Continuing our series, Andy Watson looks at his Rovers hero, Stuart Ripley.
We all know that football didn’t begin in 1992, but it certainly was a fortuitous time to start supporting Blackburn Rovers.
My first games actually come in the 90/91 season, but 91/92 is where my memories begin to form. Scott Sellars is the first person I can actually remember classifying as a good player for Rovers, but he left just as my young mind was ready to bestow hero status upon unsuspecting Rovers players.
With Sellars, and then Wilcox, on the left, it was clear that there was a bit of a hole on the right-hand side. Dalglish identified a former England U21 international who had been impressive for Middlesbrough for multiple seasons as the man to fill that gap. It is almost bizarre to me to think that my Rovers hero actually played more games for another club than for us, but Stuart Ripley had been played over 200 games for Boro across the Third, Second and First Divisions. I have no memory of his performances for Boro but it’s interesting that he would leave Ayresome Park for Ewood despite Middlesbrough actually finishing above Rovers and being promoted automatically into that inaugural Premier League season.
Project Ewood was well underway at this point of course, with the ground and training ground redevelopment either being completed or on its way, and it was clear to Ripley that we were going places fast. And going places fast is something that Stuart Ripley was an expert in.
He took no time to settle in after his £1.3m move, as he scored Rovers’ first-ever Premier League goal (Shearer getting the other two) in a 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace on the opening day. What a way to announce yourself to the Rovers fans!
Though Ripley didn’t turn out to be a massive goalscorer, he did chip in with a few important ones. His main role, however, was stretching the opposition and providing crosses for our main men in the middle. Whether it was Mike Newell, Chris Sutton, Kevin Gallacher, or, of course, Alan Shearer, Ripley simply beat his man and provided dangerous balls into the box on a regular basis for these marksmen. Indeed, with Jason Wilcox on one wing and Stuart Ripley on the other, it is no wonder that Rovers were often a free-scoring outfit and a team that strikers loved to play in.
The interesting sight of the bright blond hair and the dark eyebrows flashing down the right wing was a constant of my childhood Rovers team and I could never understand why England only came calling on two occasions. His prime football was played for Rovers and I thank King Kenny for getting ahead of the opposition to bring him to Ewood and then giving our wingers the freedom to perform.
After 189 league matches, UEFA Cup and Champions League appearances, Ripley’s effectiveness began to wane and injuries began to affect his previously bulletproof reliability. He moved on to Southampton in 1998 and retired four years later, though not before scoring against Rovers for Barnsley on loan.
His post-football career was been almost as interesting and successful. Not content with setting up his own physiotherapy practice, Ripley re-qualified as a lawyer (studied alongside French as well!) and has been heavily involved within some high-profile cases within football. This just makes me more impressed with the guy, I saw him in person at The Riverside Stadium recently and he is totally humble and unassuming. He’s a real hero from my childhood and someone I totally respect as an adult.
Thanks for reading.