GOOD, BAD & UGLY

Ritchie Humphreys gives us the low­down on his ca­reer

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

AS a teenager at Sh­eff ie ld Wed­nes­day, Ritchie Humphreys was fa­mously la­belled “the next Marco van Bas­ten” by an ad­mir­ing Jo­han Cruyff.

A de­but at 17, a slew of spec­tac­u­lar strikes, men­tored by Chris Wad­dle, it seemed the child­hood Blades fan was set for su­per­star­dom. If the sub­se­quent 20 years didn’t quite live up to that sky-high billing, the Ch­ester­field vet­eran has still forged a ca­reer that would make any player proud.

A whop­ping 733 games, 54 goals, three pro­mo­tions and, of course, leg­endary sta­tus at Hartle­pool United, the club he graced for more than a decade.

Now PFA chair­man and still slog­ging away for the Spire­ites at 38, he looks back over his two decades in the game and re­calls the highs, the lows… and the day his big mo­ment was ru­ined by David Beck­ham.

FIRST CLUB

Sh­effield Wed­nes­day. I left school in ‘94 and went there to do my YTS. I made my [full] de­but in ‘96.

I ac­tu­ally grew up a Sh­effield United fan and was on the books there un­til I was about 13. They let me and Kevin Davies go on ex­actly the same day. He went to Ch­ester­field, I went back to Sun­day foot­ball and, thank­fully, got picked up by Wed­nes­day.

I ac­tu­ally made my full home de­but on the day David Beck­ham scored against Wim­ble­don from the half­way line. I scored a re­ally good goal that day, as well. It got nom­i­nated for Goal of the Month but ob­vi­ously didn’t stand a chance against that!

I made a re­ally good start. I scored three in my first four games, two of them among the best I’ve ever scored, and af­ter the first month of the sea­son Wed­nes­day were top of the Premier League. It gave me great con­fi­dence.

BEST MAN­AGER

Paul Cook was great for me, but I’ve worked un­der my cur­rent man­ager Danny Wil­son three times now and he’s some­one I’ve re­ally grown to re­spect.

I was a young lad at Wed­nes­day and didn’t re­ally think about it too much. But at Hartle­pool I was a bit older, do­ing my coach­ing badges, and I learned a lot about how to han­dle play­ers, dif­fer­ent coach­ing meth­ods and all the sub­tle lit­tle things that make up man­age­ment.

He’s very pro­fes­sional, very fo­cused on how to get re­sults. And, like any man­ager, he doesn’t of­ten lose his tem­per, but, when he does, you cer­tainly know about it!

BEST TEAM-MATE

When I first got into the Wed­nes­day team, the spine of that side was phe­nom­e­nal. Des Walker, David Hirst, Chris Wad­dle, John Sheri­dan.

The names speak for them­selves. They all had hun­dreds of top-flight games, they were all in­ter­na­tion­als. To see how they trained and how they pro­duced on a match day was a bril­liant ground­ing.

Chris Wad­dle, for me, is one of the great­est tal­ents this coun­try has ever pro­duced. What he couldn’t do with a ball wasn’t worth know­ing.

Des Walker was one of the best de­fend­ers we’ve ever had. David Hirst scored more than 100 goals for the club.

Tech­ni­cally, Shez was peer­less. I played against him at Old­ham to­wards the end of his ca­reer and he was still pick­ing out passes that no­body had even thought of, let alone had time to see. If you made a run, he would find you. And, if you needed to get stuck in, he’d do that as well.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

Hartle­pool in 2002-03. I’ve got bril­liant mem­o­ries of that. Not just the suc­cess, but the way it hap­pened. The year be­fore, we’d reached the League Two play-offs and the semi against Chel­tenham came down to penal­ties. I was the one who missed the fi­nal penalty.

It’s the last kick of the sea­son and you feel you’ve let ev­ery­one down – team-mates, man­age­ment, staff. It’s a hor­ri­ble feel­ing I wouldn’t wish on any­one. That sum­mer was aw­ful.

But we came back re­ally strong, led the league for most of the year and I ended up get­ting 11 goals and win­ning player of the year. The spirit in that side was im­mense and it lives on to this day be­cause we’re all still in touch.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

One of my best mates in foot­ball is Dar­rell Clarke, the Bris­tol Rovers man­ager.We signed for Hartle­pool on the same day in 2001, along with Tommy Wid­dring­ton and Jon Bass, and lived in digs to­gether.

He’s a re­ally funny guy, bril­liant to have around the chang­ing room and it’s no sur­prise he’s do­ing well in man­age­ment be­cause he’s ex­cep­tional with peo­ple. I’ve got to men­tion Ian Dun­bavin, too. He came on loan to Ch­ester­field from Ac­cring­ton the year we won the league. When­ever you were lost or needed a lift, he was the bloke who’d of­fer.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

Af­ter an away game for Hartle­pool, I can’t re­mem­ber where. We were go­ing for the play-offs and we’d con­ceded a re­ally daft late goal, to lose. Ev­ery­one was fu­ri­ous, the man­ager was rant­ing and rav­ing. Michael Nelson, our cen­tre-back, got up and had a few words. As he’s turned to go, he’s chucked a Pow­er­ade bot­tle – one of those ones that’s soft at the bot­tom and hard at the top – and the cap caught our keeper, Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los, on the bridge of the nose.

He went down like he’d been shot, curs­ing away in a mix­ture of Greek and English. It was hi­lar­i­ous and com­pletely broke the ten­sion. You just thought ‘Why are we tak­ing our­selves so se­ri­ously?’

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

I’ve had three pro­mo­tions and three Eng­land Un­der-21 caps. I scored on my full Premier League de­but. I was named PFA chair­man. Those are all stand-outs.

But, look­ing back, man­ag­ing to play pro­fes­sion­ally for 20 years is the thing I’ll look back on with the most pride. I’ve done 730-odd games and it’s some­thing I try to pass on to the younger play­ers.Yes, you need abil­ity, but your coaches and man­agers can’t look af­ter you at home. Take care of your body and you’ll get the re­wards.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

Rel­e­ga­tion, with­out doubt. I went down with Wed­nes­day and with Hartle­pool twice. Ob­vi­ously it has per­sonal costs.

Peo­ple look at your stats and think ‘Do we want a guy with rel­e­ga­tions on his CV?’ I could ac­cept it if the club de­cided to let me go or gave me a pay-cut, but staff could lose their jobs. YTS play­ers might not get taken on. Your mate sit­ting be­side you in the dress­ing room might not get his con­tract re­newed. Peo­ple have fam­i­lies, bills, mort­gages. The fans could think ‘I’m not watch­ing this lot next sea­son’. I’d played a lot those sea­sons and I felt per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Old Traf­ford in the late 90s. You could put in your best per­for­mance of the sea­son and still lose by a cricket score.The play­ers they had, Giggs, Sc­holes, Beck­ham, Keane, were just too strong.

The other one is a ground I’ve played at so many times I’ve lost count – Scun­thorpe. I just couldn’t get a re­sult there. Even the day we clinched pro­mo­tion with Hartle­pool, we lost 4-1 at Glan­ford Park. It was the most bizarre feel­ing.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

An­other hark back to the Premier League days, it has to be Sol Camp­bell and Tony Adams. I was a young striker learn­ing the game and they were big, strong veter­ans who knew ev­ery trick in the book. Good on the ball, good in the air, loved a phys­i­cal bat­tle. I’ve got a few pic­tures of my­self up against them and it looks like a boy play­ing men’s foot­ball! I never got any change out of them.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

Even though I lost, I’ve got to say Wem­b­ley. I’d never played there un­til Ch­ester­field reached the JPT fi­nal in 2014. I was 36.

It had al­ways been my dream, and walk­ing out with the na­tional an­thems and the fire­works and all the cer­e­mony was a life­long am­bi­tion ticked off. We lost 3-1 to Peter­bor­ough but, for us, the ulti- mate aim was pro­mo­tion and we ended up win­ning the League Two ti­tle. I’d been pro­moted twice but never won a tro­phy, so that was an­other first that came re­ally late.

AM­BI­TION

I’d like to play for as long as I can. Be­yond that, I just want to stay fit and healthy. I’ve got my A-li­cence, I’ve done my ap­plied man­age­ment course. Through my role at the PFA , we en­cour­age lads to get some education – and that’s what I’ve done.

It’s not easy to break into coach­ing, but I’ve been in dress­ing rooms since I was 16 and don’t want that to end with my play­ing ca­reer.

Best man­ager: Danny Wil­son Best team-mate: John Sheri­dan Favourite place to go: Wem­b­ley/JPT Fi­nal 2014 Tough­est place to go: Glan­ford Park

Early Ca­reer: Sh­effield Wed­nes­day Fun­ni­est Player: Dar­rell Clarke

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.