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Sunderland Vs Hartlepool - Paying Tribute To 'Pools Legend, Ritchie Humphreys

Sunderland travel to Victoria Park tomorrow to take on Hartlepool in a testimonial for Ritchie Humphreys.
Sunderland travel to Victoria Park tomorrow to take on Hartlepool in a testimonial for Ritchie Humphreys.

Tomorrow night Sunderland travel to Victoria Park to take on Hartlepool United in a testemonial for club legend Ritchie Humphreys.

While of course many SAFC fans are focusing on our own players - who will play, which formation Steve Bruce is going to use and all that sort of thing, we shouldn't forget that the game itself is in honour of a 'Pools hero.

With that in mind, we were lucky enough to have Nick Loughlin - Sports Editor of the Northern Echo, Member of the Ritchie Humphreys Testimonial Committee and of course my defensive compadre from Northern Leagues United - give us the full lowdown on the man who tomorrow night's game honours, and give us insight as to why it's such a big occasion.

And with that, I'll hand you over to Mr Loughlin...

Loyalty  in football is an all too rare commodity these days and Ritchie Humphreys bucks that trend.

Since moving to Hartlepool United in 2001, he has racked up records and achievements galore and the culmination and highlight of his deserved testimonial year comes on Tuesday evening when Sunderland visit Victoria Park in his benefit game.

Pools and Humphreys have met Sunderland once before, in 2004 when almost 10,000 in blue and white made the trip up the A19 to see Julio Arca's low strike prove the difference in an FA Cup round three tie.

And, for all his club-record 480 outings, that day at the Stadium of Light remains one of his career highlights, and one of the reasons he was soon keen and so pleased that Steve Bruce agreed to send a full-strength side, the rack of new summer signings included, to Victoria Park for his benefit game.

"We were unfortunate to lose that day.'' he recalled. "It was some sight and some memory to see and hear so many of our fans there, something that will stay with me. It's brilliant to play in front of crowds like that, it doesn't happen too often.

"Julio Arca scored and Mart Poom had to make three good saves to keep out Eifion Williams and Paul Robinson.''

Sunderland fans may remember Humphreys as a 1996 prospect, who broke onto the Premiership stage with a bang in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt.

He accepts he was never going to maintain the heights of three spectacular goals in four appearances and, as the Owls struggled, Humphreys moved on, landing at Hartlepool, signed by management duo Chris Turner and Colin West, in 2001.

"To be truthful I wasn't good enough at that level and to be honest I once I dropped out of that level, I didn't think I would ever play again in the Premier League,'' he reflected.

"If I was good enough to be in the Premier League I would be there, that's my outlook.

"Having said that I love doing what I do and I love being at Hartlepool United.

"I love the day-to-day ethic of being a player, of going in and training and playing. I wouldn't swap it for anything else in the world."

From then, he went onto make 234 consecutive appearances from August 2001 to August 2006. It's some feat in an era when yellow cards are dished out like confetti and plenty of players skip games for the slightest of knocks. Last season he passed the club's long-standing appearance record when he turned out for the 473rd time.

He was voted Pools' player of the century as part of the club's 100-year celebrations in 2008, has been part of two promotions and three play-off campaigns. He's even had a street named after him in town, one of a number of Pools players who make up a new housing estate not too far from Victoria Park.

And he's also met the Queen, among a group rewarded for making a "significant contribution to local and national life" by being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Red and white links have smattered his Victoria Park career. He played alongside Gabbiadini as Marco Goalo's career came to an end in 2004. In May, Gabbiadini played in Humphreys' testimonial Twenty20 cricket match. Ben Clark, Thomas Butler, Michael Proctor, Darren Williams and Neil Collins are among his ex-teammates, while Martin Scott was Pools' manager for part of the 2006/7 season.

While those have since moved on, Humphreys remained. Now appointed player-coach to learn a new chapter of his career, Humphreys is Pools' version of Kevin Ball – loyal, fully committed and a club stalwart.

"I've a real affinity for this football club, I've always been passionate about it,'' he said. "I feel really privileged to be part of it and have the chance to play and have the opportunity to change things on a Saturday.

"It's a privilege to get the shirt, it's a wish of a lot of people and I'm honoured to be given a testimonial year.''

Tuesday's game (7.30pm kick-off) is not all-ticket (£10 and £5 concessions), but Sunderland have been given – and sold out – the regular Rink End away stand and have also been given tickets for the Mill House Stand, while they can also pay on the night.

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