'Bit of a mad one': Hearts' new 'tank' Stephen Humphrys opens up on deadline-day move and what's blown him away

The first thing you notice about Stephen Humphrys when you see him in the flesh is the biceps and the tattoos.

Hearts’ new loan signing from Wigan Athletic is a unit. Brought in on deadline-day to bolster the club’s attacking options following a season-ending injury to Liam Boyce, the 24-year-old is likely to make his debut for the club away at Livingston in the cinch Premiership on Saturday. He looks like a man ready to make his presence felt.

Humphrys was one of the best strikers in England’s Leagues One and Two but has fallen down the pecking order since the Latics’ ascension to the Championship. Speaking to him at Hearts’ Oriam training base, he is jovial and relaxed: you can tell he is delighted to have sealed a move north and have the chance to experience European football in the Europa Conference League.

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"It was a bit of a mad one,” Humphrys said of his transfer. “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 [Robbie Neilson]. The conversation was about three minutes long, then I went into the manager at Wigan and said: 'Can I go?' That was it.

Stephen Humphrys speaks to the media in his first interview as a Hearts player.
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“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.

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"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."

Humphrys left a lasting impression on Neilson when scoring for a goal for Shrewsbury when he was in charge of MK Dons back in 2017. The Hearts manager has tracked his career ever since. “I've known about him for a long time,” said Neilson. “He scored against me when I was at MK a number of years ago. He's 6ft 1in and built like a tank but he's actually got very, very good feet. He can finish, he brings a lot. I think he's got a lot of attributes to do well up here.”

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Humphrys had a productive spell while at Rochdale.

Humphrys has already been impressed by the size of Hearts and the training facilities. "The training ground is fantastic, such a contrast to what I've been used to,” the Oldham-born hitman added. “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.

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“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.”