John Ryden: Tottenham stalwart of the 1950s

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The Independent Online

As the captain of Tottenham Hotspur for much of one campaign in the late 1950s, John Ryden was within touching distance of footballing immortality – but it passed him by. Soon Bill Nicholson took over from Jimmy Anderson as manager of the north Londoners, and the new manager rated Ryden as no more than an ordinary centre-half. He therefore excluded the tall, blond, rosy-cheeked Scot from his plans as he constructed the beautiful team which, in 1960-61, would become the first in the 20th century to lift the League and FA Cup double.

Ryden had made his entry to the senior game as a part-timer with Scottish second-tier club Alloa Athletic in 1950, spending three mid-table seasons at Recreation Park and compiling a century of appearances before a £1,000 deal took him across the border to Accrington Stanley of the Third Division North in February 1954.

The hardy, industrious newcomer flourished apace at Peel Park, playing in every game as the Reds finished second to champions Barnsley during the following season, then earning selection for the divisional side in the annual encounter with its southern equivalent in October 1955.

A month later, after 80 consecutive League outings, he was sold to Spurs for £8,500, a colossal sum to impecunious Stanley, who were destined to be forced out of business by dire financial problems in 1962. For Ryden, however, opportunity beckoned at White Hart Lane and he made a bright start in the top flight, deputising for the injured veteran stopper Harry Clarke at Preston in April 1956 and scoring one of his rare goals in a 3-3 draw.

He was granted his first settled run midway through the next season before being unseated by the younger Maurice Norman, who was bigger, younger and destined to play for England. For 1957-58 he bounced back, replacing the departed Tony Marchi as captain and making 35 appearances, easily the most of his Tottenham career, as Anderson's men finished a creditable third in the title race.

But clouds were looming on the Scot's horizon. In October 1958 the inspirational, inscrutably pragmatic Nicholson took the club's helm, and though Ryden played and scored in the first game of the Yorkshireman's regime – a remarkable 10-4 home triumph over Everton – soon the No 5 shirt was handed to the rapidly improving Norman.

Ryden was tough, tenacious and dedicated, but arguably possessed more courage than class. Nicholson was not sufficiently impressed, and after he had recruited the magnificent Dave Mackay from Hearts in March 1959 there was no way back for the former Accrington man.

He remained at White Hart Lane as a reserve until summer 1961 when, with Tottenham celebrating their historic double, he moved to Third Division Watford. There followed only one season at Vicarage Road before he left the League to serve Romford, Tunbridge Wells and Bexley United.

Later Ryden, one of three footballing brothers – George's prime was spent at Dundee, while Hugh was best known for his stint at Chester – worked in the finance industry.

John Johnston Ryden, footballer: born Alexandria, Dunbartonshire 18 February 1931; played for Alloa Athletic 1951-54, Accrington Stanley 1954-55, Tottenham 1955-61, Watford 1961-62; died Keston, Kent 16 August 2013.