Ryan Bowman cannot help but laugh at the inevitable extra demands upon him as he prepares to return to Carlisle United today. “I’ve got to try and get my hands on 25 tickets for my family and friends,” says the Exeter striker, who is back, at last, at the place it all started.

Bowman is a Carlisle boy who came through the youth system and experienced one year as a professional before building a career elsewhere. This afternoon’s clash between two promotion rivals is his first game at Brunton Park since being released in 2011.

Will there be split loyalties among the Bowman contingent when he sets foot back on the familiar pitch? “I’ve wondered that. I haven’t asked them yet. Hopefully they’ll want the best for me, but, being Carlisle supporters, you don’t know…”

Bowman arrives in United’s path having joined the Grecians from Motherwell last month. It follows a diligent campaign to work his way back up from the blow of leaving the Blues eight years ago: a route which has also seen spells at Darlington, Hereford, York, Torquay and Gateshead.

His recent time in Scotland, which brought top-flight football and a cup final appearance, capped a rise which reflects well on Bowman's determination, which arose from the difficult day when Greg Abbott, the Carlisle manager, told him he was not being retained.

Bowman, who grew up in the Yewdale area of the city and went to St Aidan's School, finds it easy to recall that moment. “Oh, I was devastated, gutted,” he says. “I felt like I’d let myself down and let my family down, with them all being Carlisle supporters.

“When I went in to see the manager, the vibes I was getting had made me think I was going to get a deal, another chance, but it wasn't to be. My family told me not to worry about it, and luckily I had an agent who said he’d do everything to get me to another club. But I was devastated at the time.”

Until that blow, Bowman had been the latest local player to glimpse an exciting future at the club he always supported. He recalls “standing in the Paddock with my granda and his pals” from the age of eight and, later, watched heroes like Kevin Gray, Chris Billy, Simon Hackney and Karl Hawley, ending up playing alongside the latter pair at Torquay.

His own ability first came to the Blues’ attention aged 13. “Before that, I’d kick a ball about with my friends, but it was never in my head I’d ever be a professional footballer," Bowman says. "It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it - I just didn’t think I was anywhere near good enough.”

The bug seized him more strongly when he played for Belle Vue Strikers and Yewdale Pegasus’ junior sides, and says he truly “kicked on” at Carlisle from the age of 15 when Eric Kinder – now assistant manager at Exeter – was in charge of the Blues’ youth department.

“I scored some goals, played week-in, week-out and got my youth contract at 16, which was just amazing,” he says. “I had a great two years in the youth team. The second years included Andy Cook, Tom Aldred, Conor Tinnion, Steven Hindmarch, Gary Madine. In my year there was Mark Gillespie and me."

Bowman enjoyed a good first year, then turned stunningly prolific in his second. “I got about 50 goals, something like that,” he says. "It was mental. I got five in a couple of games. The first team manager used to ask for the [youth team] score every week and, although he was interested in the result, he’d always make a point of asking, 'Who scored, who scored, who scored?' My name kept popping up. It was good for me, because I’d then be training with the first team.”

Bowman pushed his way into Abbott’s senior squad towards the end of that second YTS year. “My debut was Bristol Rovers at home,” he says, recalling the time he replaced fellow Cumbrian Scott Dobie in a 3-1 League One victory. “I think I got three minutes, and touched the ball once with my head!

“I never started for the club, always came off the bench, nine times. But I loved it, I really did.”

Bowman also spent time on loan at Workington Reds but his first professional season did not yield many opportunities, as Abbott preferred the claims of strikers like Craig Curran, Francois Zoko and the precocious Madine. After being released, he recalls: “I went trialling at clubs, which isn’t ideal, but it’s got to be done.”

Darlington was his first destination, Bowman doing enough in a six-month stint to earn an extension. The north east club were in crisis – as was his next venue, Hereford United. “I thought it must have been me!” he says. “I went to Darlington, who had money problems, and then Hereford was the same. I was wondering, ‘it’s maybe not for me, this...’”

Darlo, where players were left unpaid for periods, was a tough awakening. “At the time I didn’t have a partner or family, anything like that, but for the older boys who had mortgages to pay and kids to provide for, it would have been really difficult," says Bowman, now a father himself. "At Hereford, to be fair, we got our wages bang on time. It was when I left that things started going sour for them.”

Bowman’s time at Hereford was significant in other ways. His 17 goals in one season under Martin Foyle was remembered three years later, when Foyle was chief scout at Motherwell and aware of Bowman’s scoring exploits at Gateshead. “If you give a manager goals, and perform week-in, week-out, it always stands you in good stead,” Bowman says. "I always believed I could score goals."

He was excited to join the Scottish Premiership side on deadline day in August 2016. “When I first signed, there were players like Steven McManus and Scott McDonald, who’d played Champions League games and for their national clubs,” he says. “I thought, 'this is another level of football'. I knew I had to bide my time and be patient to get myself in the team. When I did that, and scored a few goals, I felt really good.”

Bowman says he was unsure of what to expect from the Scottish top-flight. “Obviously you have your Celtic and Rangers, Hearts and Hibs, but there are still a lot of teams in that league that you’d probably put at League One, League Two level,” he says.

Mixing it with the Old Firm clubs, especially in a second season when he notched 10 goals, was eye-opening. “You’d walk out onto the pitch and just be starstruck – looking around at the 50-60,000-seater stadium. You’d think, ‘this place has seen some players in its time’. When those places were full the atmosphere was electric.”

In an 86-game, 14-goal spell at Fir Park, Bowman honed a style as a target man "with a bit of pace, which I don't think I've lost yet" - and clashed with Scotland’s giants in other respects. When he broke the nose of Rangers’ Fabio Cardoso in an aerial challenge during a BetFred Cup semi-final it brought strong criticism from Gers boss Pedro Caixinha. Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers also weighed into Bowman after a challenge on Kieran Tierney.

On the Cardoso incident, he says: “It’s a thing I’ve done all through my career – when you jump, you use your elbows for leverage. I caught the guy on his nose and then it all kicked off. I kept getting pulled up about it off referees. There was no intent whatsoever to hurt the opposition. You watch on telly and see strikers do it all the time. But it was strange, getting all these big-name players and managers complaining about you.”

Did it affect him? “To be fair, the next few games, I did think about it a little bit. 'Put your elbows down, or don’t jump as high’. It kind of put me off my game. But once it was old fish and chip papers, I got back to concentrating on myself.”

Bowman, now 27, says he joined Exeter in part because the Grecians tabled a two-and-a-half deal at a time Motherwell could not offer similar security. He says he respected the honesty of Well boss Stephen Robinson in explaining this, as he left behind team-mates that include his ex-United youth pals Gillespie and Aldred (“it’s strange how football works, isn’t it?”).

Whilst happy to be reunited with Kinder – “he always knew my game inside and out” - he also arrived in Devon shortly after the St James Park club sold free-scoring Jayden Stockley to Preston. “It’s not so much a case of filling his boots, but I know there’s a bit of pressure on my back to come in and score the goals,” says Bowman, who has made one start and three sub appearances so far. “I know the majority of the players have been together since the start of the season and have been doing well. I knew it wouldn’t be a case of just walking straight into the team.”

History suggests he will establish himself soon enough – while he does not make any promises on how he will react if he breaks his duck against his home city side. “It's the old cliche, 'will you celebrate if you score against your old club?' I've been a professional for about 10 years now, and I'm not sure. At the end of the day, you’re scoring a goal for your club, your boss…I think you’ve got to celebrate."

How much time he can spend with his family after the game will depend on the Grecians’ training schedule but, either way, he accepts the afternoon against the Blues will carry lots of meaning. “It will be strange, going back in the dressing room, and playing against them,” he says. “It will be good to see some familiar faces – Adam Collin, who was there when I was coming through, kitman Col [Nixon] - what a guy he is - Dolly [Neil Dalton] the physio, another great guy, and some of the staff there.

“Carlisle are on a good run of form, we know that, and we are too. It’s the old cliché, a six-pointer. It will be exciting.”

His past will, one way or another, join him on his latest venture forward - and today's fixture brings it all vividly back. “I’ll always remember,” Bowman says, “when he didn’t offer me a new deal, the manager [Abbott] said, ‘Hopefully this won’t come back to bite me on the bum’. I think I’ve made a good career for myself so far.”