MATT IS A REAL FLYING SCOT
IF BOURNEMOUTH’S rise to the top of the Championship was unexpected before this season began, then the sight of Matt Ritchie making his full international debut for Scotland would have been downright astonishing.
Yet there was the Cherries winger at Hampden Park last month, gamely singing along to ‘Flower of Scotland’ prior to delivering a wicked corner that set up Christophe Berra’s late winner against Northern Ireland.
Eyebrows were initially raised upon Gosport-born Ritchie’s surprise call-up after showing admirable honesty in admitting he had never visited the auld country, despite having a Scottish father and grandparents.
The winger made those same family members proud on his first venture north of the border though, having completed an already remarkable rise back through the lower leagues in style.
Following two promising Premier League appearances for crisis-stricken Portsmouth in 2010, Ritchie came to his current starring role in Eddie Howe’s side via spells at Dagenham & Redbridge, Notts County and Swindon.
So perhaps the 25-yearold’s circuitous route to the international stage is not that surprising after all, given those who take the low road will be in Scotland “afore ye”. “It was great to be part of the Scotland squad for those games against Northern Ireland (1-0) and Gibraltar (6-1) and I really enjoyed my time away,” said Ritchie.
“It’s a dream come true to play international football and it was a brilliant experience, so hopefully they are the first of many more caps.
“There were a few jokes from the guys about me not having been to Scotland before, but honesty is key so I wasn’t going to lie about it.
“I really loved my first experience of the country and it was an amazing week, especially for my family.
“I’m very lucky to be involved with a Scotland team that is doing well and we’ve given ourselves a good chance to qualify for Euro 2016.
“It’s certainly not going to be easy, especially with Germany and Poland still to come, but there is great belief among the players and manager.
“It was a pleasure to work with Gordon Strachan. He wants us to go out and express ourselves, and to play with freedom, which is important for me.”
Being afforded the liberty to attack is clearly vital for a player like Ritchie.
He has proven an ideal fit in a Bournemouth side that have scored more goals than any other in the Football League this season, with Ritchie also leading the Championship assists chart.
And he guarantees the Cherries will not be changing the style that has taken them from the lower reaches of League Two to the brink of the Premier League.
“It’s great to be a part of a club with the philosophy Bournemouth have – it’s fantastic to be able to express ourselves by playing freeflowing football,” he added.
“We come up with plenty of great ideas in training and are encouraged to use them. It’s great to be getting the rewards for that style this season.
“The manager is not about to change our ways as we believe in ourselves and we are good enough to step up a level.”
If they do, it will be the culmination of a long and winding road.
“At Portsmouth I managed to play two games in the Premier League, away at Wigan and against Aston Villa at home,” he said.
“It was brief but I got to feel what it was like to play at that level. Portsmouth had a lot of troubles at the time, so it was a tough period but it gave me a belief and a hunger to get back to the top.
“I aim to make an impact at that level and it made me want to strive and work hard to achieve it again.
“I may have taken a different route to some players but I’ve really enjoyed all I’ve done and don’t regret any of it.”
THAT’S RITCH: Matt Ritchie on the run in his debut against Northern Ireland