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.

His father Derek was the world showjumping champion in 1978 – he and Ricketts’ sister are still involved in the industry – whilst his Uncle is former seven-times National Hunt Champion jockey John Francome.

So, it was little wonder that, growing up, footballing and showjumping dovetailed on a weekend for the aspiring young sportsman.

Eventually however, the love of football gradually won over the enjoyment of horseriding, and Ricketts concentrated on a career with the round ball.

As his career developed after that first League Two promotion with Swansea, defeat on penalties in the League One play-offs followed, before moving to Hull in the Championship, where play-off success in his second season propelled the Tigers into the Premier League.

A year in the top-flight preceded the move to Bolton where – like another future Molineux captain in Coady – he managed to despatch a spectacular goal past Wolves, just over 18 months before actually joining the club.

Having checked in, Ricketts was immediately made captain, charged with the task of knitting together Jackett’s new-look team, a mixture of seasoned experience, young Academy graduates being handed their opportunity and those still relatively new to English football such as Bakary Sako and, later, Nouha Dicko.

Wearing the armband was something new for Ricketts, by now a regular Welsh international, but it felt like it was certainly the right time.

Leading by example, and regularly seen passing on important words of wisdom for the younger members of the squad facing up to a potentially pressure-packed situation, he cut  an impressive personality.

“It was Kenny’s decision to make me captain and, looking back, it was probably a good time in my career for that,” Ricketts explains.

“When I was younger, I was generally quite quiet in the dressing room but, as I got older, I became more confident and understood the game more.

“By then I felt like I could hold an argument and back it up, and I loved the challenge of doing it and felt comfortable in doing it.

“Every player and captain has their own way, and I was fortunate to have a good manager and a good set of lads at Wolves.

“I just tried to get on with everyone, to talk and to help people, that was my approach.

“But we also had some very good senior players, like Dave Edwards, and Kemes (Carl Ikeme) who was a couple of years younger but was coming into that bracket.”

Looking back, a points haul of 103, winning the league by nine, scoring 89 goals and conceding 31, and breaking a string of records along the way, make it look like it was a stroll in the park for Wolves in League One.

That certainly wasn’t the case.

Many similarly high profile clubs have struggled when finding themselves occupying the third tier, and it wasn’t until after Christmas that Wolves really found their rhythm and were able to shake off what had been stubborn resistance at the top end of the table from Brentford and Leyton Orient.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Ricketts recalls.

“It was the first time in my career, playing for Wolves that season, that it felt like what it must have been like being at Manchester United in their heyday.

“Every game was the opposition’s cup final, teams raised their game coming to Molineux and every away game was a sellout.

“Kenny actually stopped watching the opposition’s games before us for analysis at one point because they were just so different to how they then played against Wolves.

“You need to be a certain kind of player to deal with that pressure, playing with a target on your back every week because every team wants nothing more than to turn you over.

“It takes some doing to do that week after week, and keep on getting results, and that comes down to the quality and character of the manager and the players in that team.

“But it was a great season, and was probably the reboot that the club needed.

“Wolves is a huge club which has had great success, so it’s perhaps difficult to say that winning League One should be seen as a success.

“Yet it did feel like it was a season when the club found its soul again – if that’s the right word – and the relationship between the players and the fans was reborn.

“It wasn’t all plain sailing, and it certainly got a lot better after Christmas, but I think the fans could see a group of players who were honest and hard-working and really wanted to help the club bounce back.”

They certainly could see that.  And that player/fan relationship, launched from an electric ovation before the first game of the season at Preston, just got better and better. And closer and closer.

The lively derby win at Walsall? 10k to MK? The promotion-celebrating pitch invasion at Crewe? Sealing the title away at Leyton Orient? Final day carnival against Carlisle? So many highlights lit up the final weeks of the season, including another, the 6-4 home win against Rotherham, which moved from the sensational into the surreal.

Wolves’ fifth goal in that game was Ricketts’ first for the club.  Effortlessly despatched into the top corner to spark one of several jubilant pitch invasions.  A brilliant moment, which had been a long time coming.

“Everyone was scoring that season except for me and I should have had five before that goal against Rotherham,” he remembers.

“To be able to score that one, in that atmosphere, was certainly very special, and is probably all that Wolves fans remember me for!”

Wolves were on the crest of a wave after that League One title.  Fans and club back on the same page, the pain of the double relegation eased, and optimism and excitement heading back up to the Championship.

Ricketts too, was relishing the challenge of taking the next step with an ambitious and rebooted squad.  And yet, as the start of the season loomed into view, it suddenly became apparent that he was no longer a shoo-in for the team.

Infact, he would make only five further appearances for Wolves, as Jackett moved towards using the younger players at his disposal such as Matt Doherty and Dominic Iorfa.

However, Jackett did want to make use of his trusted lieutenant’s skills in other areas, getting him involved more on the coaching side prior to departing on loan to Swindon the following March.

“It was hard to understand all that at first, and it probably took me a couple of years to understand it fully,” Ricketts reflects.

“I think there were a few things combined behind Kenny’s decision, as Doc was coming through who is a really good player, and also Dominic Iorfa just behind him.

“And I was a little bit older, not as athletic as I had been before.

“Most of all, it was probably about not wanting to hold Doc back, and you have to respect Kenny for making that call because it would probably have been easier not to.

“I had a really good relationship with Kenny, I still do, and it was hard to understand at the time, but it’s football, and there are never any grudges.

“My idea had been to go to Wolves, do well, and stay there for the rest of my career, and unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, but it certainly doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of my time there.

“And it did open a door into coaching, even if it came a bit earlier than I anticipated.

“That was the funny one really, on the one hand Kenny wasn’t playing me and telling me I couldn’t do certain things anymore, but on the other he was asking me if I could take the defenders in training and giving me free rein to do what I wanted on the coaching side.”

Ricketts and Jackett still clearly get on well with a strong mutual respect, and linked up for an entertaining evening at the Cleveland Arms last year as fans looked back on their times at Molineux.

And offering that first dip into coaching offered Ricketts food for thought for later progress, initially turning down discussions around a coaching role within Wolves Academy as he wanted to continue playing at Coventry, before later returning to the youth set-up at Compton as well as spending a short time learning at Celtic under Brendan Rodgers.

That paved the way for a first managerial posting with Wrexham – a very different Wrexham to now – but one which, four months into the 2018/19 season – Ricketts had negotiated to fourth in the National League table and very much in with a shout of promotion to the Football League.

That’s when Shrewsbury Town came calling, an opportunity in League One which was just too good to turn down.

Spending almost two years in the Shrews’ hotseat, Ricketts led the team to a 15th placed finish over the 2019/20 campaign, which remains their third highest in just over three decades.

There were also two runs to the FA Cup Fourth Round, only exiting the competition after tight games and replays with Wolves and Liverpool, including being pegged back from 2-0 up at home to the Molineux Men ultimately thanks to Doherty’s injury time equaliser.

But towards the end of his tenure, chiefly at the start of the 2020/21 campaign, results had dipped and, amid fan criticism about the team’s style of play, Ricketts lost his job.

“I really enjoyed it at Wrexham and learned so much even in such a short space of time,” he recalls.

“As a player, you often wonder why a manager has done this or done that and then you have the opportunity to make the decisions yourself.

“To be able to start out at Wrexham and be successful was great and I then spent two years at Shrewsbury, which is considered quite a decent stint in management these days!

“When you look back there are certain things you might do differently but I enjoyed it even though there were also some difficult times.

“We had a couple of great cup runs, beating teams like Stoke and Bristol City, drawing against Liverpool, and we really should have beaten Wolves.

“Doc is the only right wing back I know that would pop up in the box like that – to head home a cross from the right wing!

“I know you are judged on results as a manager but style of play can also be important.

“At Wrexham, we had some very good players who were able to dominate games at that level, with a possession-based style.

“At Shrewsbury, in League One, we couldn’t quite manage to do that and had to try and win games in other ways.

“It’s about how you define success isn’t it?  I think finishing 15th was maybe their second highest in 25 years or so at the time, but, even with that, I would always want more and would never go into any season thinking it was an achievement to finish 15th.

“In the end it was hard to achieve what we wanted to but it’s an experience I really enjoyed.

“I am pleased I did it, and relished the challenge, but management isn’t something I miss now that I am out of it.”

As has been proved.

Because since leaving Shropshire over two-and-a-half years ago, Ricketts’ involvement in football circles has been limited purely to media work, often on Wolves TV or summarising on Wales.

And that has been by choice.

There were offers for roles within the game, but, just as he was mulling them over, another business opportunity moved onto his radar.

The chance to take on a builder’s merchants emerged, close to home in Knutsford, and so, Francome’s Building Timber & Landscape Supplies Limited was born.

Supplying building, landscape and horticultural products, the business has been steadily growing and, for Ricketts, it’s management of a different kind and a different buzz that has replaced the time spent in football.

“This is an opportunity which came up when I was deciding what to do after Shrewsbury, and the timing was perfect,” he explains.

“I always had in my mind that football management is a job where you have to move around the country and it can be quite temporary, and I didn’t want to be a husband or a father who spent five or six days a week away from home.

“I did speak to people about different roles, and even had some conversations about coaching at international level, but then this opportunity came up which is just ten minutes from home.

“It’s a challenge that appealed, and I always remember speaking to Dave Edwards about things that we would like to do outside of football, as he has done with his business interests.

“Would I ever want to try and get back in?  Never say never but, at the moment, I haven’t got the time.

“I’d be surprised if I ever went back into management, maybe coaching with someone I like and get on with and not necessarily full time, but right now I’m completely focused on what I am doing.

“Football for me is about the enjoyment of watching games, and it’s nice to be asked to do media work, which means I can dip in and out and am not tied down to anything.”

Enjoyment was certainly the collective feeling for that League One season a decade ago, when Ricketts was the man with the armband as the on-pitch captain to help turn the ship around.

“As a player you always remember your promotions and, Wolves was the only time as a captain I got to lift the trophy, so it was very special for me and my family,” he says.

“It is something that will live with all of us forever.”

His stay at Wolves was short, but certainly sweet.  And successful.

With Wolves’ two most recent captains Coady and Neves now departed for pastures new, it is time for someone new to step up to the plate.

If they deliver the same sort of impact as Ricketts did a decade ago, they won’t go far wrong.