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Former Blackburn Star on side of the law

 

Football News 24/7
Stuart Ripley may have been one of Blackburn's unsung heroes in their Championship winning side but he provided Alan Shearer with the ammunition for many of his goals. Ripley was signed from Middlesboro' for £1.3 million - a lot of money for a winger back in the day. But it proved a shrewd move

Now aged 44 and still living in the town, Ripley who retired from the game in 2002 has not sat still. In fact he is a shining example of what a footballer can achieve if they decide that coaching or managing is not for them.

Not content with pottering around the house doing the odd bit of media work or coaching to pass the time of day, Ripley enrolled at university and is now currently working as a sports lawyer, specialising in football, for prestigious Manchester-based law firm Brabners Chaffe Street Solicitors.

He is using the expertise he has gained from 18 years in the professional game alongside his law schooling to helping players, coaches, agents and clubs reach a satisfactory conclusion when disputes arise.

In a recent interview he said: “The firm I work for represents two-thirds of Premier League clubs.

“We represent the PFA and various individuals like agents, players and coaches.

“We represent clients with various disputes which might go before the FA, FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“We deal with contractual disputes, transfer disputes – for example, if there’s a transfer and there’s training compensation to be paid.

“If a club is not paying up, we will pursue the training compensation claim.

“It’s genuinely fascinating stuff – because of the nature of football, you’re working with names and clubs that people know.

“That’s one of the good things about the job – you never know what’s coming next.

“Manchester United are one of our clients. We do a bit of work for Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Rangers, Celtic...we have a long list of clients and you can imagine with these massive clubs, there are lots and lots of issues which crop up.”

Well-paid throughout his career as a footballer, Ripley –who studied at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston – became a lawyer, not out of financial necessity, but because he wanted a life after football. He believes it’s important that all footballers should plan for life after they finish playing.

“If truth be told, I hadn’t planned for what I wanted to do after finishing playing.

“I had spent a year to 18 month waffling about, not knowing what I wanted to do.

“I needed to do something for myself after I finished playing.

Kenny Dalglish knew he was in the final throes of wooing Stuart Ripley when he offered up an intriguing piece of information.

The then-Blackburn Rovers manager was on the charm offensive in the summer of 1992 as he attempted to make the Middlesbrough winger his first signing after guiding the Ewood Park club back to the top flight of English football for the first time since 1966.

A provincial club, who had spent the previous quarter of a century in the Second and Third Divisions, Rovers were undergoing something of a transformation.

Awash with cash due to the financial clout of multi-millionaire supporter Jack Walker, Rovers were intent on taking the inaugural Premier League season by storm.

Dalglish had a masterplan for the way he wanted his side to play and he had targeted Ripley has integral to those plans.

The right-winger had starred for his hometown club Boro the previous season as they finished ahead of Rovers in the old Second Division to claim an automatic promotion berth – Blackburn, of course, went up via the play-offs.

Flattered by Dalglish’s interest and the fact he was willing to pay £1.3m – a club record fee at the time – for his services, Ripley was more than interested in what Blackburn were willing to offer.

Impressed by Walker’s ambition and the redevelopment plans for Ewood Park and the club’s training base at Brockhall, Ripley was inching ever closer to signing on the dotted line for the Lancashire club.

But what sealed the deal was when Dalglish informed Ripley that he wanted him to be the man to provide the ammunition for a young, promising striker who was making a name for himself at Southampton.

Ripley said: “I spoke to Kenny and it just became apparent that big things were happening at Blackburn.

“I don’t think anybody could have foreseen what was to happen at the club in the following four or five years, but Kenny showed me the plans for the training ground and the stadium.

“He then told me that they had this bid in for this young lad at Southampton called Alan Shearer, who was an up-and-coming player.

“Kenny said, ‘This kid is going to be superb’ – so I just thought, let’s go for it.”

It proved to be an inspired choice by Ripley as he would go on to play a major role in Blackburn’s success in the ensuing years – culminating in the club winning the title in 1995 and Ripley winning two England caps.

“I had taken the decision to leave Middlesbrough, but I wanted to leave on a good note with the club and the fans,” Ripley said.

“We had just won promotion to the Premier League, so I thought it would be a good time to leave, having helped them achieve success.

“Moving to Blackburn turned out to be a very good decision on my part.

“They paid £1.3m for me which was obviously a lot of money at the time – it was quite flattering. I was the record signing very briefly – until Alan came along and stole everybody’s thunder.”

Shearer signed for Rovers shortly after Ripley for a British record fee of £3.3m.

He struck up an instant understanding with the winger and the goals began to flow.

He said: “I wouldn’t say our approach was simplistic, but it was very effective.

“We had two wingers, myself and Jason Wilcox, who could beat people and deliver good crosses into the box where we had strikers like Alan who could put the ball in the back of the net.

“We also had a great midfield pairing who supplied endless ball to the wingers.

“At first it was Mark Atkins and Tim Sherwood, then David Batty came in and he was absolutely superb.

“He is the best midfield player I have ever worked with.

“Sometimes I had to tell him to stop giving me the ball because I was exhausted – he gave me the ball that much.

“I scored Blackburn’s first ever Premier League goal at Crystal Palace on the opening day of the season which was good.

“It was nice to get off to a good start.

“Alan banged a couple in that day and got himself on his legendary roll of goalscoring.

“He was just an amazing player. He was a really good lad as well.

“He was a team player and would put a shift in every game.

“Sometimes you watch one or two players in the modern game who are a bit selfish.

“They might score a few goals, but they don’t put a shift in for the team

“Alan was fantastic. He was everywhere on the pitch – in the middle , on the flanks...just the complete centre-forward.”

Walker continued to lavish cash extravagantly on his beloved Rovers – breaking the British transfer fee once more to land imposing centre-forward Chris Sutton from Norwich for £5.5m.

Ripley, who still lives in Blackburn, added: “I think the money rubbed a few people up the wrong way.

“But it does not always mean you are going to get success. A few clubs have found that out. If you don’t get the combination of players right and the spirit of the team right then you’re not going to be successful – it doesn’t matter how much money you have got.”

Rovers claimed fourth place in their first season back in the big time before running eventual champions Manchester United close the year after, as they finished runners-up.

It was the following season when Ripley, whose 19-year-old son Connor is a England youth international goalkeeper who has played in the first team at Middlesbrough, reached the pinnacle of his career as Rovers, this time, pipped United to the title.

“We were building up to the league title,” Ripley said.

“We had two good seasons prior to the title success when we finished fourth and then second.

“The season before we won the title, we were chasing United down and in my opinion, that was the best football we ever played, towards the end of that season.

“We beat United 2-0 at Ewood and I think if the season had gone on for another five or six games , I think we might have caught United.

“So leading into the championship season, we knew we could win it and I always say to people, it was so good to line up in the tunnel every week with that Blackburn team because we believed we would win every game.

“It’s great when you can look at your team-mates and have that feeling.

“It was a feeling of invincibility – that we were unstoppable.

“I always remember the match we beat Sheffield Wednesday 7-1.

“I played particularly well that day, but it was a day when everything just clicked for the team.

“It was one of the great days at Ewood Park because Wednesday were a good side then...they were a top-six side, but we just demolished them. In the final match of the season at Liverpool when we lost, we did have a few were nerves.

“I think at Blackburn, because it was a smaller club, you kind of feel you have only one chance to win it.

“The closer we got to the finishing line, the more nervous we got but over that season we were the best team – the table does not lie.

“To win the league was just surreal.

“I don’t actually know where my championship medal is, it’s buried somewhere.

“But every now and then, I dig it out and have a sneaky look.”

Aged 44 now and retired from the game since 2002 after a spell at Southampton, Ripley has no time to polish his championship medal these days.

In fact he is a shining example of what a footballer can achieve once they are no longer able to kick a ball around a pitch.

Not content with pottering around the house doing the odd bit of media work or coaching to pass the time of day, Ripley enrolled at university and is now currently working as a sports lawyer, specialising in football, for prestigious Manchester-based law firm Brabners Chaffe Street Solicitors.

He is using the expertise he has gained from 18 years in the professional game alongside his law schooling to helping players, coaches, agents and clubs reach a satisfactory conclusion when disputes arise.

He said: “The firm I work for represents two-thirds of Premier League clubs.

“We represent the PFA and various individuals like agents, players and coaches.

“We represent clients with various disputes which might go before the FA, FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“We deal with contractual disputes, transfer disputes – for example, if there’s a transfer and there’s training compensation to be paid.

“If a club is not paying up, we will pursue the training compensation claim.

“It’s genuinely fascinating stuff – because of the nature of football, you’re working with names and clubs that people know.

“That’s one of the good things about the job – you never know what’s coming next.

“Manchester United are one of our clients. We do a bit of work for Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Rangers, Celtic...we have a long list of clients and you can imagine with these massive clubs, there are lots and lots of issues which crop up.”

Well-paid throughout his career as a footballer, Ripley –who studied at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston – became a lawyer, not out of financial necessity, but because he wanted a life after football. He believes it’s important that all footballers should plan for life after they finish playing.

“If truth be told, I hadn’t planned for what I wanted to do after finishing playing.

“I had spent a year to 18 month waffling about, not knowing what I wanted to do.

“I needed to do something for myself after I finished playing.

“There is only so much daytime TV you can watch until it drives you completely insane.

“It’s important for footballers when they have finished to find something to do.

“It’s quite an important subject at the moment, with the Gary Speed issue and different players coming out saying that they are depressed and that they don’t know what to do with themselves.

“It’s a tough thing to take when you have finished a long career in football and you’ve no direction.

“There are a lot of self-esteem issues.

“You’ve gone from being somebody to being a normal, average guy.

“A lot of footballers find that hard to deal with.

“If you think about a footballer’s life – you’re getting a real high every Saturday.

“Every three to four days you have got match day and this incredible high.

“You’re playing in front of big crowds and then there are the actual games.

“How do you replace that when you’ve finished?

“The answer is you can’t replace it, but you have got to deal with the psychological element and do something to fill that hole.

“Time waits for no man. You get to an age where physically you can’t do it any more.

“You always know it’s going to come to you eventually, so you’ve got to think ahead and do something which is going to occupy your mind.

“The amount of money players of today are earning is just phenomenal.

“It’s fantastic for them in one sense, but it does bring it’s own problems.

“Most people would like to have these problems, but it does bring a few motivational problems once you’ve finished playing.

“If you are an ex-player who is sitting on ‘X’ amount of millions of pounds, it means you don’t have to get up at seven or eight in the morning and drive to work.

“Why would you get up and do that?

“The reason you would is because it’s good for you.

“It’s good for your psychological and mental health.”

Ripley’s return to school raised a few eyebrows but many of his fellow students – most of them half his age – didn’t know that they had a former international footballer in their class.

He said: “You are quickly forgotten in football.

“Half of the students didn’t know I used to be a footballer.

“It came out eventually, but most of them just looked at me as a mature student.

“But I loved the experience of studying.

“I think when you’re 18 and 19, it’s probably not the best time to study because there are a lot of distractions going on in your life.

“But I was in a good place in my life when I went to university.

“I really wanted to make the most of it and I really enjoyed the whole university experience.

“I had always wanted to go back to university because, I wouldn’t say it was taken from me, but starting my football career at 16, going to university was something I wasn’t able to do. I was playing in the first team at Middlesbrough at 17 and it just snowballed from there.

“I never got the chance to have that university experience.

“I ended up going back at the age of 38, which wasn’t quite the same as doing it when you’re 18.

“But I always wanted to experience it and see if I could get a good education,” he added.

“I had always wanted to go back to university because, I wouldn’t say it was taken from me, but starting my football career at 16, going to university was something I wasn’t able to do. I was playing in the first team at Middlesbrough at 17 and it just snowballed from there.

“I never got the chance to have that university experience.

“I ended up going back at the age of 38, which wasn’t quite the same as doing it when you’re 18.

“But I always wanted to experience it and see if I could get a good education,” he added.

HG

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