STEVE Bruce says he is delighted Sunderland are playing in Ritchie Humphreys’ testimonial game at Hartlepool tonight.
Humphreys is Pool’s record appearance maker and this evening’s game at Victoria Park celebrates the 33-year-old’s service over the course of more than a decade at the club.
Bruce said: “We’re more than happy to be involved in the game, because you couldn’t get more of a deserving cause.
“The lad has put in a tremendous effort at the one club and it’s very rare, especially these days, that you see players being so loyal to the same club.
“It’s good for the fans when they get players who stay at the club for long periods and who they can grow to identify with.
“I’m pleased that ticket sales have gone so well for him and of course he’ll have been pleased to have Sunderland coming to town because everyone knows about the size and passion of our support.”
Sunderland’s side tonight will be led by skipper Lee Cattermole, who is similarly enthusiastic about the friendly.
“Everyone talks about how many appearances Ritchie has made for Hartlepool and that’s understandable because to be the leading appearance maker for your club is something very special.
“But what impresses me is the fact that he has played for so long at Hartlepool because it’s never easy at a club which sees a lot of change.
“There must have been half a dozen different managers at the club during his time there and to still be there now means that he has gone out and impressed every one of them and been able to fit into whatever pattern of play they’ve wanted.”
Humphreys himself admits he’ll be as nervous as his wedding day when he runs out tonight.
He will take to the field with daughter Eliza while wife Amanda, dad John, mum Jean, sister Melissa and other family members watch on with pride from the main stand at Victoria Park.
The match marks the climax of a year in which Humphreys has enjoyed a series of events celebrating his 10 years at the club.
And, despite the obvious apprehension, Pools’ player of the century can’t wait for it all to begin.
“I’m excited, nervous, a bit of everything really – it’s similar to my wedding day I suppose,” he said.
“It’s the climax of an unbelievable year. The events such as the dinners, the golf day and all the rest has been incredible. The reaction of the fans hasn’t surprised me because I know how good they are, but it has certainly humbled me.
“I think I might be a bit overwhelmed by it all tonight but I’ll be hoping to take as much of it in and remember as much as possible.”
“Just to be in the game for 10 years is brilliant and I think this match celebrates all the hard work and dedication,” he added.
“Being a footballer is an absolute privilege but you’ve got to work hard to make it.
“You have to give up a lot, but I wouldn’t swap what I do for the world and tonight will be one of the proudest moments of my life.”