Ripley revels in surprise recall

Glenn Moore on the return of a `forgotten' winger to the England fold
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The Independent Online
Stuart Ripley had spent his whole career dreaming of an England call-up - but when it came the experience was an anti-climax.

Ripley's England debut came in Graham Taylor's last match, against San Marino in November 1993. Yesterday, after his first day's training with the international squad since that night, he recalled: "You can't pick and choose when you get called up by England - it is a great honour - but, had I been able to, I would not have chosen that game.

"Someone said `it must have felt like being the last man on the Titanic' and that summed it up. Graham Taylor was taking a lot of stick and all the players were being tarnished with the same brush. They were terrified of playing.

"I couldn't believe the negative vibes. It was a difficult environment to come into, they were absolutely rock-bottom. Confidence is everything in a footballer, it affects any player. The most talented player in the world won't show that ability if he lacks confidence, I've seen it happen to players with immense talent.

"The difference between then and now is tremendous. The atmosphere is bubbling. I could see it on television. Players are trying things which they only do if they have confidence, things that are not obvious. You need to do that at international level."

Ripley speaks from personal experience. After Taylor left, Terry Venables never showed an interest and, he admits, he was not playing well enough to deserve a second cap. Poor form was followed by injury, which put him out of most of last season. When he returned, Blackburn Rovers had dispensed with wingers and he could not get back in the side. This year, however, their new manager, Roy Hodgson, has played Ripley and Jason Wilcox on the flanks and Rovers have responded with 15 goals in five games to lead the table.

"It is not the same as the championship side," he added. "The full-backs are playing further forward so Jason and I are pushed on and get more one-on-ones, which is our forte. In the championship year we were expected to do a lot more chasing back and defending and, while I was happy to do it, as it helped the team, as a winger you want to attack.

"I am now fitter than I've ever been and playing as well as I have ever done. I feel I can go past anyone at the moment."

Glenn Hoddle agreed and said: "He is back to his best and in a very positive frame of mind. He has looked as good as anyone has joining in with us for the first time. He might suit our situation next week."

However, despite this testimony, Ripley admitted: "I was still a bit surprised to be called up after being out of the game so long. For the last 18 months I've either been injured, playing with injuries or been coming back from them.

"I never despaired. Players get injured, it is part of the job. It is difficult but you have to cope with it. I worked very hard in the gym and with the physio. You also have to cope with not getting the weekly highs and lows. You see the lads getting hyped up for matches and you can't. When you are injured you don't get that adrenalin rush on a matchday. I think that is one of the hardest things people have to cope with when they retire."

As his comments suggest, Ripley is a thoughtful player and, although Hoddle generally has little time for "specialist wingers", as Ripley regards himself, he is considering a different approach to break down Moldova. Ripley may thus have the chance to show that, should England qualify, he has more than just a French A level to offer when it comes to the World Cup next summer.