Matt Healey continues the series.
Keith Hicks was born in Oldham on the 9th August 1954. He made 475 Football League appearances during his career. He started out as a youth player at Oldham Athletic and signed professional terms in 1971. After nine seasons at Boundary Park he joined Hereford United in 1980.
Frank Lord had taken over as Hereford United manager and his assistant Ian Greaves was instrumental in bringing Hicks to Edgar Street “I knew Ian Greaves from my Oldham days as he was manager at Bolton Wanderers. I had been released and needed a new club. Ian asked me to travel down and take a look. He told me it was a beautiful part of the country and that me and my family would love it. I was used to the industrial north and when I got off the M5 at Worcester I fell in love with the beautiful countryside of Herefordshire. I got digs in the city and then my family moved down a few months later”
Hicks continued “Robin Fry was commercial manager at the time, so initially stayed with him, then I had a cottage in Tillington that was freezing. I remember one night having to sleep in my training kit as it was so cold. I also lived in a house on Ryelands Street. The old Bulmers factory was behind it. I remember once we had a players tour and they were giving out free samples. I got tipsy on Woodpecker Cider”
Hicks made his Hereford debut on the 6th September 1980. The Bulls lost 5-1 away at Doncaster Rovers. Hicks must have questioned his decision to join the Bulls as Doncaster were also interested in his signature. “The Doncaster manager at the time was ex Leeds United legend Billy Bremner and he tried to get me to change my mind. we lost the game 5-1 and I saw him after the match and I told him I bet you’re glad you didnt sign me!!”
Hicks would play in the 1981 Welsh Cup Final. Hereford would meet Swansea City who had just been promoted to the First Division (Now Premier League) “Back then the final was played over two legs, they had been celebrating most of the weekend and we played the 1st leg at the Vetch midweek, we lost that 1-0, then the following leg at Edgar Street we drew 1-1. We should have won the match, the referee made a few strange decisions towards the end of the game. He disallowed a perfectly good goal from Joe Laidlaw”
Hereford would lose 2-1 on aggregate, but the gate receipts bought in some much needed revenue.
The financial landscape at Edgar Street was in a critical state. The club nearly went out of business in 1982. Hicks recalls a time when Gordon Taylor and the PFA came down to meet the players. “It was a stressful time, we knew the club was in serious money trouble and the PFA came down to help us, they bought a dole officer down with them, as if the club was liquidated we would have been instantly unemployed. Back then all we knew was football and didn’t have a trade to fall back on. In my opinion the PFA do a great job, they paid for various operations throughout my career and I did my coaching badges through them. The Chief Executive Gordon Taylor sent me a lovely letter when I retired last week. They have their critics, but for me they were brilliant”
Luckily the board of directors were able to broker a deal with the local council and the club was saved from extinction.
Another memorable match for Hicks was a 1-1 draw away at Bournemouth on the 15th May 1982. “There aren’t many games that I played in that was featured on TV, but that was one of them. The comedian Jim Davidson was on the board of directors and he was at the ground. Deadly Derek Showers put us 1-0 up, but then they equalised. They won promotion that day and there was a big crowd. They invaded the pitch at the end. The Hereford fans always looked after themselves and there were some tasty characters who supported the club, some Bournemouth supporters invaded the pitch and tried to attack them, but the Hereford fans held firm. I always remember the racial abuse our winger Winston White got that afternoon. It was absolutely horrific and the worst I ever experienced”
I asked Hicks about his relationship with the Hereford fans “The most passionate fans I ever played for. I loved the games against the welsh sides, we regularly played Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham. I remember we played Cardiff once and I was playing in defence alongside Mel Pejic. Anyhow we both turned around and there was a police alsatian chasing two Cardiff fans on the pitch”
Pejic and Hicks remain great friends to this day “We both retired in the last couple of weeks, we joined Hereford at pretty much the same time. Pej was a left back, but converted to centre half, we had quite a small defence. Kevin Rose in goal was tiny for a goalkeeper, then the back four of myself, Pej, Chrissy Price and Ian Bray were all under 6ft”
Back in the 1980’s the game was a lot more physical “Billy Whitehurst at Hull City, he was a very hard player, we both would give as good as we got, but after the game it was all forgotten and we would share a pint in the players lounge and we would talk about the elbows and kicks we had given each other. I watch the big match revisited every Saturday on ITV, the pitches back then were terrible, but they were great times and happy memories for me. I love seeing old clips on youtube of my old matches, there aren’t many out there, but it’s great to watch the footage again”
I asked Hicks who the most famous player he played against “Back then it was a lot different, nowadays a Premier League player will very rarely drop down the leagues, but I played against the likes of Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Paul Mariner and Denis Law. I remember Bobby Moore was manager at Southend and when we played them I was introduced to him, the man was an absolute legend for what he did for England and the FA should have utilized him more”
John Newman arrived as Hereford manager in 1983 “He was an old school manager, but he improved us as a team”
Hereford would play Arsenal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup on the 5th January 1985 “We beat Farnborough and Plymouth to get to the 3rd round. We should have beaten Arsenal at Edgar Street, whenever we were in the FA Cup we were always reminded of the Newcastle win and Ronnie Radford’s famous goal, we wanted to create our own history, Mike Carter had a great chance at the end to win it for us. He tried to head the ball over John Lukic who was about 6ft 4 and he saved it easily”
Hereford would draw 1-1, but lose out 7-2 in the replay at Highbury.
The Bulls were flying in the 4th Division (Now League Two) and by March 1985 were top of the league, a 5-3 home win against Bury was a memorable victory. Hicks scored only two goals in his Hereford career. One of these was against the Shakers that evening “We had this fitness coach come to the club and he got us doing stretches to music, well the ball came in and I managed to stretch my leg out and score, there’s no way I could have done that without his input. I scored my other Hereford goal in my 3rd game for the club, we beat Rochdale 3-0, I remember the local press said I would be a goal scoring centre half, but it wasn’t to be”
Hicks scored 2 goals in 201 appearances at Edgar Street. I asked him if he didn’t go up for set pieces for his record to be so low “I did, but my nickname was flicker, so I was always positioned at the near post and my job was to get the ball into a better area for us, the chances of me scoring were slim”
The Hereford team of of the 1984/1985 was the best side of the decade, The starting eleven picked itself most weeks.
Kevin Rose, Chris Price, Ian Bray, Keith Hicks, Mel Pejic, Steve Emery, Jimmy Harvey, Paul Maddy, Mike Carter, Ollie Kearns and Stewart Phillips.
“Ollie Kearns was a great character, he was very careful with his money, he always went missing on Thursday as he had a number of houses in Banbury and would be over there rent collecting, he lived in digs with a lovely couple called Trevor and Edna. Me and Pej went to a reunion a few years back and Ollie offered to get a round of drinks in, we nearly collapsed in shock”
Hicks would depart Hereford United at the end of the 1984/1985 season. Hereford had fallen away from the promotion race and would finish 5th “Back then there were no play offs, so we didn’t have a 2nd chance to go up. I had spoke to John Newman at Christmas about extending my contract, we were going to move to a lovely house in the Tupsley area, he said not to worry and that I would be at Hereford for the rest of my career. I had got injured away at Darlington and our form suffered. I came back to the side but I wasn’t 100% fit, but we had lost our way and the promotion dream was over”
Newman would then meet with the squad and announce his retained list. Hicks was not one of them “I was absolutely gutted, I went into the meeting expecting to be offered a new contract. John had given me the impression I would be staying, but he told me the board were going to go with a younger squad next season. Steve Emery was released as well. Luckily for us the house in Tupsley had fallen through so we weren’t stuck with it, I went into the changing rooms devastated and the rest of the lads couldn’t believe I was gone, but that’s football”
I asked Hicks what he thought of John Newman’s decision “I was angry at the time, but over the years we made up. I would see him regularly at games when we were scouts in the 1990’s”
Hicks could have joined Cambridge United, but opted for a move back up north “Me and the wife had a look at Cambridge, but the house prices were very high, for a 2 bed end terraced there, we could get a 4 bedroom detached near Rochdale. Vic Halom was the manager at Spotland and we agreed a deal”
Hicks would play against Hereford United the following season “I had been injured, but I was determined to play. We drew 2-2 at Edgar Street and should have won in the last minute, I had strapped my knee to get me through the game. I spoke to John Newman after the match and he told me that he regretted letting me go, but soon after I got another injury and had to retire. You just don’t know what’s around the corner. On hindsight I would have liked to have stayed in the area and maybe dropped non league and played for Cheltenham or Worcester, but when I retired from Rochdale I was able to stay in the game”
Hicks would pack in the full time football game in 1987, but played part time for the likes of Hyde and Mossley “I got involved in the Community Trust at Rochdale and stayed there for 34 years. I did lots of jobs there. I was involved in the centre of excellence, youth team assistant manager and first team scout. I was involved in football from 1970-2021, I retired last week, so will be able to spend more time on the golf course and come down and watch Hereford FC”
Hicks has a huge affinity for Hereford “Mel Pejic is one of my best mates and I met him at Edgar Street, you’ve got supporters like Reg Reynolds who are so committed and passionate about the club, I went to watch Hereford away at Blyth Spartans a couple of years ago and that’s a two and a half hour journey even from my house, it’s a good six hours from Hereford and they still take around 100 fans, even midweek at Guiseley there’s a decent contingent. The current management team are doing an incredible job. The club definitely lost it’s way for a bit and it was sad seeing the supporters frustration on social media. Most football fans will have wanted to be a footballer on some part in their life and I think the Hereford fans could see some of the players weren’t putting in the required effort. Even in this crazy season of being expunged Hereford are 90 minutes away from getting to Wembley in the FA Trophy, full credit to Josh Gowling and Steve Burr for what they have achieved”
I wrap up by asking Hicks what his plans for retirement are “There’s always plenty to do around the house and in the garden. I’ve got three houses to refurbish and when I was working I just didn’t have the time. Me and Mel Pejic will be coming down to Hereford a lot more to watch games and being in the National League North I will be at most of the Hereford away games too”
*Photo’s provided by Ron Parrott and the MH Archive*