Stephen Humphrys interview: 'I've joined the main team in Edinburgh. Hearts' facilities are English Premier League level'
and live on Freeview channel 276
Hearts’ latest signing was introduced to media on Friday. “He's 6ft 1in and built like a tank but he's actually got very good feet. He can finish, he brings a lot. I think he's got a lot of attributes to do well up here,” says manager Robbie Neilson. The man himself is still taking all this in.
Humphrys is a 24-year-old English striker out of favour at Wigan Athletic. A loan move to Scotland on transfer deadline day catapulted him from the DW Stadium stand to the Europa Conference League. It’s quite the jump. First it’s a debut at Livingston on Saturday.
The body art adds a certain mystique combined with the physicality. This lad can obviously look after himself. He is already doing that very thing at Hearts’ training base inside Riccarton’s Oriam Scotland sports complex. It beats lacrosse clubs and makeshift physiotherapy in gym halls down south.
“The training ground is fantastic, such a contrast to what I've been used to,” says Humphrys. “After training I went in the swimming pool and the ice baths and the sauna. Usually it's finish training and get yourself home. I can really invest in myself here.
“This training ground is like English Premier League standard. It's probably better than a lot of English Premier League clubs' training grounds. Tottenham and Man United have spent hundreds of millions but I've been to St George's Park and I'd say this is up at that level.
“Compared to Rochdale and Shrewsbury, for example, it’s on a completely different level. At Rochdale we were at the lacrosse/cricket club. Our physio rooms were in a badminton hall with some beds on it and not much equipment. I enjoyed it there but it doesn’t compete with this. It feels like a proper establishment.”
He is already well-informed on Hearts and how to endear himself to supporters. After a late-night phonecall on Wednesday, he spoke to Neilson for a matter of minutes before jumping in his car destined for Edinburgh.
“It was a bit of a mad one,” smiles the player. “I got a call the night before deadline day about Hearts and it was quite late at night. I just digested the information that Hearts wanted me. First thing in the morning I called the gaffer [Neilson]. The conversation was about three minutes long, then I went into the manager at Wigan and said: 'Can I go?' That was it.
“It shows how quickly things in football change. On one hand I'm struggling to get game time and now I could get the opportunity to play in Europe. Football is a matter of opinions. I'm here to do my best and prove people wrong – and right.
“To play in Europe for any team is massive but to play for such a big team – for me it's the main team in Edinburgh – I can't wait to get going.
“I had a couple of options from the Championship in England a few weeks ago. I wasn't allowed to go because it's a conflict of interest. As soon as I found out about Hearts I was right on it.
“I feel like I’m a direct player, an honest player and I’m confident. I like to express myself on the pitch. Goals and assists is what I’ve been brought into do and work hard for the team.
“I didn’t score many goals last season [seven in 49 appearances]. The season before when I was at Rochdale I managed to score 12 goals but I was injured for half the season, so I felt like I was in a really good goalscoring space.”
Conversation turns to emotions, and specifically the contrast of being a Wigan outcast receiving an offer to potentially play in European competition. You sense Humphrys is trying to keep himself calm about what might lie in wait. It’s only his second day in Scotland and he hasn't even seen Tynecastle yet.
If Hearts’ approach caught him by surprise, he is entitled to recall periods in England’s lower divisions when Europe never once crossed his mind. Former clubs like Shrewsbury, Rochdale, Scunthorpe United and Southend United simply don’t get near UEFA seeding pots.
“Not at all. Those types of clubs have never experienced European football. I’ve got an opportunity now and as long as I’m fit and the manager picks me I’ll be playing European football, which is a fantastic feeling.
“On paper Fiorentina is probably the biggest club but then you have the prospect of playing against the likes of Mesut Ozil [of Istanbul Basaksehir]. To travel around and play in these fantastic stadiums and experience different fans, I’m sure the Hearts fans will be backing us too. I’m excited by it.”
It’s the perfect antidote to the growing exasperation of recent weeks at Wigan. “Initially it was feelings of frustrations, I felt a bit hard done by,” admits Humphrys. “I was always trying my best and usually I’d score in closed-door games and would be doing well.
“I never really thought the team was going to change and I said to my agent that I wanted a loan. I didn’t think it was going to come.
“Wigan rejected the Championship offers but then there were a few in League One who were interested. I chose to come here instead with the European football and how well the lads are doing in the league.”
The roots of the move may well stretch back five years to Humphrys scoring against the Neilson’s MK Dons side. “The manager said he'd tracked my career since that day. I came on as a sub, I was 19 at Shrewsbury. We were 2-0 down but I scored a decent goal. He said he has always been impressed with me.”