Andy Ripley - a remarkable man

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The Esquire blog is a place where we celebrate the people, places and products that we admire. Today, although it represents a break from the norm, we'd like to celebrate a life...

Andy Ripley might be a familiar name to Esquire readers of a certain age, chiefly for his exploits on Superstars, the series from the 1970s and 80s that pitted stars from different sports against each other in a sort of televised decathlon.

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Andy Ripley was a rugby player who represented England and the British Lions, a champion rower and a respected figure in the city, but more than that Andy Ripley was an inspirational man.

My first memories of Ripley are from childhood. Every Saturday morning I would head off with my father, a Welshman who was, and still is, deeply passionate about his rugby. My father played for a team in south-west London that occasionally came up against Rosslyn Park, the club Ripley starred for as a long-haired, socks-rolled down, utterly fearless number eight.

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Ripley was an England international so played for Rosslyn Park's First XV, although my father tells a story of them tangling once many years before and being sent off for his troubles. Of course, they shared the obligatory pint in the clubhouse afterwards and my father always spoke in admiring terms of Ripley as a player, a maverick and a man, which made a lasting impression on me.

The only times I ever saw Ripley play in the flesh were at the Middlesex Sevens, the annual seven-a-side festival at Twickenham that attracts clubs from all over the country. It was, and still is, a festival of good humour and beer, and Ripley, who turned out for Rosslyn Park until the age of 41, still burns bright in my memory for his running, his competitive desire and his huge popularity with the crowds.

It was many years before I saw Ripley again. The occasion was The National Sports Club Book Awards at the Café Royal. He won an award for his book, Ripley's World - The Rugby Icon's Ultimate Victory Over Cancer, an acclaimed memoir about his fight against the illness. After accepting the award, he made a remarkable speech.

At first, he appeared to be rambling. But then, over the course of an unscripted and unforgettable 15 minutes, he pulled together the strands of what he had to say to deliver a message that was poetic, funny and moving in equal measure. He had the whole room in the palm of his hand.

He left the stage to a long and heartfelt standing ovation. It was the most impressive speech I have ever witnessed and after the lunch I made a point of seeking out Ripley to shake his hand and to tell him my Dad had been right about him all along.

I had no idea before that lunch that Andy Ripley had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and had fought it for so long, and with such spirit. But having heard him speak I was sure that if anyone could beat the disease, or deal with the prospect of being beaten by it, it was him.

It was therefore very sad to see a recent newspaper interview with Ripley that included a photo showing the cancer was back and had ravaged this giant of a man, taking him to within weeks of death.

Andy Ripley OBE died yesterday, aged 62. He might not be a household name outside rugby circles or even beyond those who loved Superstars, but take a look at the tributes below, and look up those that will surely follow, and you will see that he was, and will always remain, a true champion. Dan Davies

Telegraph

Daily Mail

Sports Journalist Association

Mick Cleary