From WSC 301, March 2012
28 September ~ Those paying attention to the John Terry hearing may have noticed a familiar name on the FA panel. Stuart Ripley, the former England winger, began a post-football career by taking up law at college
Some footballers stay in the game when their playing career ends, others break into a whole new world. Stuart Ripley, who started out at Middlesbrough, won the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers and was capped twice for England, has managed to do both. Ripley is now a solicitor working in Manchester with the major law firm Brabners Chaffe Street.
His working days are not spent on conveyancing and writing wills, however, but in football-related matters. "I'm a sports lawyer. We have one of the biggest sports departments in the country, if not in Europe, and I work specifically on football issues. We do a lot of work with FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
His post-football CV contains membership of the FA's Judicial Panel and work on disciplinary and contractual matters with a variety of leading clubs, where it cannot be a hindrance to have played at the very top: "Not necessarily in the hearings, but there are certain times when a knowledge of the game, and of the minutiae of the game and the mindset of players, managers and coaches, is an advantage."
Few footballers take a degree before joining the professional game, or continue their studies in the early part of their career – Steve Coppell (Economics), David Weatherall (a first in Chemistry), and Iain Dowie (Engineering) spring to mind.
Circumstances meant Stuart took a different route. "I did my GCSEs before joining Middlesbrough when I was 16. My dad had negotiated with the club that I could go to sixth form college while I was with Middlesbrough, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. It was difficult to do both things, so I had to choose one or the other."
He chose football, and it paid off. But he wanted to stretch himself in other ways, and while at Blackburn obtained a good grade in A-level French: "You have an awful lot of time on your hands as a pro footballer and it's important that you fill it. Everybody has their own interests. Some of the guys like to play cards or look at the horses. I wanted to do something constructive and chose to do a little bit of studying."
The study bug stayed with him: "I retired in 2002 and knew that as a footballer when you stop playing there is a lot of life in front of you. I didn't want to be one of these people who finish and just become an ex-pro, with nothing else to challenge them. I promised myself that at the end of my career I would do something as regards higher education."
His original idea was to take a modern languages degree, but having children meant the year abroad necessary for that course was not practical: "I needed to switch to a combined honours course. Criminology was one option and law the other. I immediately enjoyed the law. I found it fascinating, and felt that it's much easier to study something when you are really interested in it."
To his great credit, after three years' study at the University of Central Lancashire he emerged in 2007 with a first class degree: "Playing for England and winning the Premier League with Blackburn were the highlights of my footballing career, but I would put obtaining a first class degree right up there with those as something I am very proud of."
To qualify as a solicitor a lot more work was needed. He stayed at the university in Lancashire to do his year of Law School study, which involves memorising and understanding vast amounts of case law. In 2008 he joined Brabners Chaffe Street as a trainee solicitor, qualifying in 2010: "It was a tough two years, a long two years. But I did exactly what every other solicitor has done and I think people respect that. It was strange being a trainee again at 40, but my philosophy was that in any walk of life if you jump through the same hoops as everyone else in the job you earn respect from your colleagues."
In his new role he encounters some of his old team-mates who now work in management and coaching. He keeps in touch with others, especially from his early days at Middlesbrough, and clearly retains great affection for the game. But you can tell he is happy to be doing something different: "What you need at the end of your playing career is a new goal and a new direction in life." Martin Pilkington