After 10 years of playing professional football – a leg injury gave Adam Bale the opportunity to reassess his career goals and fulfil a childhood ambition to become a lawyer.

Now the 24-year-old former Sunderland AFC midfielder is one step closer to his goal after graduating with a First-Class Honours degree in Law at the University of Sunderland.

Not only has he achieved the highest scoring degree grade on the course, but that competitive element he harboured on the pitch has been translated into the classroom, landing him a trophy, this time for his outstanding results in commercial law – the annual Sweeney Miller Law Prize.

Adam, who began his studies in 2020, and faced disruption in his first year due to COVID-19, has spent the last three years perfecting his craft in the courtroom, volunteering as a part-time magistrate, a role he plans to continue now he’s graduated.

“I am really proud of what I have achieved, I worked hard to finish top of the Commercial Law Module and the degree overall,” says Adam, from Washington, whose skills were spotted on the playing field when he was aged 12  by Sunderland AFC Academy of Light.

He then left SAFC in April 2019, in order to complete a permanent move to Hartlepool United FC until the end of the 2019-20 campaign.

Adam says: “Football was my first love, and when I moved to Hartlepool, I suffered an injury and never quite bounced back.

“My aspiration, however, was always to move over to law later in my career, but thought I might as well grasp at the football while I was young and could play.

“Also, as a footballer, I was always competitive and always liked the idea of pitting myself against another in court. It’s about challenging myself.”

Former Sunderland AFC  player Adam Bale

He added: “My plans were always to stay in education, and while I was doing my pro-football contract, I continued studying A-Levels at East Durham College.

“It was a real challenge and difficult to balance at times with all the expectations of being a professional footballer.”

Presenting the Sweeney Miller Prize – a certificate, cheque and placement opportunity – law firm partner, Damien Todd, said: “Achieving such a fantastic result in Commercial Law at the University is something that Adam should be greatly proud of.

“No doubt the mark is culmination of a significant amount of studying throughout the year.

“We are extremely pleased to present the award and welcoming him to Sweeney Miller Law when his placement starts later this month.

“We have a great relationship with the University which was born due to much of our staff studying at Sunderland before going into practice.

“The role of the University in the local area is huge in moulding tomorrow’s legal professionals and we congratulate the University for their continued presence in the region.

“We’re excited to be able to partner with the University in presenting this annual award and look forward to supporting Adam and future students throughout their legal journey.”

Adam says he thoroughly enjoyed his time at the University of Sunderland, and was given huge support from his lecturers, having been out of education for almost four years, but added: “I really enjoyed trying to beat myself on this course, and beat my marks each time!”

He also advises any student just beginning their own law degree journey with Sunderland to consider becoming a magistrate.

“It’s a great experience, you see the other side, the deliberation process, and it really gives you an understanding of what you’re learning.”

Adam will now continue to study the Bar Course at Northumbria University, and has ambitions to become a barrister, which he hopes will lead on to becoming a judge one day.

Toni Spencer, Principal Lecturer and Solicitor, has been Adam’s Lecturer and Personal Academic Tutor over the course of his time with the University of Sunderland.

She said: “I have seen the determination and that competitive edge that Adam speaks of on many occasions over the past three years.

“Always setting that bar slightly higher each time and I hope he is incredibly proud of himself.

“Not only receiving the Commercial Law Award from Sweeney Miller, but also finishing with the highest mark overall in his cohort is a phenomenal achievement.

“Adam, and his fellow students have undertaken a difficult degree in challenging circumstances during lockdown and I am incredibly proud of each and every student.”

Toni added: “Having been a practicing solicitor myself for over 12 years and represented clients in court hearing on many occasions, I can see that Adam has the skills, determination and knowledge needed to get him through the BAR course and to become a very accomplished barrister.

“I wish him the very best of luck for the future and hope he will be happy to return to the University one day to pass his knowledge and experience onto our future students.”