THERE is something reassuring about Adam Barton, and something instantly comforting about his presence when you meet him for the first time.

There is laughter in his voice, and he smiles a lot when he talks about his first goal in professional football, for Preston North End against Burnley.

“I’ve played at Parkhead, Ibrox, The Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane, but that goal, eight years ago, is the best memory of my career, nothing gets close,” said Clitheroe-born Barton.

In a rollercoaster encounter, Burnley overturned a two-goal deficit, scoring three times in the final six minutes, Jay Rodriguez striking the winner with seconds left on the clock at Turf Moor.

“It remains so clear in my mind: Jon Parkin winning a header, I knocked it past Clarke Carlisle and suddenly the target opened up.

“I was face to face with Brian Jensen and, for a second, it was like time stood still.

“I could see all the faces in the crowd, begging me to miss.

“But I gave the goalkeeper the eyes, clipping the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

“I’d been charging around like a kid before that, with raw, boundless energy, and I could have been playing for Clitheroe Wolves with the freedom I felt on that pitch.

“With my friends and family watching on, I became a man when I scored that goal.”

Yet, just like the rest of us, footballers can suffer from the same insecurities in life.

And as the talented midfielder journeyed to Ewood Park, Deepdale, Coventry and Portsmouth, finally weighing anchor at Partick Thistle, where he won the player of the year prize at Firhill last year, each day provided a challenge.

For some, the passion for the beautiful game burns brighter than a thousand suns, but Adam admits he had fallen out of love with football a long time before that.

He said: “I was never pushed into anything as a child, my parents didn’t know anything about football and that was a good thing.

“They always supported me, though, through thick and thin.”

“Mum would stand there, in the snow, mud and rain, always encouraging me.”

But when Blackburn Rovers released him aged 15, carrying a back injury, he needed the courage of a lion to kick-start his career again.

“I felt like my life was over, that was my emotion,” said Barton. “I was very weak as a child mentally and I was lucky to have my family to guide me.

“It was incredible to have gone through those ups and downs, yet I wouldn’t have made it as a professional had I had not experienced that.

“But it did take a bit of my childhood away. It felt like I had a job as a child. I went to Preston and I was struggling for confidence, seeing a psychologist at 16, and every day I was questioning myself.”

However, the arrival of Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, provided him with the giant stepping-stone he needed.

“He put me on the bench at Charlton when I was 16 and all of a sudden you could see a different picture, how the first team lads prepared, the intense focus needed to succeed.”

“Suddenly it wasn’t a kickabout, it was a business.”

It is rare to hear a footballer talk so candidly, lifting the lid on the psychological pressures, but Adam is a purposeful and modest man who leaves nothing on the table.

“There’s kids out there who absolutely love the game, they’d give an arm and a leg to be a pro, but I feel like I’ve taken somebody else’s chance because I’m doing something I don’t really love,” he said.

“I give everything on the pitch, and the rewards are there, far more than an average job would pay, so I’m very fortunate.

“But I do it for my family and my own self pride – not the love of the game.”

Barton’s form saw him earn a Northern Ireland call-up, playing a friendly match against Morocco, but a broken leg put his career on hold and when he recovered, Preston sold him to Coventry City.

“I lost count of the times I called my dad and said I don’t want to play football anymore,” he added.

“He was telling me about life, saying what was important, that I couldn’t quit because there’s people out there without a job.”

But Barton insists the culture of football has changed beyond recognition.

“Maybe fans have this perception of a team, that they are all friends, a squad fighting for each other,” he said.

“It is like, well the other guy is battling for your shirt, maybe you don’t want him to do well.

“I know that doesn’t sound good, but there’s a lot of false thoughts and it is not a good environment to be in, very brutal.

“Apparently, one in three footballers have suffered from depression, and I can believe that because the pressure is phenomenal.

“It is shocking to see sometimes, players destroyed because they’ve been sold, released or even just left out of the team, and I’ve seen that happen.

“I always felt that my brother should have been in my shoes because he has that passion and love for the game, playing amateur football in Clitheroe.

“He speaks to me before every game, wishes me good luck, and many times I’ve gone out on to the pitch and done it for him.

“But just because I’m not in love with football, then it doesn’t mean I don’t work incredibly hard.

“Sometimes I do think that if I loved the game, had that raw desire and passion for football, then where could I be now?”