Early Legends - John Ripsher
Hoddle, Gazza, Klinsmann, King, Berbatov and Bale – there can be few, if any, Spurs fans unfamiliar with those names and what they achieved for the club. But what about the club’s heroes from further back in history. In this latest series, Martin Cloake selects some of the key figures who made the club what it is.
In an age when football clubs are owned by multi-billionaires who often seem at least as interested in their own glorification as that of the clubs they lead, remembering the man who was the first president of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is a reminder of the game’s more humble beginnings.
The Reverend John Ripsher was a Bible teacher at All Hallows School in Tottenham, the school attended by several of the lads who formed the Hotspur Football Club under a lamppost on Tottenham High Road in 1882. Ripsher was known for saying: “The Lord will provide” but in the early days of the club it was he who provided the organisational underpinning of the new club. He bough footballs, found pitches and made sure the boys had facilities to meet and play.
They were not always grateful, as on the occasion when they were banished from a headquarters building Ripsher had secured for them after being discovered playing cards – gambling was seen as a mortal sin for educated boys to indulge in at the time. But through all the problems of the early years, even when the boys let him down as they did over the gambling incident, Ripsher stuck by them.
The church’s involvement was not unusual. Some of England’s most famopus clubs have their origins in the efforts of the church to keep the working classes of Victorian England away from alcohol and interest them in healthy sporting pursuits. Clubs such as Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City, Southampton and Blackburn Rovers were all given early encouragement by Christian ministers who believed in the power of physical exercise and the values of teamwork, friendship, courage and self-reliance.
Ripsher stuck with the club for its first 11 years, never failing to promote its interests. When he stepped down, in 1894, Spurs were an established force, playing at their own ground in Northumberland Park and proud members of the Southern Alliance League. But fate was not to be kind to Ripsher.
When he left the club he moved to Dover in the county of Kent, just south of London, where his sister ran a hotel. His sight began to fail and he eventually went blind. Unable to work, he was admitted to the workhouse in January 1906. He died in poverty a year later and was buried in an umarked pauper’s grave in St Mary’s Cemetery.
He remained forgotten for a century until a man called Peter Lupson uncovered the story in 2006. Lupson had formed a church youth league on Merseyside andm, he said “needed some street credibility”. He told his players that Everton and Liverpool both owed their existence to a chapel, and set about researching the influence of the church on English football.
He uncovered the story of John Ripsher, and the number of the grave in which he was buried. On 24th September 2007, 101 years to the day after Ripsher died, the mayor of Dover, Tottenham Hotspur director Paul Barber and descendants of Ripsher himself attended a memorial service and civic reception in which the club’s debt to its founder was acknowledged. A new headstone, bearing Ripsher’s name and the club crest and motto – funded by the Tottenham Tribute Trust – was erected.
Barber said: “It is a fascinating story, poetic and sad.” As Lupson put it; ‘If he had not stuck by those boys there would be no club today.”
About the Author:
Martin Cloake is a writer and editor who lives in London, UK. A Spurs season ticket holder, he has followed the team since 1970, travelling all over the UK and Europe to support them. His latest book, Sound of the crowd, is a look at changing fan culture in England with an emphasis on Spurs supporters. He is a regular contributor to Spurs fansites and podcasts. He also writes more widely on football and the football business for a variety of publications including the New Statesman.
Martin Cloake’s books about Tottenham Hotspur, including ebooks that can be downloaded directly to your computer or mobile device, can be ordered from his bookstore.
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