RITCHIE Humphreys’ former team-mates have led the tributes to the Hartlepool United legend following his release from the club.
Confirmation arrived yesterday that the 35-year-old was being let go after 12 years at Victoria Park.
A veteran of two promotions, three Player of the Year awards and a member of the celebrated side which came within one match of the Championship in 2005, the club’s record-appearance holder departs having well and truly cemented his place in Poolie folklore.
And ex-players have been quick to pay homage to their old comrade.
“He was a mate first and foremost, a proper team-mate,” former favourite Chris Westwood told SportMail.
A colleague of Humphreys for four seasons, the pair played their last match together at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium during the League One play-off final in 2005, Pools missing out on an historic promotion following a 4-2 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
Humphreys had scored the winning penalty kick in the semi-final shootout win over Tranmere Rovers having four years earlier missed from the spot as Pools were beaten in the Division Three play-off semi at Cheltenham Town.
And that, says Westwood, is his stand-out memory of the Yorkshireman.
“The first thing that springs to mind when I think of playing with Humphs is the tears to cheers,” he went on.
“I’ve got a vision of the disappointment and the tears at Cheltenham but then the character to step up at Tranmere and the elation which followed.
“Those were special times for the club but everything we achieved was because of that team ethic and Ritchie was at the heart of that.”
Leadership qualities aside, however, Westwood is quick to extol the playing virtues of the former Sheffield Wednesday youngster.
“Ritchie had that pedigree from the start,” he added, “But with that came pressure.
“When I heard he had been released I went on Soccerbase to check out his playing stats and it’s incredible.
“To have played more than 500 games at one club means you’ve got impress an awful lot of managers and he did that.
“He is still a very good footballer and I’m sure he’ll get sorted elsewhere.
“But that’s football, clubs chose to move in a different direction and Ritchie has to now.
“He’s got his coaching badges for a reason and I fully expect him to stay in the game for a lot of years to come.”
Darrell Clarke, meanwhile, signed for Pools at the same time as Humphreys in 2001 and remains a close friend.
He, like Westwood, remembers the spirit Humphreys helped to harbour in the dressing-room.
“He was one of the leaders of that team spirit which made us the team we were,” said the former midfielder, now in charge of Conference-bound Salisbury City.
“He was the model professional for every one to look to and it’s no surprise that so many managers continued to pick him.
“He will go down in Pools legend and rightly so.
“Don’t forget also that, as well as being a gentleman, he was a damn good footballer.
“And I bet he was still one of the fittest players at the club.
“That being the case I wouldn’t be surprised to see him carry on playing next season.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to afford him though – as much as I would like to!”