Ricky Shakes has provided his share of exciting play down the years, sometimes with exuberant goal celebrations to match. The experienced wideman announced his retirement in April, though the eventual outcome decided for the 2019/20 season in the National League meant a return to action for Boreham Wood in the shape of the play-offs.

The ex-Swindon Town and Ebbsfleet United man was on the bench for the win over FC Halifax Town and the semi-final defeat at Harrogate Town, but he would not be courting a return to playing for 2020/21. This winter, though, a phone call from his former Wood manager Ian Allinson ultimately led to him being announced as a new signing for high-flying St Albans City – the last unbeaten side in the National League South – just before Christmas.

A full 17 years after marking his senior debut for Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers with an FA Cup goal against Tranmere Rovers, he’s the new kid in the class again. In this conversation, Ricky looks ahead to this bonus track on his playing journey, as well as sharing a whole lot more on where he comes from, and where he’s been…

 

Just recently signed for St Albans, but you initially announced you were retiring in April. At that time, were you thinking ‘I’ll play part-time later down the line’ or was it ‘I’m done altogether’?

Yeah, at that point, I thought I’d be done altogether. I was expecting another baby at the time as well, so I was thinking ‘I’m just gonna finish up, I’ve got my two boys as well, so a chance to spend more time with them.’ In the meantime, I managed to find a job delivering for Amazon, and I started liking it. I thought to myself ‘would I be going back into football?’ I had offers coming in, earlier on in May time, and I was just kindly rejecting them and saying ‘I’m happy where I’m at right now.’

With this move, you’re linking up again with a manager you know well, in Ian Allinson. How did it unfold?

He gave me a quick phone call to find out what I was doing. He just said to me he needed someone with experience, ‘looking to get promoted this season’, and I just thought ‘why not?’ Help the boys out, and I’ve been in that situation in that league and been promoted twice, so I know what it takes. For him to ask me, it was an honour, and it feels good to be wanted at the same time.

In that time after football was suspended last March, you mentioned Amazon, and having a baby on the way, but what did that time look like overall for you? Were you able to do much with your personal training?

Yeah, I was doing that while I was off, so I was doing a lot of virtual fitness stuff on Zoom, because obviously we couldn’t meet up. It was pretty much my family members and friends, so I was keeping fit that way, but it’s never the same as match fitness.

Obviously it’s been affected by the COVID cases at the club recently, but since you linked up with St Albans, how much time have you got to spend with the lads?

I know Shaun Jeffers, because he was at Boreham Wood with me, so we stayed in contact. I signed on the 22nd of December and that was my first training session with the boys. I managed to meet quite a few of them but there were some I didn’t meet, because we got tested just before that training session, and there were some boys who weren’t there because they’d already tested positive. We had another training session the Saturday just gone and that was the second time we all got together. It’s difficult but I’m trying my best learning names!

 

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Let’s go all the way back for a moment. Firstly, was it Brixton where you grew up?

I grew up in Brixton and went to school in south London. I played for my district and then I got recognised by Charlton when I was 15. I did a year there and we won the Milk Cup in Ireland, in Dublin. After I got released, I got picked up by Bolton Wanderers.

What was football to you and the people you grew up with? Was it a huge part of everyday life? South London’s closely associated with playing football in the cage, for example, and the footballing culture that links in with that.

Yeah, in Brixton there’s an area called Angell Town, and we had a football cage in there. Every day after school, I was going down there, meeting up with my friends. Everybody had their different paths, but when we played football together, we were all on the same wavelength. You had a few boys who were serious, some who were semi-serious! Some ones who were just there for the laugh. I was one of the ones who was serious and the boys noticed that, and I made good friends out of that. I was there for the football and then I was going home. Others were staying out late, but I had those good friends where they used to send me home. I appreciate that from them because it got me further in life. They always say ‘oh, Brixton, south London, there’s nothing good coming out of it,’ but I’m one of the ones where something good has come out of it.

You’ve played internationally for Guyana, but first for Trinidad and Tobago. How big was that Caribbean culture around you growing up, was it something you got to celebrate a lot?

It was very much a part. I take part in Notting Hill Carnival, as in performing, from when I was young. My mum’s from Trinidad, and from the day when I could walk, she put me in a costume and I was parading in the streets. From there, I started knowing more about the carnival scene and what goes into it, with the costume-making. We used to go to the mas camps, we call it, and design costumes and put them together. We used to have some long nights, I tell you, because my mum never drove, and it was in east London, so we used to do an all-nighter. We’d go down there from about half 8/9 and we’d put costumes together all the way through until the first train in the morning. I used to go and visit Trinidad and see family, so I knew that side of it and the culture. Once I got the option to play for Trinidad, it was great, and going down there for the first time, you had the local lads calling me a foreigner, thinking I don’t really know much about Trinidad! I surprised them a bit when I was down there and I talked a bit like them with the accent, so it kind of threw them off a bit! My mum was born there and she moved to Manchester when she was ten, but she grew up there and she was going back and forth. So at first, they saw me as an English boy, but after a while, they were like ‘no, this boy’s Caribbean!’

You made your Trinidad and Tobago debut not that long before the 2006 World Cup. How close were you to actually being named in the 23 for the tournament?

I was on stand-by for the World Cup. I had to go and meet one of the FIFA presidents to sign a bonus sheet, just in case I got the call-up, so that’s how close I was. It was one of those where you don’t wish for anyone to get injured, but you’re thinking ‘this is my shot, if it happens’. I made my debut when I played against Iceland in a friendly at Loftus Road, playing against Eidur Gudjohnsen and having Dwight Yorke, Stern John, Shaka Hislop as my teammates.

Was there much chance to socialise with the squad? Any nights out with Russell Latapy or Dwight Yorke?!

No, that was my first time and only time with them. I had training sessions with them, just getting prepared for the game, but that was the only time I got to spend with them. After the game, we just all went our separate ways. They went to the World Cup and then I didn’t hear anything from them, didn’t hear anything from the manager (former Real Madrid, Ajax and Netherlands boss Leo Beenhakker). After that, the manager changed and all the set-up changed from there, so I think they just forgot about me.

What about then playing against them for Guyana, and scoring as well, what was the feeling?

How I got to play for Guyana, I was playing for Ebbsfleet at the time, and one of the managers for Guyana was watching me at the game. He approached me after the game and said to me ‘I know who you are, I know you played for Trinidad.’ I think it was in 2010, because he said ‘it’s been four years now, would you wanna come and play for Guyana?’ because my dad was born in Guyana. I said that I’d love to represent that side of my family. The players had a game against Cray Wanderers at Dulwich Hamlet’s ground, so that’s when I met all the local players who flew across. I started travelling with them, I started playing in World Cup qualifiers, and in 2011, we played against Trinidad & Tobago. The date was funny because it was the 11th of 11, 2011, so we called it Judgement Day, because all we had to do was beat them over two games and we’d go through (to the CONCACAF Third Round). I had a bit of nerves at the start, playing against my previous international team, but I remember it well. They passed it out to me wide on the right, I crossed it and it’s hit off their player and gone out for a corner. One of their players headed the corner out and I was on the edge of the box, I volleyed it as hard as I could, and it hit the back of the net. It was one of them, mixed emotions, I didn’t know what to do, but because it was at home, we had the crowd and our fans were going crazy. I just had a burst of energy and started celebrating, screaming, I ran to my manager and he was hugging me. It was a great feeling, and then second half, I put Leon Cort in, he’s through on goal and he’s just touched and finished it. From there, we just went crazy, because it went down in history for Guyana to get through to the next round.

We have to mention Bolton, especially in that era you got to be part of. Were there any memorable training sessions around those players? Did you ever go one-on-one with Fernando Hierro, or get megged by Jay-Jay Okocha?!

Training with them was crazy. Just watching Jay-Jay Okocha train, it was just mad, because where you see him do the rainbow flick against Arsenal in the corner, he does that in training all the time. It’s one where he’s practiced it in training, he’s perfected it, and he knows he can get away with it in a real game. I’m closing my legs as tight as I can when I’m one-on-one with him, but eventually you have to step in and try and get the ball, and he’s managed to just flip-flap it through my legs! The training sessions with them, I call them the old pros, because you had Fernando Hierro, (Youri) Djorkaeff, Iván Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Ricardo Gardner, Kevin Davies, Les Ferdinand came, El-Hadji Diouf. Ibrahim Ba, Jussi Jääskeläinen.

Looking back on your whole time in the game, which spell was you at your most free on the pitch, best dressing room, the overall happiest you’ve felt in football?

I would say Ebbsfleet. I was there for four years and the bond with the players was just unreal. We had a group of friends there; it was me, Darius Charles, Dean Pooley, Leon Crooks, Derek Duncan, Kezie Ibe, Ishmael Welsh. We were always together, and in the summer, the whole team used to go on holiday, we used to go Magaluf, year after year. We had a good bond, it was unreal, and we got promoted as well through the play-offs. It showed the characters and the players we had in the dressing room.

We mentioned Ian Allinson earlier. Which manager, or managers, stand out as those who’ve understood how to get the best from you?

Ian was one of them; later down the line when I first went to Boreham Wood, he knew what he could get out of me. The first impression of me – because Ian didn’t really know me, it was the assistant manager Luke Garrard, from playing against me – and the first training session, I signed the contract in the middle of the day and we had training in the evening. We did the yo-yo test and I fully ruptured my Achilles tendon. That was the first serious injury I’d had in my career and I didn’t know what I was gonna do. Ian stuck by me, Luke Garrard stuck by me, they got me through it, and I’d only signed a year. Towards the end of that season, that’s when I was coming back fit, I was getting minutes in the reserves and I was doing well. Straight away, Ian was like ‘I want him back in the first team.’ The physio at the time, she was like ‘okay, we’ll get him back but just take it easy.’ The last three or four games of the season, I was coming off the bench and he liked what he saw and said ‘I want him for next year’. The second year, I played every minute and we got promoted in the play-offs, so it just shows the faith he had.

Do any teammates especially stand out, from any clubs, as those you felt that extra understanding with on the pitch?

When I was at Boreham Wood, we had Bruno Andrade. I was playing in every position for Boreham Wood, apart from centre-half and in goal! There were a couple of games where he threw me up top with Bruno, and Bruno’s not a frontman, he’s a winger or a ten. We played against Dover (March 2017) and I set up his two goals and scored a hat-trick, we won 5-0. We played against Lincoln City, he assisted me, I assisted him. You get those ones where you just click.

Have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a team?

To be honest with you, I haven’t – I’m one of the fortunate ones! For some reason, I’ve got a feeling that I would be doing my first one at St Albans. I haven’t got a clue just yet, but when it comes, I’ll have something up my sleeve. A lot of people know that I rollerskate as well, so that could come out the bag, you never know!

Have you ever been team DJ?

Yes, a lot of times! When I was at Ebbsfleet, I was pretty much team DJ all the time, so I had to make sure I had my iPod ready. Half the time, you never go wrong with old-school UK garage – depending on the players! If you have younger players, they might not know, but I managed to mix the two up, where you get a bit of both.

What about any other interests you currently have, alongside work, football, parenting! You mentioned the rollerskating, for example.

With the carnival scene, I like to dance; a lot of ex-teammates used to love me on the dancefloor! Half of the time I didn’t even have a drink in my hand! It was one where they’d be like ‘where’s Shakesy gone?’ and then it’d be ‘look on the dancefloor, if you see a swarm of people, you know he’s in the middle of it.’ With rollerskating, that’s a bit of the same really, because when I went to roller discos, the music’s playing and I used to dance on my skates.

Finally, as you look back on this whole time in the game up to now, what has it taught you? If we take Ricky Shakes, the teenager, what is the 2021 version telling him?

Just to listen to your managers, and sometimes you’ve just got to step back and watch things, because you learn a lot more from it. Interacting as well; you’ve got to interact with your teammates and know what your team wants out of you, or vice versa. Same thing with interacting with your manager; know what he wants, what he can get out of you, you know what you can provide, and you can have that better understanding, on and off the pitch. Discipline as well, that works in and out of football. Turning up late or anything like that, you get fined, and I think that has taught me in life not to be late for anything. That’s just automatic to me now, ‘I can’t be late, I can’t be late’. Part of football is part of life as well.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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