Before they were famous: Former Ilkeston footballers who went on to make the big time

John Tudor went on to star for Newcastle United, among others.
John Tudor went on to star for Newcastle United, among others.

Ilkeston football fans have witnessed their fair share of fine footballers over the years, whether they’ve turned out for the now defunct Ilkeston Town or more recently Ilkeston FC.

Many of those players had good careers in the professional game before heading to represent the Robins, but there are also a good selection who have done the opposite and used Ilkeston as a stepping stone to greater things.

Barrie Jepson. (Photo:

Barrie Jepson. (Photo:

Here are some of the best who have progressed to the Football League over the years.

Geoff Barrowcliffe

Full-back Barrowcliffe began his career at Ilkeston Town in the late 1940s.

Having spent his formative years at the Manor Ground he would eventually move on to great things just down the road at Derby County, where he would make 475 league appearances over 16 years before moving on to Boston United where he saw out his professional career.

Keith Alexander

Keith Alexander

He passed away at the age of 77 in 2009.

Barrie Jepson

Born in 1929, Jepson was one of Ilkeston Town’s most prolific ever scorers, hitting the net 115 times in just 85 games for the Robins.

Upon leaving Ilkeston he went on to play for Mansfield Town, Chester City and Southport in the Football League, continuing his impressive goalscoring record before returning back to non-league with clubs including Heanor and Alfreton. He died in 2001.

Che Adams

Che Adams

Ray Straw

Straw was born in 1933 in Kirk Hallam and started his career with Ilkeston Town before moving on to Derby County.

He scored 37 league goals for the Rams in 1956-57 and went on to play in six divisions of English league football with likes of Derby and Coventry City.

John Froggatt

Ashley Hunter

Ashley Hunter

Froggatt arrived at Ilkeston Town from Notts County in 1965 and spent two years with Ilkeston before moving onto Buxton and Boston United.

Eventually he would break into the Football League with Colchester United where he spent four successful years, going on to play for Port Vale and Northampton Town before returning to Boston to see out his career.

John Tudor

Tudor is perhaps one of Ilkeston’s most famous exports.

Born in the town in 1946, Tudor played for Ilkeston Town in the mid-60s before making a move to Coventry City where he would establish himself as a professional.

A successful spell at Sheffield United followed before Tudor signed for Newcastle United in 1970, spending six years on Tyneside and scoring 53 goals in 164 appearances before finally seeing out his career with Stoke City and in Belgium with Gent.

Rai Simons

Rai Simons

He now lives and coaches in the USA.

Dave McVay

McVay was a member of the Ilkeston Town squad in the Southern League before making a move to Notts County where he would be a regular for many years in the 1970s.

The defender also played for Peterborough United and LIncoln City in the Football League and, after retiring, became a journalist for the Nottingham Post and Daily Telegraph as well as a distinguished author.

Keith Alexander

A name synonymous with football in Ilkeston, mostly due to his successful spell managing the club in the 90s but also due to having two spells playing for Ilkeston at each end of his career.

After his first spell in 1977-78, Alexander had more time in non-league football before finally breaking into the Football League in the late eighties, where he’d have a good career with the likes of Grimsby Town, Stockport County and Lincoln City.

He returned to Ilkeston in 1996 and took over as manager, a role he’d also take to a higher level with Lincoln, Peterborough and Macclesfield, of whom he was in charge at the time of his death in 2010 at the age of 53.

Scott Barrett

Goalkeeper Scott Barrett was born in Ilkeston in 1963 and was another to start his career at the Manor Ground before earning a move to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1984.

He would have a long career in professional football, turning out for clubs such as Stoke City, Colchester United, Gillingham, Cambridge United and Leyton Orient before eventually turning to coaching.

He is currently assistant manager at Essex side Thurrock.

Steve Buckley

Eastwood-born Buckley began his career with Borrowash Victoria, Ilkeston Town and Burton Albion before getting his break into league football with Luton Town, where he made over 100 league appearances.

He is best known for his time with Derby County, playing over 300 league games in nine years with the Rams before ending his career at Lincoln City and Boston United.

Francis Green

Born in Nottingham in 1980, Green holds the rare distinction of having played for both Ilkeston Town and Ilkeston FC, with a successful Football League career in between.

Starting out under the tutelage of Keith Alexander in the mid-90s, Green earned a move to Peterborough United where he would make over 100 appearances before linking up with Alexander again at Lincoln City.

Spells with Boston, Macclesfield Town and Kettering followed before Green dropped into non-league, playing for several clubs in the East Midlands including the newly-formed Robins for whom he was among the scorers in the 2012 play-off semi-final.

Tony Hemmings

Attacking midfielder Hemmings had already had a good career at the lower levels before arriving at Ilkeston Town in 1999.

He enjoyed an impressive spell with the Robins before moving on to play league football with Chester City and Carlisle United and then dropping back into non-league.

He is currently manager at Kimberley Miners Welfare.

Leon McSweeney

Irish midfielder McSweeney had enjoyed a few years bouncing around non-league before coming to Ilkeston Town in 2006.

An impressive season followed before he made the move back to his native Ireland to play for Cork City, but he was soon back in England and playing in the Football League as Stockport County snapped him up.

From there he went on to be a regular at Hartlepool United, Leyton Orient, Carlisle and Northampton Town before dropping into non-league football.

Still in his early 30s, McSweeney is now an academy coach at Notts County.

Ben Pringle

Newcastle-born Pringle began his career with West Bromwich Albion but having been released as s teenager he eventually found himself, via Morpeth Town, being signed by Ilkeston Town boss David Holdsworth.

Pringle starred in the Robins’ promotion season of 2008/2009, being almost ever present and scoring four league goals in the process, including a crucial strike in the play-off final against Nantwich Town.

He soon caught the eye of Derby County and signed with the Rams that summer, going on to make 20 appearances for the Pride Park club.

Pringle has since made a good name for himself, particularly at Rotherham United where he played nearly 150 league games. He signed for Fulham in the summer and has scored twice for the Cottagers in the Championship this season.

Che Adams

Adams is one of the more recently-formed Ilkeston FC’s big success stories so far.

Having been released by Coventry City at 14-years-old, a spell with Oadby Town followed before Adams was recruited to the new Robins academy setup.

From there he would star for the Ilkeston youth team, so much so that regular first team spots soon became his under Kevin Wilson.

A powerful attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Adams put in some stunning displays in the first part of the 2014-15 season which soon attracted plenty of attention, and he was eventually snapped up by Nigel Clough at Sheffield United.

After bursting onto the scene with two goals as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Semi-Final, Adams has become a first-team regular for the Blades, scoring six league goals in 25 appearances and also playing for England U20s.

Kieran Wallace

Wallace was released by Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2014 and having joined up with the Robins made several impressive league apperances under Kevin Wilson.

Like Adams, Wallace was also spotted by Sheffield United and a move swiftly followed to Bramall Lane where he has begun to establish himself under new boss Nigel Adkins, recently signing a new deal.

Ashley Hunter

Derby-born Hunter began his career at Burton Albion before being released and opting to join up with Ilkeston’s youth setup.

After starring for the Robins’ U21 side, he progressed into the first team and five goals in eight games soon caught the eye of Fleetwood Town and the striker moved to the League One side in January 2015.

He has been a regular feature in Fleetwood’s team, scoring five goals in 18 league appearances so far.

He was joined at Fleetwood by former Ilkeston teammate Akil Wright, who has yet to make a league start for the Lancashire side.

Rai Simons

Bermudian Simons arrived in England at the age of 15 and joined up with the Ilkeston FC academy soon afterwards.

Impressive displays for the youth team and then for the first team soon had scouts watching out for him and in May last year Simons signed a deal with League One side Chesterfield.

Simons broke into the first team at the Proact Stadium this year and has scored twice in the league this season as well as in the FA Cup at FC United of Manchester.

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