Former Wolves captain Sam Ricketts on promotion, that Rotherham goal, management and business
Wolves have been very fortunate down the years to have benefited from some excellent captains.
Inspirational leaders, in their different ways, on and off the pitch.
From the post-war period, Billy Wright, Bill Slater and Ron Flowers were skippers befitting such a Golden era, and Mike Bailey and Emlyn Hughes carried the baton with equal merit for the League Cup triumphs.
Frank Munro and Geoff Palmer are others deserving of honourable mentions for skippering teams to promotion to the top-flight.
More recently, Ally Robertson provided the steel and experience to underpin the club coming back from the brink, and a double act of Paul Butler and then Paul Ince helped end the 19-year absence from the top table with play-off glory.
First Jody Craddock, and then Karl Henry, were perfectly in tune with Mick McCarthy’s young and hungry Championship winners, and Danny Batth and then Conor Coady did the same under the Nuno revolution, the latter then leading Wolves majestically into Europe.
Sam Ricketts’ spell at Wolves was perhaps shorter than most who have worn the armband. In effect, it was one full season as a regular. A total of 51 appearances.
But his own words, ‘I think Wolves fans probably only remember me for the goal against Rotherham’, does himself, and his impact, a great disservice.
As has been outlined across these pages in recent weeks, the Wolves of a decade ago was a club which had been rocked by double relegation, numerous managerial changes, and had found itself pulling up at a dangerous crossroads.
Continue on a downward spiral – they had done it three decades previously remember – or arrest the decline, consolidate, and bounce back. Which way would it go?
Step one was a new Head Coach, Kenny Jackett, who also brought an assistant, Joe Gallen. Step two was the decision to make so much experience surplus to requirements, the ‘bomb squad’, moving players on whilst trying to create a brand new dawn.
And step three? A new captain, and leader.
So it was into all this environment, a decade ago this Tuesday, that 31-year-old Ricketts arrived.
His previous club Bolton, who had just missed out on reaching the Championship play-offs, had previously indicated a new contract would be on the table for the versatile Welsh international, who had a year remaining on his existing deal.
But when it became clear that the club’s financial situation made that impossible, Ricketts’ mind began – pun intended – to wander. Wandering from Bolton to Wolves.
After coming to an agreement over the final year of that contract, he became a free agent. Not for long.
“There was a lot going on at Bolton at the time, and I remember seeing Kenny going in at Wolves, and thinking that was a club I would enjoy going to,” Ricketts recalled this week.
“I had played under Kenny for a couple of years at Swansea and really enjoyed it, and I knew Wolves were a big club, and were going to do well.
“I can’t remember how it all came about but as things unfolded at Bolton I remember chatting to Kenny and agreeing that it could be a great move for me, and good for him with what he was going to do at Wolves.
“It wasn’t only the time at Swansea, I had seen what Kenny had achieved at Millwall where he had tried to sign me a couple of times as well.
“Wolves was such a big club, with so much potential, and having been in the Premier League not so long before, I really thought there was a good chance that they would turn things around and get back there.”
It was the start of a beautiful friendship. Started in a very low key fashion with a quick picture holding the Wolves shirt. But the impact was substantial. A season which many observers believe laid the foundations for the spectacular transition of Wolves which eventually followed.
For Ricketts, it came towards the twilight of a career which had risen in profile and influence, for club and country, on an incremental basis.
Having started his career in League Two with Oxford, he dropped temporarily down to the Conference with a loan at Nuneaton Borough and then permanent switch to Telford United.
From there, he moved up five leagues in six years, progressing from non-league to Premier League when helping Hull City to promotion.
“I think that worked really well for me,” Ricketts explains.
“I had been in and out of the team at Oxford, making 50-odd appearances over three years, and it was going first to Nuneaton, and then Telford, that I played regularly and built up my confidence.
“I remember at Telford in particular, it was a season when they really wanted to go for promotion to the league, with a lot of experienced players like Lee Mills up front, Fitzroy Simpson and Scott Green.
“It didn’t happen and Telford went bust at the end of the season, so my contract was ripped up.
“That is when Kenny came in and signed me for Swansea back in League Two, where we won the play-offs in my first season.
“To be able to move up the levels gradually really helped me.
“I would get to a level, get comfortable, feel alright and then move up again the following year.
“If I’d jumped a few leagues at once it might have been too quick and I wouldn’t have developed in the same way.
“The biggest thing is confidence.
“For any player, infact for anyone, in any walk of life, it’s about confidence.
“When you are confident, when you are relaxed, that is when you do your best.
“Taking those little steps, one at a time, allowed me to maintain my confidence and keep progressing.
“Of course, I wasn’t completely confident all the way through, but the way it happened allowed me to carry on developing and get better, step by step.”
If Ricketts became accustomed to overcoming hurdles and obstacles as his career progressed, perhaps that was a nod as to something of an equine theme running through his family.