As Hotspur FC reached the end of its first season a number in the spring of 1883 some of the lads were disheartened with having to fight to protect a pitch on Tottenham Marshes they had marked out each week. It was clear that if the fledgling Hotspur was to survive they required adult support and guidance and they turned to a figure they knew well. He ran bible classes at All Hallows Church which they attended and where the father of two of the boys was a church warden. A chap called John Ripsher.
John had been born in 1840, was also the warden of the YMCA hostel. At that time he was described as a clerk at the local iron works. John had also previously helped the boys when they had taken up cricket two years earlier.
John agreed and called a meeting in August 1883 at which a proper structure for the side was laid out. He accepted the post of President and also acted as treasurer. He arranged for them to use the YMCA as their headquarters. Boys being boys they soon ran into trouble and were required to vacate for a new home but Ripsher stood by them and time and again and helped guide them towards the club we know today (1). They eventually came ‘home’ to the Red House in the High Road, which would remain their base for many years.
Whenever the lads turned to him for help or material assistance he would declare “The Lord will provide.” Then on match day he would appear with a new ball or suchlike to ensure the game proceeded. His influence extended onto the playing field as the side developed a reputation from its earliest days of playing with flair and within a code of sportsmanship, players who cheated were quickly discarded. Despite their off field misdemeanors the boys respected and valued his support and ‘sung his praises’ at the club’s AGM’s. A sign of their affection is that there are references that that referred to him as 'Rippy.'
John remained the President for eleven years, in which time he had seen the boys grow into young men and the team in a well-known and respected side who were tenants at the Northumberland Park ground. In 1894 he stepped down from his role and became a club patron. As the club quickly turned professional and then formed a limited company.
The years after Ripsher stepped down were not good to him. He moved to Dover to live with his sister who with her husband ran the Diamond Hotel. John found work locally as a clerk, Ill health followed and he would lose his sight. He was admitted to the local workhouse in January 1906. The following year he passed away aged 67 and was laid to rest in an unmarked pauper’s grave in St Mary’s cemetery.
There the sad tale would have ended if it was not for Peter Lupson. Peter an Everton supporter, who like Spurs have a strong church connection to their origins. He was researching the genesis of clubs when he uncovered what had happened to John.
On September 24th 2007, 100 years to the day that he passed away, a memorial service for John was held.
At which Paul Barber, a director of the club said ‘It’s a fascinating story, poetic and sad there is a huge respect here for what John did in those early years not just founding the club but keeping it going we are delighted that the man who is known as our real founder has been found and we can honour him.’
The service was attended by John’s family, Peter Lupson and the Mayor of Dover who added ‘John faced problems familiar today; he was trying to get boys off the streets and give them a sense of purpose.’ His grave was marked with a headstone funded by the Tottenham Tribute Trust.
John Ripsher, without whose presence and guidance it is extremely likely the fledgling club would have faltered in those first years.
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Thanks – Andy Porter, THFC, Julian Holland, The Telegraph and Peter Ludson (his book is entitled ‘Thank God for Football.’
Notes – 1 – The story of Hotspur FC at that time and the misadventures of the boys are related in the mini-series ‘A Victorian Hotspur’ starting next week.
Further Reading –Talking Tottenham, 1882 and all that, and Hotspur by Gaslight. Both published earlier this week.
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