The Shrewsbury manager’s early memories as a YTS at Oxford were ensuring Dean Windass’s boots were squeaky clean, his kit neatly folded and his tea piping hot so to avoid a hiding, writes Lewis Cox.
Football has changed a lot, as have the U’s, admits Shrewsbury boss Ricketts, who makes just a second return to the club he called home between the ages of 12 and 21.
Less than two decades after dropping out of the old First Division in the late 1980s, Oxford found themselves in the Conference. Ricketts saw numerous owners and managers – including Shrewsbury legend Ian Atkins – a stadium move to the Kassam and times where the club’s very existence was threatened.
Aylesbury-born Ricketts, from an elite equestrian family including world champion showjumping father Derek, left the stirrups behind and decided on football as a 13 or 14-year-old, taking the ‘easier’ route so to avoid mucking out stables.
But only his grandfather had an interest in football. It was only tagging along with a friend to play for local village side Chesterton, near to Bicester where Ricketts grew up, that had the future Wales international noticed via a trial. From then on Ricketts, Dean Whitehead – now Town first-team coach – and a handful of others had an old-school welcome into football life.
“I remember being in the youth team and no-one at the club was getting paid. We were getting our £45 a week on the youth scheme from the government, but office staff and players weren’t,” said Ricketts, who went on to make 48 appearances for the U’s.
“I saw an awful lot, different owners, moving ground, not having a training ground. It was the norm because that’s all we knew. The club were on the verge of going bust a couple of times.
“Myself and Dean, who is with me now, were in the youth team and we ended up doing everything at the whole club – we had the keys for everything at the ground at one point.
“When I joined I was put on Dean Windass’s boots. I used to clean his boots, then years later played with him at Hull.
“There was Matty Elliott, Joey Beauchamp, Phil Gilchrist, Paul Powell, some very, very good players.”
Nowadays that mentality is frowned upon and forbidden, something Ricketts disagrees with.
The Shrews boss added: “It’s a shame, someone got involved and said it wasn’t really fair on youth players. But it was everything.
“You had to go in the morning, make sure boots were clean, dried and polished, they were all leather, go and find all your player’s kit and fold it nicely.
“It gave you that interaction with the first-team players which youth-team players don’t get nowadays. It’s seen they shouldn’t be doing jobs and it’s just football and education, which is obviously important, but the big one is integrating with the first team in that environment.
“Stepping in the first-team dressing room was a privilege. If I didn’t have the cup of tea piping hot waiting for my player then they’d be hunting for you.”
Ricketts’ upbringing at the old Manor Ground was so influential he took it on in his career.
“When I went into Wolves later on – and at Bolton to an extent – it was one of the things I introduced, getting the kids back cleaning boots,” he added.
“We had the interaction back. It was one of the first things I did as captain.
“I think it’s really important. When it came to Christmas you’d get your tip, you generally had three pros each and you’d get a little bit of money. It was all part of football and growing up.
After joining the Football League in 1962, the Yellows were doomed back into non-league in 2006. Ricketts believes the club are now on the way back to former glories.
They are a fearsome prospect in League One this season. The division’s form side, 10 league games unbeaten and 17 in all competitions discounting EFL Trophy penalty shootout defeats.
“When I was a YTS after leaving school at 16 they were in the Championship,” the ex-Telford defender said. “They’ve gone all the way down and are trying to get back up again.”
Predicted line-up: Shrewsbury (5-4-1): O'Leary; Love, Williams, Ebanks-Landell, Pierre, Golbourne; Laurent, Norburn (c), Edwards, Giles; Cummings.
Subs: Murphy (gk), Beckles, Walker, Goss, John-Lewis, Okenabirhie, Udoh.