WHEN Ashley Barnes scored his first Premier League goal two weeks ago, there was a small football club in a rural village in Somerset that took great pride in his achievements.

While most elite level footballers are being protected in league clubs’ plush academies in their late teenage years, taking home four-or-five-figure pay packets already, Barnes was getting kicked all over the West County as a 17-year-old plying his trade in the Southern League Division One South and West.


It has been some rise for Barnes, from Paulton Rovers’ Winterfield Road ground, to scoring in the top flight at the age of 25.

It might have been an unconventional rise to the top, via Plymouth, Brighton and five loan spells, but Barnes believes it has made him the player, and the man he is today.

“I think I have played in nearly every league possible,” said the centre forward who hails from the village of Dunkerton, six miles from Paulton.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey and I don’t want it to stop. That’s (Paulton Rovers) what made me into what I am and where I am now.

“If it wasn’t for there I don’t know where I would have been so I have every right to thank them.”

Barnes spurned the advances of Football League clubs until he went to Plymouth shortly before his 18th birthday, after leaving Writhlington High School, in Radstock.

“I had a few sniffs of clubs wanting me when I was younger but I was happy playing men’s football,” he explained.

“I didn’t want to go through the apprentice kind of youth side. I was happy to play men’s football and get smashed around everywhere.

“When I was 16 and 17 I was playing with the men and getting kicked to pieces. It toughened me up a little bit and I have gone from there.”

Paulton Rovers experienced their own 90 minutes of fame in 2009, when they drew the then League One side Norwich City in the FA Cup first round, although Rovers were beaten 7-0 in front of 2,070 fans at the home replay.

By then Barnes was a 20-year-old trying to make his way at Plymouth, and had recently finished a loan spell with Eastbourne Borough.

He believes that the future will see more players taking the non-league route to the top, rather than coming through the youth ranks playing development football.

While at Paulton Rovers Barnes also occasionally turned out in the Bath and District Sunday League, once scoring six goals in one half for AC Mee Lamb when they beat Nomads FC 14-1 in January 2006.

“It wasn’t the best of leagues but it was a good time,” he said.

“You’ve got to start somewhere and that’s where I started and grew from there.

“It’s a journey you take and you see a lot of people coming from non-league, rather than through youth ranks.”

Despite starting his career playing in the lower ranks of the non-league pyramid, Barnes’ dream was always to play in the top division, something he has now achieved with the Clarets.

“Ever since school all I wanted to do was play football and to play in the Premier League and now I have got there I don’t want it to end,” said the former Brighton striker.

His days turning out at Winterfield Road in front of a couple of hundred people may be behind him now, but he stills keeps in touch with many of his friends from those days, including former manager Andy Jones.

“I still speak to quite a few of them,” he said.

“They are all playing for a club called Shepton Mallet. That’s where the manager went and they all went with him."

“They are always asking me for tickets, but that’s like anyone. Anything for free.”