WHEN YOU line up against your hometown club on derby day, goodwill from your childhood friends is not usually in plentiful supply.
Doncaster-born Barnsley midfielder Alex Mowatt can count himself among the exceptions when he strides out against Doncaster Rovers this afternoon.
Hailing from the pit village of Bentley just north of the town, Mowatt was brought up as a Leeds United fan, with Doncaster having always been a stronghold of support for the Elland Road club – much to the chagrin of former Rovers chairman John Ryan, who consistently used to sound off about that fact.
Memorably, Ryan did have his moment when Rovers triumphed against Leeds in the League One play-off final of 2008 – but the sight of many Whites supporters who bought tickets for the Doncaster sections at Wembley was a visible reminder of Leeds’s lasting presence in the South Yorkshire town, which has never gone away.
Today there will be a gathering of friends and family members from Doncaster in the home corner firmly rooting for Mowatt, who admits that he has been relishing today’s game since the fixtures were announced in the summer.
Mowatt famously made his debut as an 18-year-old for Leeds in a League Cup tie at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium back in August 2013 and derby day has afforded him some special moments in his career to date.
His sweet left foot delivered a wonderful goal for the Whites in a 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town in a West Yorkshire derby at the John Smith’s Stadium just over three years ago and he also netted in a 5-1 routing of the Terriers at Elland Road in February 2014.
Should he find the net again today in another fixture of White Rose significance his good friends are likely to be cheering heartily as opposed to cursing events in the away end.
Mowatt, who netted a cracker against Plymouth Argyle at Oakwell early last month, said: “There are not really many of my mates who are Doncaster fans. My mates have been to every Barnsley game this season and they support me and follow me.
“The same with my family, really. They just support whoever I am playing for and just get behind me. They will be in the home end on Saturday.
I always look for that fixture (Doncaster) when the list comes out because I always enjoy that game. I was born in Doncaster and still live there.Alex Mowatt
“But I always look for that fixture (Doncaster) when the list comes out because I always enjoy that game. I was born in Doncaster and still live there.
“Not many of my mates are fans, but I still know quite a lot of Doncaster fans, so I might get a little bit of stick.
“Derby games are always the best games. Everyone is really up for it and they are the most entertaining games. I made my debut against Doncaster and that was my highlight as we (Leeds) won 3-1 as well.”
This afternoon’s meeting is well timed for Barnsley and Mowatt, with the ink still drying on the contract extension he signed earlier this week – keeping him at Oakwell until the summer of 2020 at least.
After a difficult start to his Reds career, which saw him famously dismissed just 42 minutes into his debut against Wolves in January 2017, Mowatt is finally showing the quality and potential that marked him out as a young midfielder of some repute during his breakthrough years at Leeds.
The notion of a happy player making for a successful one has certainly been in evidence regarding Mowatt this season, with the 23-year-old having been rejuvenated by the arrival of Daniel Stendel and his coaching team – who have unlocked his considerable potential once again.
No player seems to have bought into the Stendel regime more than Mowatt, who has firmly got his mojo back, and it is hard to comprehend that his Reds career was at a crossroads just four months ago.
Admitting that he was not sure what his future held in the summer, Mowatt – a league ever-present for Barnsley this season – said: “It was a strange one, but I knew a new manager was coming in who did not know any of the players.
“I knew it was a fresh start and all you can do is give it your best and it has paid off.
“I always said that I wanted to get in the Barnsley team and hopefully stay at Barnsley.
“I am really enjoying my football at the minute. When you are playing 90 minutes each week you really get a chance to show what you can do rather than being in one game and out another.
“It is good when you are fully confident and playing each game. I have really enjoyed it this season.
“When I first came here I did not have the best of starts and went on loan to Oxford, but this season has been like a new start. It was like I was a new signing.”
In comparison to this season, Mowatt’s time on loan at Oxford United in the last campaign may have proved largely uneventful in comparison, but his season-long spell away from his Yorkshire comfort zone served its purpose in other ways.
The midfielder is the first to acknowledge that it made him more self-sufficient and mature in the process and will represent an important stage in his career development.
On its positive impact, he said: “I would say so in terms of being away from my family and all of my friends and I was staying down there on a weekend on my own and things.
“I really enjoyed it and there were a few other lads who were doing the same and I got along well with them.
“I really enjoyed my time there.”