Sunderland striker becomes second player in the Premier League to graduate with first-class honours

Watmore graduated with a first. Credit: PA

Sunderland forward Duncan Watmore modestly thanked his "awesome" club and tutors after becoming only the second player in the Premier League to graduate 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 at Newcastle University.

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 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," he said.

"It was not the typical student life. I missed out on a few things but I really enjoyed it."

David Wetherall graduated from Sheffield University in chemistry in 1992. Credit: PA

"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."

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.