It was difficult to miss Liverpool-born rugby player Andy Ripley when he took the field for England or the British Lions.
A big man with a big personality to match and a mop of long hair, he instantly stood out thanks to his high-stepping running action and dogged stamina.
These qualities were even more noticeable when he competed in the highly popular TV sports challenge programme Superstars in the 1970s and early 1980s.
His distinctive gait served him well as he was capped 24 times for England from 1972 to 1976, and played on the unbeaten British Lions’ tour of South Africa in 1974.
Ripley at full pace was awkward to tackle on the pitch – and almost impossible to beat on the track.
He won the International Superstars contest in 1981 and went on to represent the UK in the World Superstars Championship the same year.
Ripley played in the forwards at No. 8 – the tall man at the base of the scrum. He spent his entire career with the same club, Rosslyn Park in London.
Born in Liverpool in December 1947, Ripley studied at the University of East Anglia, the London School of Economics and Hughes Hall, Cambridge, before becoming a chartered accountant.
He made his debut for England against Wales at Twickenham on January 15th 1972 in the Five Nations Championship. Wales won 12-3.
It was a pattern to be repeated throughout Ripley’s international career. The Welsh side, including stars like Gareth Edwards, Barry John and Gerald Davies, dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby for a decade.
Ripley’s one victory against Wales came in March 1974 when England won 16-12 at Twickenham. It was a memorable game for the No. 8 as he scored one of England’s two tries.
Ripley also scored a try in England’s 20-3 win against Australia at Twickenham in November 1973.
The match completed a trio of victories against Southern Hemisphere teams for Ripley as he was in the England side that beat South Africa in Johannesburg in June 1972 and New Zealand 16-10 in Auckland in September 1973.
Ripley enjoyed further success when he captained the Barbarians side that won the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens tournament in 1981 – the first Northern Hemisphere team to do so.
Millions of British TV viewers became familiar with Ripley as an all-round athlete when he competed in the BBC1 sports challenge programme Superstars from 1981 to 1983.
He wasn’t the only Liverpool personality on the show. Footballer Kevin Keegan and boxer John Conteh were also strong contenders. In fact, Conteh was British Superstars champion in 1974 and runner-up in 1976.
Ripley’s strength was running. He dominated the 800 metres and used his enormous stamina to win rowing and canoeing events.
He was so adept at rowing that he set the indoor rowing world record in the 50-54 years age group in 1998. He rowed 2,000 metres in 6.07 seconds.
The gym tests on Superstars were a different story. Ripley was too big and tall to be effective at squat thrusts and parallel bar dips.
In spite of this, he very nearly won the British Final in 1981, battling it out to the finish with fellow rugby player Keith Fielding. Ripley was undone by a puncture in the cycling race that cost him eight points.
Revenge came swiftly as Ripley won the International Superstars contest in Eilat, Israel, in the same year. Racing driver Jody Scheckter was second with Fielding third.
Ripley defended his international title a year later in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, but was runner-up to former British Olympic pole vaulter Brian Hooper.
He finished second again in his final Superstars event, the 1983 UK Past Masters competition, when he was pipped by former Olympic hurdler David Hemery.
Not all Superstars’ participants were as competitive as Ripley. Comedian Freddie Starr ran his own version in 1976 which saw footballers George Best, Rodney Marsh and Malcolm Macdonald wearing sill hats and posing with huge cigars – as our picture shows.
The real Superstars TV show was broadcast on the BBC until 1985. It was revived by Sport Relief in 2002 and included Hoylake cyclist Chris Boardman.
After a brief summer spell on Channel Five in 2008, the show returned for a BBC Olympic special in 2012. It consisted of men’s and women’s competitions won by boxer Anthony Joshua and rower Helen Glover.
Ripley was awarded the OBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours list. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and died at the age of 62 in 2010.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
It’s now on the sale at the special price of £14.99 plus UK postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order your book or call the order hotline on 01928 503777.