Duncan Watmore is studying hard for his degree in economics and business management, but today the Easter Road new boy is on the verge of winning himself a double first.
Having made his debut for English Premier League outfit Sunderland in the FA Cup only a month ago, the 19-year-old, pictured, is now poised to pull on a Hibs shirt for the first time as Terry Butcher’s side take on Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup.
It will be, in all probability, an achievement which will be unique, but as Watmore revealed, one which he could never have envisaged when he was told by Manchester United he wasn’t good enough – at the age of just 12.
Watmore, however, has proved to be a late developer, playing football for fun with non-League Altrincham only two years ago where an outstanding season resulted in him being snapped up by the Black Cats, who have now allowed him to head north of the border on loan for the remainder of the season.
And, he revealed, the Capital outfit headed a list of ten clubs chasing his signature, the overtures made by boss Terry Butcher helping convince him Easter Road was the place to be, a decision given the thumbs-up by Sunderland manager Gus Poyet.
He said: “Gus Poyet was, obviously, aware of who the various clubs were. I had a discussion with him and his staff and Hibs were the clear stand-outs.”
While fellow new signing Daniel Boateng has admitted go having to resort to Google to learn more about Butcher, Watmore had no such problems. He said: “He’s an England legend, but I spoke to him on the phone and he made me feel really excited by the challenge up here. After that chat I felt I definitely wanted to come here.”
Although he readily admits to being more aware about Hibs than having any great knowledge of his new club, Watmore insisted that in his first week at the club’s East Mains training centre he feels his decision has already been fully vindicated.
He said: “I’ve had four training sessions so far and enjoyed them all.
“The facilities are awesome, although I’ve managed to get myself lost a couple of times inside the complex.”
And while Butcher – jokingly – says he has mistaken the fresh-faced Watmore for a team mascot because he looks so young, the winger revealed that being surrounded by so many fellow teenagers has allowed him to settle in all the quicker.
He said: “I’ve noticed what a young squad we have – Alex Harris, Sam Stanton, Danny Handling and Jason Cummings, all teenagers like myself, while Jordon Forster is only 20. It’s good for me to have so many players of a similar age around, but I also think we have a good mix of youth and experience.”
Watmore stepped up to join Poyet’s first-team squad in training before coming off the bench to make his first appearance at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland defeated Carlisle 3-1 in the FA Cup and now he’s hoping for something similar on Saturday.
He said: “I hadn’t really thought about it, but to make my Sunderland debut in the FA Cup and to then play my first game for Hibs in the Scottish Cup – although I don’t know what the manager’s plans are for the weekend – would be something special.
“Down at Sunderland I’d trained with the first team for a week ahead of the Carlisle game and when the squad list was put up I had a feeling I might get on if the result was going our way.
“But when I got the call to warm-up for the final half-hour it was awesome. You can’t explain an experience like that, what’s going through your head is just crazy. It was Gus Poyet himself who told me I’d be going on. He said to go out, enjoy it, not to be scared and just do what I do.”
Watmore agreed his background sets him apart from most aspiring football youngsters, his father Ian being an ex-chief executive of the FA and a former permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office at Westminster while the youngster combines playing with studying. But, he revealed, he thought his chances of making it in football had evaporated when rejected by Manchester United.
He explained: “When I was about six I went one of their half-term football courses. They picked me out and sent me to a feeder club and then, because I was doing well and playing for the year above they said they would take me.
“I stayed for six years, getting better and better, it was a massive experience, playing at such a young age and learning so many vital things. Of course, I was devastated when I was let go at the age of 12, that I couldn’t play for Manchester United. I don’t know if it put me off football, it’s hard to remember when you are so young, but I’m sure a club like them have hundreds of youngsters training and very few will make it all the way through.”
Watmore settled on pursuing an academic life, playing football only for fun and enjoyment after his father, who’d studied mathematics at Cambridge University, impressed on him the need for a sound education.
He did, however, turn out to be something of a late developer. Rated as possessing lightning speed, Watmore said: “I didn’t have the pace I have now at 16, but I’ve become quicker, getting bigger and that’s obviously a big part of the game.
“I wasn’t thinking of football, just playing for the enjoyment of it. At 17 I started playing for Altrincham youth team and broke into their first team within a year and everything happened from there. I had a really good year, playing part-time football in my first year at Manchester University.
“Then Sunderland signed me, which was awesome and totally unexpected. I’d gone all through my A levels and the first year at Uni, so I decided I wanted to carry on with my studies.”
A switch to Newcastle University enabled Watmore to continue combining football with his further education and he believes his move to Edinburgh won’t hinder his studies although, he admitted, his situation provoked a little good-natured ribbing from his team-mates at Sunderland.
He said: “I used to get a bit of friendly banter about it, about how I’m going to be the clever one. But they were very supportive of me when I was doing my exams, I had quite a few good luck texts.”
Now Watmore is hoping to continue his football education, revealing he’s well up on his history by saying: “I know it’s been 1902 since Hibs last won the Scottish Cup, but they’ve been in the last two finals so they’ve been knocking on the door. I’ve just arrived at the club so I’m not going to try to predict anything other than trying to take it game by game.”
And, if Watmore finds himself in Butcher’s plans this weekend, there will be one very proud man at Easter Road – his father Ian. Duncan said: “He’s always been very supportive of anything I do. He wasn’t a footballer himself, but he’s a huge football fan. He was there for the Carlisle game, he came to all my under-21 games home and away and I’m sure if I’m involved he’ll be here, too.”