‘Eng­land’s Van Bas­ten’ still hun­gry at age 35

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jamie Holt

RITCHIE Humphreys has had quite a ca­reer, but ‘Eng­land’s an­swer to Marco van Bas­ten’ and Hartle­pool’s player of the cen­tury claims there’s still plenty to look for­ward to.

The ver­sa­tile 35-year-old faced the daunt­ing prospect of life with­out Hartle­pool this sum­mer when his record-break­ing 12-year spell in the North East came to an end and he signed for League Two ri­vals Ch­ester­field.

At Pools he amassed a club record 544 ap­pear­ances, three player of the year ti­tles and al­most led them to the Cham­pi­onship for the first time in their his­tory in 2005 – home­town club Sh­effield Wed­nes­day putting paid to that par­tic­u­lar land­mark in the play-off fi­nal.

Hills­bor­ough is where it all be­gan for Humphreys with his big break com­ing in the sum­mer of 1996.

In a pre-sea­son game in Hol­land, a won­der goal against Utrecht was wit­nessed by Jo­han Cruyff who lauded the then 19year-old as the English ver­sion of Van Bas­ten – at least that’s how the story goes.

But Humphreys, still des­per­ate to prove he can mix it in League Two, cut that myth down to size and it’s easy to see how such a mod­est out­look has brought re­wards.


“I think a jour­nal­ist af­ter­wards asked him (Van Bas­ten) if he saw my goal and he said some­thing like ‘yeah, he had a pretty good game, he has a bright fu­ture’,” said Humphreys, who penned a one-year deal at the Proact Sta­dium in July.

“Later it was ap­par­ently Jo­han Cruyff tip­ping me to be the next Marco Van Bas­ten! It was all Chi­nese whispers.

“The pleas­ing thing was I ac­tu­ally had a good pre-sea­son, and I made my full de­but the same day as (David) Beck­ham scored from the halfway line against Wim­ble­don.

“I was only play­ing be­cause of the in­juries we had to peo­ple like Mark Bright but I scored against Villa on the open­ing day and then against Leeds. I scored three in my first four games.

“We were top of the league, I was play­ing with­out any fear and I was mix­ing with some great pros like Chris Waddle, John Sheri­dan, Andy Sin­ton and Des Walker – th­ese were Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als and I was still on a YTS con­tract.

“It didn’t work out, though. I’ve got no com­plaints. If I was good enough for the top flight I would have sus­tained it.”

The Pre­mier League’s loss was cer­tainly Hartle­pool’s gain when he pitched up as a Cam­bridge United cast-off in 2001.

Chris Turner, now chief ex­ec­u­tive at Ch­ester- field, was the man who talked him into a move to Vic­to­ria Road and a stint no one could have imag­ined.

“I left Sh­effield Wed­nes­day in Fe­bru­ary 2001 for Cam­bridge and I broke a bone in my foot – which later proved to be the pop­u­lar metatarsal bone,” added the ver­sa­tile Humphreys who has played left back, left wing and striker in his long ca­reer.

“The man­ager at the time, Roy McFar­land, then got the sack, so I wasn’t guar­an­teed a con­tract. Again it was Chris Turner who signed me for Hartle­pool, just like he helped do here (at Ch­ester­field where Turner is chief ex­ec­u­tive).

“Twelve years later I’m the player of the cen­tury, I’ve won two pro­mo­tions and had some great play-off cam­paigns where we were eight min­utes away from get­ting the club into the Cham­pi­onship.

“We had a penalty against us and a man sent off and it was ac­tu­ally Drew Tal­bot, who I’m at Ch­ester­field with now, who scored their fourth goal in ex­tra time. We’ve been talk­ing about that a bit re­cently!

“We were so close to tak­ing the club to some­where it had never been be­fore, it would have been an out­stand­ing achieve­ment.


“It was a shame for my time to end the way it did (in rel­e­ga­tion last sea­son) but there was def­i­nitely more highs than lows through­out my time at the club.”

Humphreys is as stu­dious off the pitch as he is on it, he’s com­pleted his UEFA A Li­cence and plans to go into coach­ing once his play­ing days are over.

But the for­mer Eng­land U21 in­ter­na­tional in­sists he’s got plenty more to of­fer in the Spire­ites’ push for pro­mo­tion.

“I want to be play­ing for as long as I can, I’m so fo­cussed on get­ting the most out of my ca­reer still,” con­tin­ued Humphreys, who is also on the man­age­ment com­mit­tee of the PFA.

“I’m in­spired by peo­ple who are still play­ing into their older age – Ryan Giggs and pre­vi­ously Teddy Sher­ing­ham – ob­vi­ously th­ese are top end play­ers and to still be at that level is fan­tas­tic.

“The game has changed slightly from my days at Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, it’s about how you re­cover now and I played three games in a week last week. Some peo­ple like to ro­tate the squads but when I play I’m de­lighted.

“You don’t have to be 21 or 22 to be hun­gry, and I think (Ch­ester­field man­ager) Paul Cook saw that in me.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

STILL LOVING IT: Ritchie Humphreys play­ing for Ch­ester­field Above: With his daugh­ter be­fore kick off inset: Marco van Bas­ten

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