Keith Ripley: Footballer who played alongside John Charles

 

Tottenham Hotspur were indisputably the outstanding team of the 1960-61 campaign in English football, winning the first Football League and FA Cup double of the 20th century in style. In almost any other season, Peterborough United, with Keith Ripley a towering presence at wing-half, would have had a strong claim to the title.

After being voted in at the expense of Gateshead, the Midland League champions brought a touch of the glory game to the Fourth Division. They won 28 and lost only eight of their 46 fixtures while amassing a League-record 134 goals, with Terry Bly, once a colleague of Ripley's at Norwich City, scoring 52 of them. In the FA Cup, First Division Aston Villa were relieved to squeeze through 2-1 in a replay before 64,531 spectators.

Ripley was a versatile performer who could operate across the midfield, in central defence or as a target man. He had been a key signing by the Peterborough manager, Jimmy Hagan, as he prepared to lead the Posh into the full-time ranks in the summer of 1960. The newcomer from Mansfield Town made his first appearance away to Crystal Palace, the eventual runners-up, which drew an astonishing 36,478 spectators to Selhurst Park. Indeed, the Posh proved an attraction at home and away that season, drawing two 20,000 attendances to their London Road ground.

The 6ft 1in Yorkshireman was one of the few members of Hagan's side to whom such crowds were not a novelty. As a schoolboy centre-half in the town where he was born and died, Normanton, near Wakefield, he had attracted the interest of Leeds United, Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion. Going on to play for Altofts YMCA, he committed himself to Leeds in April 1952 and made his debut at right-half in the Second Division against Stoke City just over two years later.

Later that season, which saw him become a colleague of John Charles some two years before the great Welshman joined Juventus for a world-record £65,000, Ripley's place came under threat from Archie Gibson. He was striving to juggle life as a professional sportsman with national service in the Royal Signals, and in 1955 represented the Army against a Scotland XI at Glasgow's Ibrox Park.

That spring, after Gibson took over the No 4 shirt, Ripley played inside-forward alongside Charles and joined him among the scorers in the defeat of Port Vale. A year later, having played in only 15 of Leeds' first 38 matches, he came in for the last four, all of which were won as Raich Carter's team sealed promotion to the top tier.

Over the next two seasons, Ripley made 23 First Division appearances, his opportunities diminished by the purchase of two Irishmen, Wilbur Cush and Noel Peyton, and the emergence of players such as the future England internationals Jack Charlton and Chris Crowe. When, in August 1958, the chance came to relocate to Norwich City, he seized it, despite his new employers' Third Division status.

The 1958-59 season is still discussed in awed tones in Norfolk because of the FA Cup run which led Norwich from round one to a semi-final replay. Ripley was brought in to lead the line while Bly was injured, which he did impressively, his six goals in 12 starts including two match-winners. Three months later, with Bly fit and gearing up to net seven times on the Wembley trail, he was on his way again, watching the Canaries' cup exploits from the security of Mansfield's dressing-room.

At Peterborough, for whom he scored 12 goals in 81 games over two years, he achieved the second promotion of his career, providing a vital counter-balance to more flamboyant talents in a team who scored seven goals on two occasions when he was in the line-up, six goals in a further five matches and five goals on six occasions. There was another FA Cup adventure in 1961-62, Ripley helping the now-Third Division team win at Newcastle before 42,781 fans, but in August 1962 he returned to Yorkshire to join Doncaster Rovers.

He stayed at Belle Vue for four seasons. In 1964 he was among the scorers in Doncaster's record victory, 10-0 over Darlington. The following year, having started the Sheffield County Cup semi-final derby against Rotherham United in defence, he scored a hat-trick as Rovers came from 2-0 down to win and was carried off on the shoulders of excited fans. Then, after becoming Doncaster's first-ever used substitute at the start of 1965-66, he collected a second Fourth Division championship medal before retiring with 320 League games and 45 goals to his name.

One of his sons, also called Keith, played five times each for Huddersfield Town and Doncaster in the late 1970s. Ripley Snr remained active, enjoying golf and gardening until his final years, when he suffered from myasthenia gravis, a neuro-muscular disorder.

Phil Shaw

Stanley Keith Ripley, footballer: born Normanton, Yorkshire 29 March 1935; married (four sons, three daughters); died Normanton 5 November 2012.

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