Sunderland footballer Duncan Watmore picks up first class degree at Newcastle
An England under 21 footballer who became only the second player in the Premier League to graduate with first class honours has thanked his "awesome" club and tutors.
Sunderland forward Duncan Watmore juggled intensive training sessions required to break into the first team with long hours of study in the evening poring over textbooks and catching up on lectures online.
His parents Ian, former chief executive of the Football Association and an ex-senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office, and Georgina, a rector in Cheshire, proudly watched the graduation ceremony at Newcastle University.
Club boss Sam Allardyce allowed him a day off training to collect his first in economics and business management.
He started his degree at Manchester University when playing non-league football with Altrincham, but switched to Newcastle University after impressing Sunderland scouts.
In recent weeks he has earned good reviews for his incisive, direct style of play, which has coincided with an upturn in Sunderland's fortunes.
And last month he came off the bench for England under 21s to be man-of-the-match in a 3-1 win over Switzerland.
After the graduation ceremony, he said: "It's a really nice feeling. It has been a lot of hard work in the past three years. It is good to get it done."
His was not the usual student experience, with late night pizzas and evenings out sampling Newcastle's famous party scene.
"You have to sacrifice a lot with football but that was something I was more than willing to do because football was my ultimate aim and the degree was something I just wanted to do in the evening to catch up at night.
"It was not the typical student life, I missed out on a few things but I really enjoyed it.
"It was hard. There were a lot of long nights in my flat just catching up, reading text books, going online for lectures, emailing lecturers.
"It was hard at times but the club at Sunderland were awesome with me, and so were Newcastle University."
Watmore said a typical day involved training and gym before he would go back to the flat where he lived alone around teatime to start his studies.
"There are a lot worse jobs to combine a degree with than football, so I can't really complain," he said.
Asked what his team-mates thought, he replied: "You get a bit of good-natured banter but they are class. I received a lot of support from them, which was really nice.
"I didn't make too many course mates because I was never in to make them."
Watmore, 21, who was released from Manchester United's academy when he was 12, said he feels strongly there are still opportunities for other players, like Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy, to come up from non-league football.
But he shies away from thinking of himself as a role-model for parents who want their children to study and make the grade in football.
He said he will keep an interest in economics but has no plans to continue formal studies for a Masters.
Instead he will fully concentrate on his game.
"I'm just looking forward to playing as much as I can and if I play well I can do that."
The top flight's only other star to gain a first-class degree was David Wetherall. He got a first in chemistry from Sheffield University in 1992 while on the books of Leeds United.
Dr Francis Kiraly, undergraduate director of Newcastle University Business School, said: "Duncan was an excellent student from day one."