This Non-League Legend Once Scored 50 Goals In A Season, Now He's Set To Take On League Two

Modern football is dominated by attacking players.

There are the creators. Mo Salah, Timo Werner, Richarlison. Guys who can generate something from nothing but are average finishers that need a lot of the ball to score.

Then there are the finishers. Romelu Lukaku, Aleksandar Mitrović, Chris Wood. They aren't productive 40 yards from goal but give them one chance inside the 18 and they'll take it.

There are very few players who combine both skillsets. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fit this mold (obviously). Jamie Vardy is another one, so is Harry Kane. These are guys who opponents don't want even to see on the ball in the attacking third. They can shoot from distance, beat defenders, find space inside the 18 and finish inside in front of goal.

Players of this caliber are usually found reaching double-digit goal totals for a title contender. It's a $100 million skillset. It's the reason clubs will pay $50 million for a striker who scores two league goals in a season (looking at you Newcastle and Joelinton).

But sometimes these players slip through the cracks. Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football at 25 and didn't have his breakout season until he was 28.

Now, the lower reaches of English soccer have produced another prolific goal-scorer who has gone unnoticed. He's 30 years old and he just made his Football League debut this season.

His name is Danny Rowe. He plays for League Two club Oldham Athletic, and he might have the best right foot in soccer.

Over the last five seasons, Rowe scored 155 goals in 241 league matches. Add in another 34 goals in cup competitions and that's nearly 40 goals per season. But you'll never hear about Danny Rowe because he played for AFC Fylde in the National League, the fifth tier of English football.

While Rowe might be an unfamiliar name, his goal-scoring talent is nothing new.

As a kid, Rowe set youth scoring records around his home of Blackpool, often reaching 100 goals in a season, he says. This early success piqued the interest of many clubs, and soon after he signed for Preston North End down the road. Then at age 12, he accomplished the dream of every kid in England by joining the Manchester United academy.

But at 16 the Premier League dream was over. United released him, and Rowe went home to play with his mates at Blackburn Wren Rovers, an amateur 11th-tier side. 

"Being released means you can lose your confidence and you can lose your way," Rowe said. "That is what happened to me a bit. When I was 15 or 16 I just fell out of love with the game.

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"I didn't really want to carry on in football after that. I got a job working as a joiner as an apprentice. At that point, I was just playing locally with my friends. That was how I got back into enjoying my football, just by playing the game for fun with my mates."

Rowe continued his prolific goal-scoring record with Rovers, and he slowly began his upward climb of the English footballing pyramid.

His shooting success drew the attention of seventh-tier Kendal Town, and just four months later Rowe moved to Fleetwood Town, two divisions higher, after scoring nine goals in 14 matches with Kendal.

While at Fleetwood, Rowe played little first-team football, recording almost as many loan spells (four) as he did league appearances (seven).

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These loan spells brought varying success, but during his time with the Fisherman he was able to train with Jaime Vardy.

"He's done unbelievably for himself, which is every credit to him," Rowe said of Vardy, "You want to play as high as you can and be as good as you can and he's done it to an unbelievable level." 

After three seasons on the books at Fleetwood, Rowe sought consistent first team football, which warranted a move to National League side Lincoln City. But after a frustrating season where he scored just three goals for the Imps, Rowe found himself at a crossroads in his career.

He made the difficult decision of dropping down a division to join AFC Fylde, a move that galvanized his career. 

It took less than four seasons for Rowe to break the club record of 119 career goals, and he just kept scoring, reaching 189 goals in total across six seasons for the club. He demonstrated all of the qualities of a great striker: superb finishing with both feet (and his head), exceptional movement off the ball and, most of all, a lethal shot from distance.

During his time at Fylde, Rowe led the Coasters to second- and third-round finishes in the FA Cup in consecutive seasons (both club bests), a promotion to the National League and a win in the FA Trophy final (the equivalent of the League Cup for clubs in tiers 5-8 in English football). He also nearly earned Fylde promotion to the Football League for the first time ever, narrowly falling short in the playoffs in 17-18 and 18-19.

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Rowe's best season undoubtedly came in 2016-17. He scored four times in a 9-2 victory over Boston United in November and Fylde went on to set a National League North record with 109 goals scored. Rowe scored 47 league goals and 50 overall, reaching an astonishing six hat tricks before the season was even half over.

Despite all his success at Fylde, Rowe had still not achieved his goal of playing in the Football League. With two narrow misses at promotion in the past two seasons and his 30th birthday fast approaching, Rowe saw his chances at league football slowly diminishing.

"It would have been a big gamble to stay," he said. "If we weren't going to get promoted then you do start wondering to yourself whether you are ever going to play in the Football League."

In January of 2020 that dream came true, when League Two side Oldham purchased the prolific striker. Rowe notched his first Football League goal after just two matches with his new club with a late equalizer against Salford City. 

His early goal for Oldham has led to moderate success for Rowe. The striker has seven goals in 23 League Two matches, a solid platform for him to build on.

"It has been very different for me because I have not played at this level before but I have settled in," Rowe said. "At the minute, for me, it is just all about finding my feet, getting used to playing with different people and playing at a different level.

"I actually think it is a lot less physical in League Two. I definitely found the National League more physical and the ball is in the air a lot more at that level. The difference here is that the players in League Two are technically better."

While Rowe is still adapting to the Football League, eight of his 11 goals overall for Oldham have given his side the lead. The striker has also recorded six assists for the Owls.

His most recent goal came in an FA Cup second-round victory over Bradford, his second in the cup this year.

Danny Rowe will never win the Premier League like Jaime Vardy. He'll probably never make it above League Two. But Rowe has a goal-scoring record that rivals some of football's all-time greats. How many professional players can say they have scored 50 goals in a season?

With his right foot, he has assembled one of the most absurd collections of long-range goals in English football and in the process has become a cult figure to thousands of non-league fans.

Like his former teammate Vardy, Rowe has shown that success isn't defined by the league you're playing in, it's defined by what you achieve on the pitch.

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