FA Cup qualifying: The policeman hoping to inspire Skelmersdale United

By Neil JohnstonBBC Sport
Skelmersdale United players celebrate scoring a goal
Skelmersdale United have won five games to reach the FA Cup fourth qualifying round

Driving back to his police station after giving evidence in court, PC Ben Barnes responded to a call which left him in a violent struggle with an armed suspect.

A man was shouting death threats to his partner and PC Barnes was near the scene.

Despite being alone, and without his Taser for protection, he arrived at the address in Skelmersdale, West Lancashire, where neighbours told him "hurry up, he's going to kill her".

After banging on the door, he encountered a distressed woman with facial injuries, who pointed upstairs and ran off.

As PC Barnes entered the property, his radio battery died. After climbing the stairs he was confronted by a man wielding a 10-inch knife.

Unable to call for back-up, the policeman suffered cuts to his face as he overpowered the suspect before handcuffing him.

"It's the type of situation police officers up and down the country face every day," says Barnes, who will swap police uniform for goalkeeping kit on Saturday when Skelmersdale United look to reach the FA Cup first round for the first time since 1971.

When he is not serving Lancashire Constabulary, Barnes plays in goal for Skelmersdale in the ninth tier of English football, and says the game acts as a release from the stresses of police work.

"Football definitely allows you to offload," he tells BBC Sport.

'Skem's ground looked like Wembley'

A serving officer for more than a decade, Barnes is used to dealing with trauma, violence, upset and grief.

The incident involving the man with a knife happened in June 2016 and led to the High Sheriff of Merseyside describing the policeman as "a hero"external-link and "the best of the best".

Barnes, 33, attended the National Police Bravery Awards at Downing Street, a ceremony which honours officers who have performed outstanding acts of bravery.

"The call came in as I was driving back to the station to get my Taser so I could go out on regular patrol after attending court," he explains.

"Usually when you end up in a confrontation it's over quickly. This particular incident went on for 10 minutes. It doesn't sound long, but when you're battling a bad guy then 10 minutes is a long time.

"It was nice to get some recognition but it wasn't anything special."

Having played for Merseyside clubs Marine and Prescot Cables, Barnes is now the proud captain of his home-town team Skelmersdale, where his partner, Kate, sponsors his goalkeeping shirt.

"I used to drive past Skelmersdale's old ground with my dad when I was a kid," he says. "It used to look like Wembley to me.

"Lancashire Constabulary help when it comes to my football. They're very much into the well-being of their staff.

"Over the years they've moved my shifts to accommodate my football."

When flare-ups have occurred on the pitch, Barnes has been known to put his policing skills into practice by acting as peacekeeper.

"It's usually nothing more than handbags on the pitch," he adds. "It's more a case of looking out for my team-mates and trying to prevent someone from being sent off."

'Down to the last coppers'

Having started at the extra preliminary round stage, North West Counties League Premier Division Skelmersdaleexternal-link are the lowest-ranked club left in the FA Cup.

Nicknamed Skem, they have already won five games to earn a final qualifying-round tie at seventh-tier Stafford Rangers.

Win on Saturday and they will join neighbours Wigan Athletic, the 2013 winners, in Monday's drawexternal-link for the first round.

Three years ago Skelmersdale, whose former players include two-time Liverpool European Cup winner Steve Heighway,external-link faced a bleak future after losing their ground.

They entered into a groundshare agreement 10 miles away at Prescot Cables but funds quickly dried up as attendances fell off.

"With what we were paying Prescot, we were struggling to carry on," explains Skelmersdale's vice-chairman Norman Fenney.

"It got to the stage where we were down to the last few coppers. Our chairman Paul Griffiths kept us alive by paying the rent."

It was a far cry from the club's glory days when they played at Wembley in 1967 and 1971 in the FA Amateur Cup final, winning the competition on their second visit to the national stadium with a 4-1 victory over Dagenham.

Skelmersdale United player John Turner shows off the FA Amateur Cup to crowds who welcomed the team home after their 1971 Wembley triumph
Skelmersdale United player John Turner shows off the FA Amateur Cup to crowds who welcomed the team back home after their 1971 Wembley triumph

Skelmersdale are back in the town at the JMO Sports Park, just off the M58 motorway and 15 miles from Liverpool, where many of the club's players are based.

"If we could get into the first round of the FA Cup, that would be brilliant," adds Fenney.

The NHS worker with a taste for goals

Four of Skelmersdale's 10 goals in FA Cup qualifying have been scored by forward Emini Adegbenro.

Away from football, Adegbenro works in a non-clinical role at Liverpool's Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust which provides comprehensive neurology, neurosurgery, spinal and pain management services.

When his young daughter Eliza fell ill, he ran a half marathon to raise more than £1,000 for the city's Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where she had received treatment.

Adegbenro, 31, is one of the more experienced players in manager Paul McNally's squad.

"We're telling the younger players to grasp this opportunity because they might not get a chance to play in the FA Cup first round again," he says.

Emini Adegbenro in action for Skelmersdale United
Emini Adegbenro in action for Skelmersdale United
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