June 11, 2009 - USL First Division (USL-1) - North Carolina FC
CARY, N.C. - The Carolina RailHawks have released defender Paul Ritchie, the club announced Thursday morning.
Ritchie appeared in only one match for the RailHawks, but he demonstrated how valuable he was that afternoon. Coming on as a second-half substitute against Minnesota on April 26 at WakeMed Soccer Park, Ritchie anchored the central defense and helped hold the Thunder at bay before the RailHawks prevailed 1-0.
But Ritchie aggravated a knee injury during those 41 minutes of play and was never able to regain his match fitness. He continued to train with the team during the last six weeks. He also transitioned into an assistant coaching role and he has begun work toward attaining his UEFA \'A\' coaching license.
"I wish things had worked out differently," Ritchie said. "It took me a while to get fit. I got myself fit, and then I got another knock on my knee. And with the games and it being such a short season, the time scale for me to get fully fit is not going to be feasible for the club to move forward. My family\'s back home and my kids are back home, and I\'ve missed them a lot. I\'ve made a lot of good friends here. It\'s a fantastic set-up, and I think there\'s something special happening here."
Ritchie came to the RailHawks after playing for more than a decade throughout Europe. He began his career in his native Scotland with Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) in 1992. He made 133 appearances with Hearts between 1992-99 and helped the club win the 1998 Scottish Cup. Ritchie had a brief spell with Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League before transferring to Glasgow Rangers. But he never appeared for Rangers. He was sold to Manchester City, where he appeared in 20 matches from 2000-03. He was also loaned to Portsmouth and Derby County in 2002 and 2003, respectively. He joined Walsall in 2004, and though it was relegated to League One, Ritchie saw regular playing time (33 appearances, one goal). In 2004, he returned to Scotland and signed with Dundee United, where he made 45 appearances until he left the team in 2006. Ritchie spent the 2007-08 seasons with AC Omonia in Cyprus.
"He\'s played at the highest level and is obviously a fantastic player," said Carolina coach Martin Rennie. "What I didn\'t realize was how good a guy he is, how much respect he showed to everybody here and how much he helped us build the environment that we\'ve got. He\'s helped set a culture where people have high expectations and also looked out for one another. That\'s real impressive to me from someone who has already been there, seen it, done it. And he was still willing to completely buy in to what we\'re doing. And that was amazing to me."