Sunderland forward Duncan Watmore thanked his “awesome” club and tutors after graduating from Newcastle University with first-class honours.
The 21-year-old 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 proud 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 as Black Cats 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 he was playing non-league football with Altrincham, but switched to the north-east and 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, Watmore 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,” he said.
“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 textbooks, 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.
“They were both always willing to compromise to help me to get through, they were massive in what I achieved and so I’m very grateful for that.”
Combining football with university
Watmore said a typical day involved training and gym work 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. I know a few people up here in Newcastle and so they were supportive as well.”
Watmore did have a more typical student experience at Manchester University, living in halls of residence and sharing a kitchen with 10 others when he was also playing at Altrincham.
“I properly experienced the uni side of things there,” he said. “The last two years has been more the academic side.”
The Premier League’s only other footballer to gain a first-class degree was former Leeds and Bradford defender David Wetherall, who graduated from Sheffield University in chemistry in 1992.