MATT IS A REAL FLY­ING SCOT

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jack Skel­ton

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.

Cir­cuitous

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.

En­cour­aged

“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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

THAT’S RITCH: Matt Ritchie on the run in his de­but against North­ern Ire­land

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