Barnsley v Leeds United: Hard yards strengthen Pearson’s belief he is fit to last at Barnsley

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SOME football stories are just good for the soul.

The tale of Barnsley defender Matty Pearson is one such uplifting example.

Matty Pearson of Barnsley in action against Sheffield United earlier this season (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Matty Pearson of Barnsley in action against Sheffield United earlier this season (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Should the Keighley lad stride out for the Reds against derby rivals Leeds United this lunch-time, he may just, for a second or two at least before kick-off, instantaneously think how far he has travelled in a career sense as friends and family converge to hopefully watch him in action.

Even if most of them will have affinities to the away team.

It is fair to say everything that the 24-year-old has earned in a footballing sense has been done the hard way.

Freed by Blackburn Rovers after a ten-year association as a youngster, Pearson saw his second chance in the Football League with Rochdale dashed after just one season when he was released after playing just nine appearances.

I was fitting garage doors as a job and on the building sites, where the lads die for football, it is all football banter. You know what it is about when you go to that side of work.

Matty Pearson

Forced to pick up the pieces in non-league circles with FC Halifax Town, Pearson combined work fitting garage doors with his father with his commitments for the part-time Shaymen.

In terms of earning another cherished chance as a full-time professional, it was no quick fix.

Combining ‘proper work’ with football ensured that the days could be long and tiring, but Pearson was no quitter and was made of the right stuff.

It was Winston Churchill who famously said: ‘never, never, never give up’. Pearson did not, and after earning a move to Accrington, the gritty Yorkshireman found his way to Oakwell this summer and he could not be happier.

Matty Pearson played for Halifax Town

Matty Pearson played for Halifax Town

Pearson, who started out at Keighley-based Long Lee Juniors, said: “From nine to 19, I was at Blackburn and filtered my way down and worked my way back up. It has been good for me and I have seen both sides – part-time and Championship level.

“I am pleased to be doing what I am.

“Especially when I went to Halifax, I had doubts and you just want to get past those doubts. The main thing for me was to keep going and going and never give up. I went all the way down to the Conference North and it is what it is, but you just have to keep going.

“I helped my dad out when I was at Halifax and part-time. It was Tuesday and Thursday night training and then games on a Saturday and it was pretty intense coming straight from work to training.

“It builds you as a player and I am just happy to get so high up in the league.

“I was fitting garage doors as a job and on the building sites, where the lads die for football, it is all football banter. You know what it is about when you go to that side of work.”

Several of Pearson’s ex-work-mates, not to mention family members, may have strong Leeds affiliations, but they will be seriously proud of the defender and a lump in their throat if he takes the field today.

That remains to be seen, although Pearson deputised impressively enough for captain Angus MacDonald in the heart of defence against Cardiff City on Tuesday night and if anyone knows just what this fixture means among the Barnsley playing squad, it is perhaps him.

That said, Pearson has largely kept away from indulging in too much banter from family and friends in the build-up to today’s game and has preferred to keep his powder dry, although he would dearly love the last word.

Pearson, who captained England C semi-professional side during his time at Halifax, added: “I don’t really support a team, but I would say that 75 per cent of my mates and family are Leeds fans. I would love to get one over them.

“I have a little chat with them, but don’t really go too deep into it, really. I just let them have a little say and say what they want. I just want to win on Saturday.

“There will be quite a few in the Leeds end and family will be coming. You want to win and you do not want them to have the final say.”

On the reaction should Barnsley win and claim their sixth Oakwell win in seven meetings against the Whites, he admitted: “I am sure they will bring it up and I will be more than happy to put them back in their place.

“I know the rivalries in and around Yorkshire and they are massive and it is what the fans want and it would mean everything for us to get the win.

“The players know what they are in for and are ready for it. We know what the rivalry means and have just got to go out and do the business. There are a couple of lads who might not understand, but you have just got to hammer it home to them. Hopefully, they will go with the flow and we will get the win.”

“These are the games you want to be part of and get the win from. It is exciting.”

After appearing as a right-back earlier this season, Pearson displayed the versatility which he has been renowned for through his career by featuring in the heart of defence in midweek.

Midfield was where Pearson actually played at Halifax, with Reds head coach Paul Heckingbottom clearly not signing just a one-dimensional player when he lured him to Oakwell in the summer, ahead of rumoured interest from another Yorkshire side in Bradford City.

But it is in the back four where Pearson feels most at home.

“I can play in a variety of positions across the back and I am sure it helps the manager out, like on Tuesday.

“Fingers crossed, I just hope I am in the team on Saturday,” said Pearson.

“At the minute, I am loving every moment of it and am just trying to improve, get better and do the best that I can.

“Especially with the manager, who played defence as well, he is always trying to help me in training and showing me where I can improve and what I need to do better.

“It is all good for me.

“It is all learning for me and I just want more and more of it.”

An added motivation for Pearson and the Reds today is remedying matters after suffering a punishing and somewhat unjust late defeat to Neil Warnock’s Cardiff in midweek, which stuck in the craw of those in red, according to the defender.

He added: “It was one of those games which made you feel sick after. I am speechless about it, really.

“That is how it is and you have to get on with it and bring it on for Saturday.”