WATCH: Sunderland's Duncan Watmore shows he's first class by graduating with top degree

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Sunderland footballer Duncan Watmore today became only the second Premier League player to graduate with first-class honours - and modestly thanked his "awesome" club and tutors.

The England Under-21 forward juggled the intensive training required to break into the first team with long hours of study in the evening, poring over textbooks and catching up on lectures online.

Sunderland's Duncan Watmore graduated today with a first-class honours degree from Newcastle University.

Sunderland's Duncan Watmore graduated today with a first-class honours degree from Newcastle University.

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 Newcastle University after impressing Sunderland scouts and moving to the North East.

In recent weeks he has earned good reviews for his direct, incisive style of play, which has coincided with an upturn in Sunderland's fortunes.

Duncan Watmore as fans are more used to seeing him, in action for Sunderland v Stoke City.

Duncan Watmore as fans are more used to seeing him, in action for Sunderland v Stoke City.

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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 today's 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.

Duncan Watmore achieved his first in economics and business management.

Duncan Watmore achieved his first in economics and business management.

"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.

"They were both always willing to compromise to help me to get through, they were massive in what I achieved, so I'm very grateful for that."

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 playing at Altrincham.

"I properly experienced the uni side of things there, the last two years has been more the academic side."

Watmore, 21, was released from Manchester United's Academy when he was 12 and concentrated on enjoying school life afterwards.

He felt strongly there was still opportunities for players, like Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy, to come up from non-league football.

But he shied away from thinking of himself as a role-model for parents who want their boys to continue their studies while striving to make the grade in professional football. "I see myself as someone playing football who is trying to get a degree, and managed to do that," he said.

He will keep an interest in economics and business but has no plans to continue formal studies for a Masters.

"I'm enjoying a bit of a break from it all," he said.

He will fully concentrate on his game instead, saying: "I'm just looking forward to playing as much as I can and if I play well I can do that. I know I have to play well, and hopefully I can."

The only other Premier League footballer to gain a first-class degree was David Wetherall, who graduated from Sheffield University in chemistry in 1992, having already played for Sheffield Wednesday.

Dr Francis Kiraly, undergraduate director, Newcastle University Business School said: "Duncan was an excellent student from day one.

"He has shown great enthusiasm throughout his time at Newcastle University, and this last year we were very pleased to help him accommodate his football commitments as well as his dedication to his degree programme."

Dr Jonathan Jones, degree programme director, added: "He has shown maturity in balancing these responsibilities, and we wish him all the very best at the start of his promising career."