Former Hoops ace remembers Moldovan adventure

15th November 2023

Ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s vital 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match with Moldova, Andy Greeves spoke to a man who has plied his trade in the top football divisions of both nations - ex-Shamrock Rovers midfielder Rohan Ricketts. To date, Lo

Ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s vital 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match with Moldova, Andy Greeves spoke to a man who has plied his trade in the top football divisions of both nations - ex-Shamrock Rovers midfielder Rohan Ricketts.

To date, London-born midfielder Rohan Ricketts has played league football in no less than 11 different countries. The 34-year-old’s career began in his home city, where he won back-to-back FA Youth Cups with Arsenal in 2000 and 2001 prior to a switch to the Gunners’ main rivals Tottenham Hotspur in 2002. He made his Premier League debut for Spurs in August 2003 and went on to make 36 appearances for them in all competitions, scoring twice, through until 2005.

Spells at Coventry City Wolverhampton Wanderers, Queens Park Rangers (loan) and Barnsley followed before the first of his many overseas moves. In 2008, Ricketts signed for Canadian club Toronto FC, where he played 39 matches and scored four goals in the United States’ MLS (Major Soccer League). With his footballing CV beginning to look more like a backpackers’ tour itinerary, ‘Roro’ penned a contract with Hungarian side Diósgyőri VTK in 2009 and thereafter, turned out for clubs in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Hungary, Germany and India.

On August 31, 2011, Ricketts added Dublin to his list of globetrotting destinations as he signed for Shamrock Rovers on a short-term deal until the end of the League of Ireland season.

“My friends, and agents, (ex-Arsenal players) Paolo Vernazza and Graham Barrett told me about Shamrock Rovers’ interest,” explains Ricketts on his move to Tallaght. “I had recently left a (German) team called Wilhelmshaven and I was looking for a new club. The big selling points for me to go to Shamrock were that they were a team challenging for the Irish league title. They were in the same UEFA Europa League group as my former team Tottenham too, meaning I potentially had another chance to play at White Hart Lane.”

Ricketts made an immediate impact for the Hoops, winning a penalty and making an assist in their 2-1 victory at Dundalk on September 3, 2011. The first of his two goals in ten appearances for the club came in a 5-2 hammering of Bray Wanderers a few weeks later.

On October 13, 2011, Shamrock hosted Derry City, knowing they needed two wins from their final three matches of the campaign to seal the SSE Airtricity League title. That evening, Ricketts scored the only goal of the game to bring the championship trophy within touching distance for Rovers.

“That was an incredible moment for me,” smiles Ricketts, reflecting on his match-winning performance. “Derry were a good side and the result could have gone either way… I remember we cleared a shot of theirs off the line.

“The second half had just kicked-off and our keeper hit a long goal-kick towards their penalty area. There was some confusion between the Derry goalkeeper (Gerard Doherty) and their defender (Stewart Greacen). He (Greacen) let the ball bounce and didn’t realise I was running in from the wing. I got the ball on the edge of the box and as their keeper was advancing on me, I lobbed the ball over his head.

“It was one of those slow-motion moments as the ball went up into the air and seemed to take an eternity to come down. It eventually bounced up near the goal line and hit the back of the net. The roar from the crowd was incredible. My son’s mother was there and I felt this emotion building up inside me having scored such an important goal. I was close to tears. I remember running to my good friend Ryan Thompson, who was on the bench, and celebrating the goal with him.”

Shamrock sealed the title in the following match with a 2-1 victory at UCD on October 25 and won 4-0 at home to Galway United on the final day of the campaign to finish four points clear of runners-up Sligo Rovers. In addition to the League success, Ricketts’ other main highlight in a Hoops shirt was playing against his former club Tottenham Hotspur in a UEFA Europa League group game.

“I was fortunate to always have a very special relationship with the Tottenham fans,” comments Ricketts on his return to White Hart Lane on September 29, 2011. “There was a lot of media coverage about me in the lead up to that game, as I was going back to my old team. On the night, I was a substitute and of course that always means you run the risk of not playing.

“With about 20 minutes to go, (then-Shamrock Rovers manager) Michael O’Neill brought me on as a substitute. I don’t know whether he did that in reaction to how the game was going or if he did it because he knew what the occasion meant to me. I’d love to ask him that one day! When I came on, I got a standing ovation coming on from all four stands. It was like the reception a proper legend of the club would have got… a Robbie Keane for example. It was an incredible feeling… I felt very humbled.”

Shamrock Rovers lost 3-1 in London that evening, despite Stephen Rice giving them the lead. Ricketts’ last inclusion in the Hoops squad came when he was an unused substitute for the corresponding group fixture against Spurs at Tallaght on December 15, 2011. He was released at the end of the month.

The Shamrock Rovers experience was one of the happiest of Ricketts’ career – sadly the same cannot be said for a three-month spell with Moldovan side Dacia Chişinău back in 2010.

“That turned into an absolute nightmare for me,” laments Ricketts, who ended up playing just four Moldovan Divizia Nationala league matches for Dacia. “I never got paid a penny the entire time I was there and in the end, I was allowed to leave the club with the support of FIFA. The club took me to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) thereafter, which turned into one of the most upsetting and frustrating times of my life.

“Overall though, I feel I’ve gained a great deal as a person and a footballer from playing in the amount of countries I have. I learned to speak Spanish and I also know how to greet people in around eight other languages. I still have friends in all the different countries I played with, which is fantastic. I have experienced so much… from the people I’ve met and the food I’ve eaten to the different styles of football I’ve been involved in.”

Ricketts’ most recent club was non-league English side Leatherhead, who he spent some time with towards the end of 2016. The former Shamrock man, who is currently without a team, is open minded to the possibility of playing again but his current career focus is on other ventures.

Based in Toronto at the time of writing, Ricketts coaches in the Canadian city having obtained a UEFA ‘A’ Licence. He also works as an advisor to a number of commercial sports agencies and has his own series of children’s books called Adventures of Roro – which tell the tales of a globetrotting footballer!