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How 90s full-back John Humphrey influenced Victor Moses

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With the global population set to hit eight billion soon, there remains a theory that everyone in the world is connected by just six 'degrees of separation'.

The idea goes that any two people can be linked by as few as six others; that Person A is connected with person G because they know Person B, who knows Person C, who knows Person D, who knows Person E, who knows Person F, who, in turn, knows Person G.

The theory is understandably contested, but anyone looking for anecdotal proof would do well to start in football.

At Crystal Palace alone the breadth and variety of possible connections repeats: Roy Hodgson and Steve Kember grew up in the same building, and Marc Guéhi and Conor Gallagher shared time at Chelsea, Swansea City, Crystal Palace and England.

The list goes on: Patrick van Aanholt is cousins with Leroy Fer, Eberechi Eze was in the same school year as Marc Bola, and, in a really niche twist of fate, Ray Houghton’s brother went to school with James McCarthy’s dad. Who would have guessed?

Another similarly less known connection is that between 90s full-back John Humphrey and Academy sensation Victor Moses.

Humphrey represented Palace 203 times between 1990-95. During his career in SE25 he scored a screamer against Wolves and played a crucial role in Steve Coppell’s most successful squad in club history.

He retired from football altogether aged 40 and went into teaching at Croydon’s Whitgift school with former Chelsea defender Colin Pates and Palace icon Kember. After a few years Humphrey began coaching a teenage Moses.

“I remember his first game – his very first kick,” he says. “From the very first kick Victor scored. He saw the ‘keeper was off his line.

“We had another player who was a centre-back at Ipswich at the time, Troy Brown. We had him and Victor and went on to win the English Schools Cup. They played a school from [Grimsby] at the new Leicester ground, won 5-0 and I think Victor scored all five.

“In the competition [if] the school scored 120 goals [then] Victor scored 115 – it was as ridiculous as that. He was so good: strong, they just couldn’t get the ball off him. If you look back the side was quite weak and without Victor they’d have done well to get through the first or second round. With Victor in the side you’re always going to score goals.”

While Moses’ talent on the pitch led to a first-team debut, as a teacher Humphrey fretted about the other side of school: education.

“When they’re 14-years-of-age, how do you predict he’s still going to be in the game playing at 30?” he says. “We didn’t know he was going to go on and have the career he did.

“He knew myself and Colin had been pros so we’d talk to him and advise him. He was a talented player, but we made sure he got his head down with his academic studies.

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He was so good: strong, they just couldn’t get the ball off him.

John Humphrey

“We also had Lee Hills. Lee was a left-back at Palace. Now Lee was a quality player and he broke into the Palace side and was doing really well. I think he picked up a serious injury and that was it – he fell off.”

Despite playing just 22 fewer games than Moses, Hills went on to have a short career in non-league football while his former teammate stepped into the top-flight.

At 31 Moses today competes with Spartak Moscow. He may well take inspiration from his former teacher, who played professional football until 37, and semi-professional until 40.

Humphrey represented Palace in the Premier League aged 34 and Brighton in the third-tier aged 36. His longevity meant he signed professional forms in the 1970s and didn’t fully retired until the early 2000s.

We ask why he kept going: “Because I could. Fitness wasn’t an issue with me. I’ve been very fortunate with injury – one or two slight knocks, but in terms of broken legs or anything serious, none at all.

“I was 35 and I wanted to get forward and get back, and my fitness levels weren’t an issue. I wasn’t having to rest up – play a game and rest for two days – it wasn’t like that. I felt I could keep going and going. Even though I left the [professional] game at 37 at Brighton, I left by choice.”

If Humphrey felt like a seasoned player when leaving Brighton, it may have been due to his standing at Palace. Twenty-nine when he signed under Coppell in 1990, the full-back was already one of the older, more experienced players in an energetic dressing room.

Coppell did much of his scouting in the lower leagues to stretch a modest budget as far as possible, so many of his signings were still young at the start of the decade. Further still, with former youth coach Alan Smith now assistant manager, the south Londoners had a roster of Academy prospects coming through.

“I saw myself as one of the senior players,” Humphrey remembers. “We had the likes of Richard Shaw coming through and Gareth [Southgate] coming through and we signed people like Chris Coleman and Chris Armstrong. Alongside that we had some experience with Eric Young and [Andy] Thorny, so I hoped I fitted in to part of the jigsaw.

“[The challenge] for me was getting used to the style of play, because at that time I know Stevie was not so much direct but he wanted to get the ball forward as early as possible because of the threat of [Ian] Wright and [Mark] Bright. So it took me a while to get used to that.

“I do remember after a few games Stevie dropped me for a game to say: ‘This is what I want you to do.’ Then he put me back in... I was part of his restructuring and in that first year it worked out very well.”

Palace won the Zenith Data Systems trophy and reached third – their highest league finish in history – at the end of 1990/91, Humphrey’s first year.

Success like that means the now-61-year-old created some of his fondest memories at Palace, despite his career spanning four decades.

He says: “I know it was up and down at times with Palace but the players there were a great bunch: Youngy, Thorny and Nigel [Martyn], all of them. The team spirit was great. We had our ups and downs but as a squad we were quite a tight unit.

“A lot of players have gone on to have fabulous [careers]… So a great bunch of players to work with. And Stevie I learnt a lot from: very methodical, he liked a piece of paper to write things down on. Smithy was all for the team: work well for Smithy and he would for you with trips and things like that. Win on the Saturday and you’d be in the Hilton Spa bath on the Sunday or Monday.

“Ups and downs, but a great bunch of players.”