IT IS hardly how you would expect a player to celebrate winning the league.
Most Newcastle’s stars were out painting the Toon black and white after they clinched the Championship title in May, guzzling champagne until the early hours.
But one of their heroes, Matt Ritchie, did not have a single glass of fizz, sticking to lime and soda and heading home before the carnage commenced.
The wing wizard, 28, has been teetotal since he was a teenager growing up in Gosport, as he felt alcohol would affect his chances of making his way in the game.
And the only time he has touched a drop in recent times was his wedding day – oh, and on Wednesday night, so he could give a urine sample to drug testers.
Speaking to SunSport at Newcastle’s training ground yesterday, Ritchie smiled: “It’s funny you should come today because last night I had a knock on my door at 8.45pm – it was the drug testers.
“And to try and make myself have a wee, I had my first beer since my wedding day two years ago!
“Even when we won the league I didn’t have a glass of champagne. I had a lime and soda with my meal.
“It doesn’t mean I’m not delighted to achieve what we did last season, but different people have different ways of enjoying themselves.
“When I was 15, 16, my mates would go down to Fort Gilkicker near where I lived and they would be drinking their blue WKDs.
“But I was always advised by coaches and my parents that if I wanted to get to the top level, that’s not the way to go about it.
“Drinking has never floated my boat. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
“I will probably get labelled boring for that but I want to give myself the best opportunity to be the best I can be.”
Even during our chat, Ritchie – a great believer in sports science – has soya milk with his coffee, after advice from one of his pals.
And he explains that his wife Emma – the childhood sweetheart he met at school aged 13 – is just as disciplined and is studying for a degree in clinical exercise science.
When it comes to training, Ritchie is also always one of the first to arrive and last to leave, doing extra gym work in between sessions.
And the Scot, who joined the Toon from Bournemouth for £12million last summer, explained: “It’s not about being big and having a beach body.
“It’s about being functional and the small exercises you do pre and post training are very important for your performances on the pitch.
“If you look at me, I’m not the most athletic bloke in the world.
“But all the stats say I am one of the players that covers the most distance, and in blood tests and everything else we do, I’m always in the top two or three.”
As much as any of his goals and assists, it is this work ethic that has made Ritchie a firm fans’ favourite at Newcastle.
Proof of his popularity came last week when Sports Direct released figures showing that they had sold more shirts with his name on in the UK than Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
And Ritchie admitted: “If someone had said to me five years ago that this would be the case, I would have laughed at them.
“The fans have been fantastic to me since I’ve been here and the least I can do is give everything for them.
“Sometimes I won’t be having the best of games, but one quality I have is that I’ll never hide.”
Ritchie believes that the rest of his Toon team-mates also share his hunger.
And that is why he was put out by suggestions Newcastle were not good enough to stay up unless they significantly strengthened in the summer.
Rafa Benitez’s boys have gone some way to silencing those critics with their back-to-back wins over West Ham and Swansea.
And ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Stoke, Ritchie added: “You get the pundits telling you that the team isn’t good enough.
“But I believe we have a really good chance of not only staying in the league, but having a successful season.
“The squad we had last year achieved something special together and that brings you closer and makes you want to fight for each other.
“I had experience of that at Bournemouth
“We came up from League One to the Championship to the Premier League and on the first day in the Premier League, we probably had eight players who played in League One three years earlier.
“That just proves if you work together and continue to raise the bar throughout the club, that group of players can get better and compete at a higher level.”
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