OBITUARY: Harry Cripps

Countless footballers have been held in esteem, even reverence, by fans enraptured by their heroes' sporting prowess. But few at any club have been loved - if that word seems excessive, it fills the bill here - in the manner of Harry Cripps by followers of Millwall throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

'Arry Boy, as he was affectionately dubbed, was a rather rotund left back who tackled ferociously and strove constantly and courageously for a dozen or so seasons as the Lions rose from fourth division mediocrity to the brink of the top flight.

But Cripps represented infinitely more to Millwall than his highly respectable tally of 444 senior appearances and 40 goals. A warm, humorous individual, he enjoyed a rich rapport with the toughly self-sufficient denizens of Cold Blow Lane, who saw him as one of their own. He played the game seriously but he revelled in by-play with the crowd.

Other players, many far more gifted than the somewhat ponderous though not unskilful defender, were equally committed to the cause and a few of them were as combative (though that took some doing). But none of them could count on a welcoming roar just for taking the pitch or be allowed such good-natured leeway on making a mistake. Indeed, a significant part of the Cripps appeal was that he could take criticism, and was never a moaner no matter how dire the circumstances.

'Arry Boy had arrived at The Den in June 1961, a 19-year-old reeling with the shock of being rejected by West Ham United. A keen competitor, he soon became established in the first team and played a crucial role in the Lions' two successive promotion campaigns, from the fourth and third divisions, in 1965 and 1966. Thereafter he was a model of consistency, enjoying a stint as skipper, holding the club's appearance record for a spell and still being an important member of the side when Millwall just missed reaching the first division in 1972.

After that the ageing Cripps switched to midfield, where his lack of pace was less exposed, until he moved to Charlton Athletic in October 1974. That term he helped his new club reach the second division, subsequently serving them as assistant manager to Andy Nelson.

In later years Cripps managed non-league Barking, was no 2 to his old friend Bobby Moore at Southend, coached a variety of amateur sides and worked in insurance. But it is as the very epitome of Millwall FC that 'Arry Boy's place in football folklore is assured.

Ivan Ponting

Henry Richard Cripps, footballer; born East Dereham, Norfolk 29 April 1941; played for West Ham United 1956-61, Millwall 1961-74, Charlton Athletic 1974-75; died 29 December 1995.