JACK FITZWATER insists he is prepared to hit the ground running in Scottish football after shackling Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Jack Grealish.
The Livingston defender was part of Slaven Bilic’s promoted Baggies squad last term and featured in a series of high-profile friendlies as English football prepared to resume following the enforced Covid-19 hiatus.
Fitzwater, 22, did not play a competitive match during his five years at the Hawthornes but lined up against Manchester United and Aston Villa in fiercely contested behind-closed-doors games in June.
Moreover, he helped West Brom claim a 2-1 triumph over the Red Devils, with Fitzwater sharing a pitch with a galaxy of United stars.
Those outings ensure the promising stopper has no doubt about his fitness and ability as he embarks on a new adventure north of the border, starting with today’s curtain-raiser at St Mirren.
“I was still training with West Brom from May and played in a few ‘pre-season’ games,” said Fitzwater. “Our first game was against Aston Villa and they had a really strong team out, with Jack Grealish playing.
“Against Manchester United, I came up against Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
“There were so many big names and you can only learn from playing against guys like that.
“We did well too – we drew with Aston Villa and we beat Manchester United. United had arguably their strongest attack and midfield, and we won 2-1.
“Training at West Brom was a really high standard as they were trying to get promoted, which they managed to do, so I still felt fit and sharp when I signed for Livingston. I can hit the ground running.”
Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say Fitzwater turned down a crack at the English Premier League in favour of the modest surroundings of the Tony Macaroni Arena.
West Brom manager Slaven Bilic was amenable to Fitzwater extending his stay at West Brom when his contract expired in June, albeit first-team opportunities would have been limited and a loan move would have perhaps been likely.
However, he made the decision that the time was right to become a regular name on a team-sheet elsewhere, snubbing the bright lights of the world’s most lucrative league.
“I spoke to the gaffer, Slaven Bilic, in mid-June and I said that I really want to go and play games,” recalled Fitzwater. “He said he wanted me to stay, but that if I wanted to play then he was happy for me to go.
“I wasn’t playing in the Championship and, going up to the Premier League, I wouldn’t play there either – so I need to kick-start my career.
“It has been 18 months where I have been getting told I am doing well but never playing. I am at a point in my career now that I need to be playing every week and show people what I am about.”
On his time working with Bilic, the man who has guided West Brom back to the big time, Fitzwater added: “Slaven is one of the best man managers I have worked with.
“He speaks to players – and listens to players – all the time.
“He has been nothing but great for me and I am delighted they got promoted.”
Fitzwater has enjoyed formative loan stints with Chesterfield, Hednesford Town and Forest Green Rovers, however his most impactful stint was during 18 months at Walsall from January 2018.
He played 43 games and shone alongside Jon Guthrie and Nicky Devlin, both of whom are now at Livingston.
Guthrie, in particular, was a revelation in his maiden campaign in Scottish football last term, finding the net five times in 32 appearances and winning Livi’s managers’ player of the year award.
“I heard Jon [Guthrie] scored a few goals last season,” Fitzwater smiled. “That is something I would like to achieve as well.
“I want to come here and play as many games as I can and have a big impact on the team.
“When I had that chemistry with Jon and Nicky [Devlin] at Walsall we played well together. We had a good understanding
“I am looking forward to playing with them again and getting Livingston as high up the table as we can.”