Mixed emotions for Mitch as he lands Bristol Rovers contract
YOUNG Bristol Rovers striker Mitch Harding has spoken of his delight at earning a new contract with the club.
But the 19-year-old, from Weston-super-Mare, admits the news was tempered by sadness for his friends who missed out.
Harding, who made his Football League debut when he came off the bench for the final 27 minutes of Saturday's 4-0 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge, is one of four second-year scholars to have been offered professional terms by the Pirates.
Ellis Harrison, Jordan Goddard and Ross Staley are the others – but Darren Jefferies, James Dale and Lamar Powell have been released.
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"I was surprised about some of the lads who were released and I'm gutted for them – although it's good news for me," said Harding.
"It's a bit of a weird situation because you are happy for yourself, but not for the other lads who missed out.
"Four of us have got contracts and I didn't expect the club to offer that many, but it's great for me."
Harding was voted the club's Young Player of the Year last week and his first-team call-up at Victoria Road topped a memorable few days.
"It was brilliant to get 20 minutes on Saturday," he said. "I found out on Friday that I was getting a contract and trained with the first-team, so I had an idea I might be in the squad.
"I scored 16 goals last season as well as a few more in friendlies. I've played a few games at centre-back as well, although I do prefer it up front.
"It's a lot more physical at first-team level, but I'm confident I can adapt.
"I'll have the summer off then come back for pre-season, work hard and hope to get in the team. But this gives me a lot of confidence to push on and, hopefully, get a new deal next year."
Boss Mark McGhee said he hoped more local youngsters could come through to the first-team ranks in the future. "We feel the four boys deserve the opportunity to become professional footballers," he said.
"Hopefully, it will send a message to the first-year scholars and those in the Centre of Excellence that they are going to get an opportunity here.
"I also think, very importantly, that it sends out a signal to the greater community in the sense that boys who may be thinking about going to play for any of our rivals will reconsider because they see boys getting an opportunity here.
"I think it is important that the Bristol Rovers teams of the future contain a great many local boys. I want to see that local spirit which, I believe, for supporters and the spirit of the team, is a great thing to have. We want to include players who hail from the area in our team. It's something we want to develop and give the youth policy, and the young boys coming through, every encouragement we can."
McGhee admitted the decision to release a trio of players was a difficult one.
"My message to those boys was that both myself and our youth coach Jamie Fullarton have been in their shoes and been given free transfers.
"In my case, of course, it was by our rivals across town – and Bristol City showed once again what good judges they are!
"But it happens to the best of us, and they now have to decide if they are going to go and prove me right or if they are going to prove me wrong.
"As far as I was concerned I went and proved that the people at Bristol City were wrong, and I went on to enjoy a good career in senior football. Whilenot wishing to give myself a pat on the back, I have to say that not many boys do that.
"All I'm really saying is that we don't make many mistakes when releasing boys. However, you can be absolutely sure that we will be delighted if one of those boys who have been released goes on to have a good career in the game."