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Chesterfield’s Ritchie Humphreys had an eventful 2013. The 35-year-old suffered relegation with Hartlepool United before leaving to sign for Chesterfield after making a club record 544 appearances at Victoria Park, all while being elected as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, finding himself with a seat on the FA Chairman’s National Commission and welcoming a further addition to his family.
The versatile left sider made his name with Premier League Sheffield Wednesday at the age of 18, scoring a memorable chip against Leicester after climbing the ranks of the youth system before moving on from Hillsborough to be named Hartlepool’s player of the decade for his services in County Durham. Humphreys then reunited with former Hartlepool boss Chris Turner, now the chief executive at Chesterfield, when he signed for the Spireites in July 2013.
Now, with over 600 league appearances to his name, Humphreys relies on a wealth of experience gained from his time in all four divisions of English football to assist him in his roles with the PFA and FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s National Commission into the future of English football, as well as his career with Chesterfield, on which he places paramount importance.
Humphreys sat down with the Chesterfield Post to examine a typical day in the life of a professional footballer with more commitments than most, providing an insight into the responsibilities of life as a footballer found both on and off the pitch.
The eloquent, well spoken veteran, faces an early start every morning, such is his evident commitment to his family life. ‘I’m up at around seven with the kids, the eldest will get up at that time. We’ve got a new born baby so he could be up at any point at the moment. I’ll get her breakfast sorted and then get my breakfast sorted, before leaving the house at 8:15 and reporting here at the Proact for 8:45.’
On his journey to work, Chesterfield and the surrounding areas are not places unfamiliar to the former Wednesday man.
He said: ‘I played in the local area when I was a kid. I played for a team called Greenhill and Lowedges which is just over the dual carriage way. We played Brampton Dynamos, they were in the same league at the time so that sort of grassroots football I’ve known since I was a kid. That Saturday and Sunday football is essential for where the lads get their footballing educations.’
When the 35-year-old arrives at the Proact, he heads straight to the gym for an hour before going over to the training ground for a morning session at around 10:15. Despite his positions of considerable responsibility elsewhere, Humphreys maintains that his priorities lie in his day job as a professional footballer.
‘This [Chesterfield] is of paramount importance to me alongside my family, it’s important that I’m here for training and training as properly as I can and not letting anything else interfere with it.’
After the morning training session, Humphreys will have lunch before spending an hour or so in the afternoon dealing with the other sides of his career in football.
Chesterfield’s number 15 was elected to succeed Clarke Carlisle as Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association in September, before officially being appointed at the association’s Annual General Meeting in November.
On his familiarisation to the role, Humphreys said: ‘Its been fine. I took over officially in November at the AGM. It’s not been too time consuming really; first and foremost I’m a professional footballer at Chesterfield.
‘A lot of the stuff I have to do PFA-wise is literally to grab an hour or so in the afternoon: I can do a lot by email and telephone, and normally it’s something whereby the press give me a call when something has happened in football over a weekend and sometimes they want a comment on it from is as a union, sometimes it’s me and sometimes it’s people at the offices.’
The 35-year-old insists that the handover of responsibility from Carlisle has been as smooth as possible. He said: ‘Its been a good transition, I’ve asked for advice and his telephone is always on.
‘I spoke with Clarke and Chris Powell as well, the chairman before Clarke who was the chairman when I first went on the management committee at the PFA.
‘I’ve been on the management committee for a while so I know all the executives that we have and the chief executive and the deputy chief executive so it’s been ok so far.’
It was clear from an early stage in his career that Humphreys would pursue an administrative role in football.
He said: ‘Each football club has a delegate so the PFA can phone him to go into the dressing room to relay information that needs to be relayed, and I’d been that at Hartlepool for probably ten years or so.
‘About five years ago I went on to the management committee, which is a committee of 12 delegates that meet quarterly with the chairman and the chief executives to see what ongoing business is happening, what new stuff we can improve on so I’ve been that for five years and taken over as chairman this year.’
As has been seen with Jonathan Wafula, a Chesterfield academy graduate who was released by the club in the summer, the fall out rate of young professional footballers and subsequent unemployment is something Humphreys looks to tackle in his tenure as chairman.
The Premier League and Football League have reported that between 60% and 65% of the 700 scholars taken on each year are rejected at 18. Even half of those who do win a full-time contract will not be playing at a professional level by 21, as reported by the Professional Footballers’ Association.
He said: ‘The fallout of scholars that don’t quite make it as professionals, the fall out of young professionals is such a high number that we need to get these lads prepared and ready for a second career.
‘In the long term our aim is to keep on going with all the fantastic work that the PFA has been doing. Our education fund is phenomenal really with the amount of money we’ve spent on reeducating players and getting them ready for their second careers.’
In October it was announced Humpheys would be given a seat on FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s National Commission tasked with improving the fortunes of the England team, as a result of his PFA chairmanship.
Humphreys is one of ten members, alongside England manager Roy Hodgson and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
‘We’ve had several meetings. The Commission have said that there won’t be a running commentary of what’s happening but it’s ongoing. They’ve put a public call out where they are asking for people’s opinions on the current state of the game and how it can be improved.
‘There is going to be lots of evidence given and hopefully we can come up with the right result.’
Despite holding positions of such responsibility in both his his administrative and playing roles in football, Humphreys insists that a balance can be found between the game and his family life as a father of two.
‘It’s alright, you can’t complain about it because I’ve put myself forward to do it. Probably getting round it all at first was a little bit more difficult, but now I can give myself an hour or and hour and a half in the afternoon, and that’s not everyday, to reply to emails and phone calls.
‘I’ve become used to it now and when something needs doing you have to just get it done and not let it build up.’ He added.
Humphreys ends his working day to get home for around three, ‘depending if the little one needs picking up from nursery, if so, I’ll pick her up.’ Before going through the family routine before eventually ‘maybe grabbing an hour of telly with my wife and back to bed and repeating the next day.’
The former England Under-21 international is halfway into his 19th season as a professional footballer and continues to play regularly, making 26 appearances in the 2013/14 campaign so far. Humphreys puts the longevity of his career down to his versatility.
He said: ‘I’ve always been one of those who can play in a few positions. It’s helped me as a player for the longevity of my career and I think it’s helped managers at times, as they can trust me to go in and do a job in several positions.’
Humphreys assessed his time at the Proact so far, and reiterated the squad’s desire to secure promotion in April.
‘Top of the league at Christmas and new year says we’re doing alright. We’d liked to have stretched our lead at certain points throughout the year when we’ve had the opportunities, but football is not as easy as that.
‘Being joint top has to give us great confidence going into the new year when every game is a big game, especially as you get in to the back end of the season. If we’re in the same position then as we are now, we’ll be in a good place.
‘We feel like we should be a bit further on than we are now. You look at promotion form as two points a game, if we’re a touch off that so be it, but the league is very, very tight. We know where we should have capitalised on points but that’s football, you’ve got to learn with every game and go on.
‘We’re in a good place but we can’t come off the gas at all, we have to push further and further. We’ve got lads coming back from injury who’ve been badly missed, but we have lads who’ve come in and done great, that’s what the squad is about.’ He said.
Humphreys, who was honoured by the Queen for his contribution to football in 2006, is set to continue with his successes of 2013 with Chesterfield through to the area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, with a potential Wembley final to follow if the Spireites overcome Fleetwood Town over two legs in February.