By Tony Dewhurst.

Keith Hicks was nicknamed the sheriff and he always wore his football badge of honour with pride.

"It was the jutting jaw that did it," he laughed. 'Then one of the lads at Oldham Athletic saw a film called, 'The Sheriff of fractured jaw', starring Kenneth More, and it stuck, for 30 years.

"Blimey. My first pro contract was £17 a week, and my dad was my agent.

"I was in the first team and I'd got picked for young England. My dad said he'd go in and see the boss to get me a rise.

"The Manager was a tough-talking Scot called Jimmy Frizzell, who didn't stand any messing I can tell you.

"Anyway, he came out with an extra fiver. Could you imagine that today?

"It was another world then. You'd play on pitches in the middle of winter and they were so muddy the groundsman would rush on with his brush and re-paint the penalty spot.

"There was no scouting network at Oldham, so we'd look in the Oldham Chronicle to see who was going to turn up."

Hicks was a raw-edged 18-year-old when he made his debut for Oldham Athletic against Plymouth Argyle at Home Park, but he was quickly a regular in the Latics line-up.

"I'd just gone down to make up the numbers, but an hour before the Manager said, 'Right lad, get your boots on.'

"You didn't do warm-ups then, it was a cup of strong tea, then you'd jump up and down, heading an imaginary ball.

"We drew 0-0 - so I must have done something right because I'd played 100 games by the time I was 20.

"Later, when Sunderland sold Dave Watson to Manchester City in 1976 there was speculation that they'd bid £85,000 for me.

"I'm thinking 'This could be the big time.' I saw the Manager and he told me it was paper talk. When I said I wanted a rise, he replied, 'You're not getting one, son.'

"There was no player power then and that was that."

He had stints with Hereford United and Rochdale too, where he finished his career - and Keith grins with pride when I ask him to recall his favourite moment.

"It had to be marking Geoff Hurst at West Bromwich Albion. He scored a hat-trick for England in a World Cup final, but he went off after 80 minutes against me!

"My final league game for Rochdale was against Crewe Alexandra at Spotland and I got the job of keeping David Platt quiet."

Football taught him a lot. And for 25 years Keith has headed up Rochdale's Football in the Community.

"We've worked from the Police control box, the first aid room, the five-a-side changing rooms and even had a spell based in the board room, " said Keith.

"We'd had to move the office every time we had a home game.

"Still, it brings me a great deal of pleasure to see projects like the Future Jobs Fund have such a big impact, and that football can put so much back into the community."

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