Blast from the past no.5: Hamilton Ricard


Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

Now and then a footballer comes along who defies categorisation, expectation and logic - and not always in a good way. Hamilton Ricard was one of those. A man alternately capable of staggering ability and mind-blowing ineptitude, with no apparent coherence between the two and no warning of which would come next.

Middlesbrough signed the Colombian striker from Deportivo Cali in 1998 for £2m - a lot of money for a team that had suffered relegation from the Premiership the previous season. With Bryan Robson’s side chasing an immediate return to the top flight, there was pressure on Ricard to hit the ground running. He didn’t.

“Cow’s backside and banjo spring to mind,” was how one Boro supporter on the ComeOnBoro website recalled Ricard’s early Riverside career - an unsuccessful period in which some of the club’s more insensitive fans were quick to point out the phonetic similarity between Ricard’s surname and the word ‘retard’.

Boro achieved promotion that season but their new frontman could not take much of the credit, having contributed just two goals in his 10 appearances. That summer, Boro fans could be heard openly laughing at Ricard’s incompetence in pre-season matches, with the consensus being that Robson had signed an expensive dud who would be out of his depth in the big league. He wasn’t.

Having floundered in English football’s second tier, Ricard turned out to be a world beater in the top flight. In Middlesbrough’s first 12 games of the 1998/99 campaign, he netted an astounding 11 goals. The highlight came in a 3-0 win at Tottenham, when Ricard’s two-goal display was a masterclass in pace, power and poise. Spurs’ England defender Sol Campbell later singled out the Colombian as one of the toughest centre-forwards he had faced.

Ricard finished his debut Premiership season as Boro’s top scorer with 18 goals - 15 in the league - as he formed a formidable striking partnership with Mikkel Beck. The following year, Ricard hit a memorable strike against north-east rivals Sunderland and a belter against Bradford on his way to notching 14 goals - again making him club top scorer. For many he had become a Teesside hero, and the club-sponsored pea green Hyundai he could sometimes be seen driving around the city only added to his aura.

The term “unplayable” is much bandied about to describe Ricard on a good day, with Boro fans also remembering “a big, unstoppable unit” and a player of “pure quality when he fancied it”. But it was a different story if he didn’t fancy it.

“Lazy”, “one of the worst first touches I’ve ever seen” and “the opposition’s best player” are among other recollections of Ricard, especially from the latter part of his Boro career. A league cup match against Macclesfield in the 2000/01 season stuck in one fan’s mind.

“His star had already started to fade and his touch was just appalling. Every ball bounced 10 yards off him and their fans were singing 'retard, retard’ at him. Then somehow he scored a hat-trick. That summed him up. From sublime to awful within one game.”

Ricard scored nine goals that season, but his form was on the slide. He failed to find the net at all the following campaign and was released on a free transfer with, as one fan describes it, “an excellent highlights CV”.

Perhaps it was this video compilation of spectacular strikes that helped Ricard embark on a new life as the ultimate international journeyman. After leaving Teesside, he variously popped up in the leagues of Bulgaria, Japan, Ecuador, Cyprus, Spain, Uruguay and China. There were moments of brilliance, especially when he rediscovered his scoring touch on his South American sojourns, but also of disaster, such as when he was banned for a year after attacking a referee in Ecuador. In 2007, Ricard was sentenced to three years in jail over his role in a fatal car crash in Colombia five years earlier. He has not yet served the sentence, and as this recent bizarre footage of Ricard emerging from a toilet on Colombian TV demonstrates, he is still a star in his homeland.

He remains a player that divides opinion among Middlesbrough fans, who cannot agree on whether he was a genius or a liability. One fan pondered the time Ricard attempted to score straight from the kick-off against Leeds, recalling: “For a split second I thought I was witnessing something special that would be replayed over and over again. I wasn’t.”

It’s possibly this sentiment that encapsulates Ricard best. But even if he doesn’t go down as one of the greats, he’s one that won’t be forgotten.



Blast from the Past no.1: Hassan Kachloul
Blast from the Past no.2: Joe-Max Moore
Blast from the Past no.3: Titi Camara
Blast from the Past no.4: Regi Blinker