have shown that anything is possible.”