Keith Hicks retires after 33 years of service at Rochdale AFC
Date published: 19 March 2021
After 33 years of service to Rochdale Football Club, Rochdale AFC Community Trust manager Keith Hicks has retired from his role.
Keith himself played for Rochdale AFC between 1985 and 1987, noting that his career highlight was playing at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the FA Cup in January 1986.
After being forced to retire through injury, Mr Hicks became involved with Rochdale’s Football in the Community Trust initiative which had been set up by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in 1970, at a time when hooliganism surrounding football was rife.
Micky Burns and Gordon Taylor from the PFA agreed that providing clubs with a community office, and getting them out interacting with the locals, would be a good way to engage people in the sport – and Keith Hicks did just that.
Officially introduced in Rochdale in September 1987, Keith was at the heart of Rochdale AFC’s Community Trust from the very beginning; returning to the local club to join the trust in its infancy, just a month after it officially began operating on 5 October 1987.
The first session took place at High Birch School with just two bags of footballs, bibs and markers, a long way from the current set-up that Keith has grown it into today.
He has overseen the transformation of the scheme across the last three decades.
The Trust now engage with hundreds of people every year, including with numerous community groups delivering their four main themes – education, health, social inclusion, and sports participation - and more recently Covid-19 related activities, as well as continuing their long association with local primary schools.
On Friday 26 February, Siobhan McElhinney, who worked alongside Keith for nearly 20 years of his tenure, assembled his close family, a few work colleagues and friends on the Crown Oil Arena car park for a surprise socially distanced presentation.
Keith was presented with a one-off gift - a custom-designed keepsake, made from one of the bricks taken from the old 5-a-side pitch when it was demolished.
Due to current Government guidance around Covid-19, his retirement will be marked once Rochdale Football Club are in a position to do so publicly, and fans can safely return to the Crown Oil Arena.
Rochdale Football Club chief executive, David Bottomley, said: “So many people in Rochdale (and Oldham) know Keith as a former player but more importantly he has been the man behind our community operation which has grown out of all recognition from its one man start, into helping so many people from so many different backgrounds enjoy life as well as sport.
“He has given outstanding service to the Community Trust operation that will be long remembered by so many people. On behalf of everyone at the club, I’d like to thank Keith for his unwavering commitment and dedication to Rochdale Football Club. We wish him nothing but a happy retirement.”
Mike Evans, the EFL Trust’s CEO, said: “On behalf of everybody at EFL Trust, I would like to pass on my very best wishes to Keith on his well-earned retirement. It really is the end of an era, as Keith is the longest serving community manager amongst the 92 professional football clubs in England and Wales.
“Keith’s commitment and dedication to the game has been extraordinary and I feel privileged to have worked alongside him during my involvement over the (relatively short!) last 13 years.
“We will sorely miss Keith’s positive contribution to the EFL Trust network and his wicked sense of humour that has brightened many work and social gatherings over the past thirty odd years. Hopefully, we will get the chance to raise a glass properly in the very near future.”
The PFA’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, John Hudson, commented: “Keith has represented the football club’s community department with great distinction over the past three decades and deserves to be acknowledged and respected for his loyalty, leadership qualities and the positive change made within the local community.
“I remember with great satisfaction his ability to bring people from all walks of life together, breaking down barriers through inclusion and engendering a team spirit that others wished to follow. From the early days supporting schools with a bag of footballs, a coaching badge and an enthusiasm to make a difference when the game was at its lowest ebb in the late 1980s to the modern foundation we see today, embracing; health, education, inclusion, equalities and participation for all.
“I wish him every success for the future with the knowledge that he made such a difference to so many during his career.”
According to Keith, there won't be much time to relax as he is scheduled to decorating and gardening duties for the family before he gets the golf clubs out.
Keith was recently interviewed for an edition of the club’s official podcast - Inside the Arena. In it, he reminisces about his playing career and his time as Community Trust Manager. Click HERE to listen to it on Spotify.
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