RITCHIE MAKES NEW BID FOR FAME
‘England’s Van Basten’ still hungry at age 35
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.”
STILL LOVING IT: Ritchie Humphreys playing for Chesterfield Above: With his daughter before kick off inset: Marco van Basten