|Ricky Ravenhill prepares to leave the club|
Sheffield United were visiting Valley Parade, and the Bantams were 2-0 up. We were all incredulous. How had City, who were supposed to be tentatively calibrating their way around their new division and playing the part of the terrified new boys, managed to slot two past a team who had been tipped for promotion, a play off place at the very least? We’d all seen much, much stranger the season before, but we were still pinching ourselves. This was more than we’d expected an hour or so earlier.
“Ricky Ravenhill’s coming on,” my uncle said, pointing over to the touchline. “He’d best not get booked.”
“There are two minutes left!” I laughed. “Even for Ravenhill, that’s a stretch.”
But, oddly enough, it wasn’t. Extra time ticked in, and Ravenhill found his name scribbled in the book for ‘dissent’. Which was sort of ironic, given how the midfielder’s playing style divided opinion during his tenure with the club.
To some, he was exactly what was needed to match the combative, direct style of the majority of League Two outfits: tough tackling with dogged determination and fierce defensive play. But to others, he’s reckless and a bull in a china shop; though there’s always intelligence embedded in those spurts of manic play.
But I liked him. And why not? He got stuck in. He won tackles. He lead from the front during the relegation battle of two years ago, and helped to secure survival at a time when things were looking increasingly, increasingly bleak (I blame Brawl-ey Town, among other things). He was a symbol of Parkinson’s intent as manager, of the kind of players the City supremo wanted to bring in: passionate, hardworking footballers who wouldn’t be bullied off the ball.
Ravenhill became the captain, but an injury sustained during pre-season banished him to the sidelines. Jones slid in, Doyle hopped aboard and the rest was history.
Questions were raised about his role in the team. Why did we need him? What was the point of him? What did he bring to the club that others didn’t? Then, the squad rotation policy was implemented. Doyle ran out of steam, Ravenhill stepped up to the plate and that was it – our misconceptions about him were assuaged. The club captain was suddenly the most important man in the midfield, and Doyle was the one under fire. Football fans are, by nature, a very fickle bunch (me included, and I’m also great at sitting on the fence and getting Ravenhill mixed up with Stephen Darby from a distance, which is utterly disgraceful because the latter’s my joint-favourite player), and no sooner had we deemed Ravenhill surplus to requirements, he was the catalyst of our promotion charge and helping the Bantams rack up the points that were so desperately needed in the closely-fought play off chase.
Doyle combined sleek passing ability with composure and calmness, while Jones offered unrelenting energy and the rallying cry when the team was under the cosh. Ravenhill was an amalgamation of the two, with a bit more thrown in besides: his merciless tackles saw him placed just in front of the back four, allowing Gary Jones to surge upwards and be more creative. He added something different to the fold, but Doyle’s coolness won out after Ravenhill picked up a knock during a midweek clash.
Again, Ricky was stuck on the bench, a starting berth proving frustratingly elusive. He waited behind the first-choice midfield pairing of Jones and Doyle, and then Kennedy’s arrival saw him slip further down the pecking order. He was second, third, fourth fiddle by the time the campaign opened at Ashton Gate, biding his time for a chance in one of the most competitive areas of City’s tightly-knit squad.
Parkinson strived for a consistency within his starting eleven, with Mark Yeates and Kyel Reid the only ones to really challenge his ethos other than where injuries and international call-ups had forced him to make changes. Ravenhill bobbed along compliantly, never begrudging those who had started ahead of him – which is credit to his professionalism and maturity.
And so, too, is his request for a loan move. At 32, the curtain will fall on his playing days in just a matter of years. Time is of the essence as far as his sporting career’s concerned. Unlike Darby, Wells and Hanson, he’s not got the luxury of an impending peak, of another ten years of first team football. Every game counts.
Perhaps it’s no surprise he’s asked to move on, and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’ll be teams clamouring for his signature; he’ll be a surefire starter at many League Two, perhaps even League One, teams, because look at what he’s offering them: experience, energy and an attitude that most Premier League superstars could take note of when they’re flaring up on a Saturday afternoon. And maybe there’s still a place for him in this City team. Just maybe. If – perish the thought - Doyle or Jones pick up injuries and are out for months, or if Kennedy fails to impress, Ravenhill would have to be recalled, thrust into the centre of the park to slip on the captain’s armband for one last time. He might return and win a slot in the line-up, handing the ‘reserve midfielder’ hat to the players to whom he’d lost his place a year ago. Or he might leave for pastures new in January and sign permanently for another side where, it can be assured, his services would make a massive impact.
But whatever happens, Ravenhill can rest easy in the knowledge that he was one in the band of brothers who propelled the mighty Bantams out of the dingy, gloomy, hopeless bottom tier, stopping the rot and reversing a slide that had been in full motion for over 10 unremarkable years. Walking out at Wembley. Holding that trophy aloft. And above all, sticking with the club when it would have been so easy to turn around and wash your hands of claret and amber.
And having that on your C.V. will make any club sit up and take notice.
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