Ashley Barnes graduated from the school of hard knocks and now the striker, Burnley’s all-time record goalscorer in the Premier League, could become a student of European football.
The 28-year-old, who bagged his 20th goal in the top flight against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, was kicked from pillar to post when plumbing the depths of the pyramid but all those cuts and bruises having taken him to where he is today.
Entry in to next season’s Europa League qualifying phase is within touching distance for the club’s joint leading scorer, who climbed up the ladder having started out at Southern League side Paulton Rovers.
Barnes, who played as a goalkeeper for much of his teenage years, was encouraged to ply his trade further up the field by former boss Andrew Jones at the Athletic Ground and it was his prolific reputation at that level which caught the eye of then Plymouth Argyle boss Ian Holloway.
Loan spells at Oxford United, Salisbury FC, Eastbourne, Torquay and tomorrow’s opponents Brighton followed before the striker made his move to the Amex Stadium permanent.
Ahead of the Seagulls’ visit to Turf Moor, he said: “It’s a great achievement, personally and for this group, we’ve all come a long way, that’s down to the gaffer and the freedom he gives us to enjoy our football.
“I have to scratch my head sometimes, it’s nice to see when people are talking about you. I’m still learning every day on the training ground, if I can keep doing that then hopefully I can go a long way.”
Barnes, who scored 42 league goals during his time in Falmer, added: “European football would be massive, another tick off the wishlist. It’s something you can only dream of, to play at the highest level possible in your career.
“Imagine if we won the Europa, then got in the Champions League! You’ve got to keep dreaming. In all seriousness we need to keep working hard and hopefully we can get that spot.
“You need to keep going as much as possible, to have your ambitions and strive to be the best. You want to compete and play with the best players so long may it continue.”
For team mate James Tarkowski, who earned his first cap for England this term, the opportunity to play in the Europa League would provide another new experience.
The centre back, who featured for the Three Lions in the friendly against Italy at Wembley, said: “For most of the lads we’ve never experienced anything like that before, so will it be a new experience and hopefully something we can look forward to.
“It’s different for a club like Burnley. Maybe the bigger clubs aren’t so keen on it, they have a lot of games to play anyway, but for a club like Burnley it will be massive.”