WHEN a streaker ran on to the pitch, policeman Brian Pritchard was on to him in a flash.
But the former Witton Albion captain was sent off for trying to uphold one law by a referee invoking another.
In this instance the law of the land gave way to the Football Association rulebook.
The Cheshire Senior Cup final between Witton and Woodley Sports at Altrincham on Wednesday was about an hour old and goalless when a streaker suddenly appeared in a goal-mouth.
Witton had just taken a corner and the man tried to head the ball before cavorting around the penalty area and then heading for the centre circle.
And that is when PC Pritchard showed a different sort of tackle.
The centre-back gave brief chase and tripped up the streaker, who was clad only in white trainers, socks and a daft grin.
He then angrily gestured for the naked invader to get off the pitch.
But by that time referee Steven Cummins, from Runcorn, was moving on to the scene and he shocked everyone by sending off Mr Pritchard for 'violent conduct'.
The streaker, meanwhile, had made his getaway - dodging a half-hearted attempt by a steward to apprehend him.
He was later ejected from the ground.
But without Mr Pritchard, who has made more than 400 appearances for the club, Witton crashed to an extra-time defeat, 2-1.
Mr Pritchard, who left the ground to go on the beat at Warrington, was 'too distraught' to speak to the Press. But if he was frightened of embarrassing the force he need not have worried - Cheshire Constabulary said the incident would not affect his job.
'But he thinks he has cost Witton the game,' said secretary Phil Chadwick.
'No-one has ever heard of a referee taking this action before. It is completely unprecedented.
'No-one was doing a thing about the streaker and a police officer is never off-duty. Intruding on to the playing area is against the law and so is indecent exposure for that matter.
'The referee did not show a bit of common sense.
'We are appealing against the sending off as wrong dismissal. We even thought of asking for the game to be replayed, but the Cheshire FA officials would not discuss the matter after the match.'
Witton chairman Mike Worthington, himself a former police superintendent, said the club would be taking no action against Mr Pritchard. Though he did not argue with the referee's right to make the decision, he said the streaker was breaking the law and his player only defending it, as was his professional duty. He was critical of Altrincham's stewarding.
The referee said: 'The rules say I can tell you he was sent off for violent conduct, any other comment has to come through the FA.'
Maureen Dunford, chief executive of the Cheshire FA, said: 'We cannot comment because it is out of our hands. It has to be dealt with by the English FA in London. We cannot do anything until they have dealt with the matter.'
One spectator said: 'They said the streaker was from Woodley Sports, but it looked more like wobbly sports to me.'