From the non-league pyramid to one of League One’s leading forwards, Dion Charles has come a long way.

Charles scored 21 goals in all competitions last season and has picked up where he left off this term, already reaching double figures.

Five years ago, he was playing for Southport in the National League North after failing to break through at Blackpool and Fleetwood.

Despite his setbacks, Charles kept believing he would eventually climb up the divisions and took inspiration from Jamie Vardy, who started in a similar position and went on to become a Premier League champion with Leicester.

“Jamie Vardy with all the Premier League goals he has scored is an inspiration for any young boy that is playing in the non-league,” he told The Belfast Telegraph.

“He showed that with hard work and willingness the sky is the limit. It is all down to your mentality and how hard you want to work.

“By no means am I the finished article. I pride myself on improving every game and working hard off the pitch to get myself there, and if I don’t get there it won’t be through lack of trying.

The Bolton News: Charles in action for the WhitesCharles in action for the Whites (Image: Camerasport)

“I won’t let it be said that I don’t want it enough. In every game I play I run myself into the ground for my club and my country. I came into the professional game late.

“This is my fourth or fifth season and if you look at my goal scoring record I’m hitting 20 goals every season, so it is going well at the moment.”

The 28-year-old has proven plenty of people wrong with his prolific form at club level and is now determined to do the same on the international stage with Northern Ireland.

“That’s something I thrive on - proving people wrong. To me, being a goal scorer is what I want to be as a striker,” he added.

“I’m fairly new and inexperienced, but I feel with more games under my belt and more minutes on the pitch I will be able to prove what I can do.

“I came into international football late in my career. I was playing non-league football in England not too long ago so I’ve had to work hard to get to where I am and I’ve seen the benefits of that.”

Michael O’Neill’s side wrap up their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign against Finland and Denmark, and Charles is keen to make the most of any opportunities that come his way.

“With our clubs we spend hours and hours with our team-mates every day, working on where we’re playing so we all know the positions we should be in,” he explained.

“When we come away here, people play different styles of football and you don’t get that long on the grass to implement those things. We only meet up a few times a year so it’s trying to get that understanding quicker.

“I see it as an honour to get called up for Northern Ireland. It is international football so you get to test yourself against the best players in the world, and for me it is a challenge that I relish.”