Alf Ringstead: The right man

Pictured: Alf Ringstead in action.

Pictured: Alf Ringstead in action.

Alf Ringstead was born in County Dublin in 1927, the son of well-known English jockey Charlie Ringstead.

He grew up in the football heartland of north-west England, and by the time he was fourteen he was playing for Everton’s junior teams, earning three shillings and sixpence a week.

He got no encouragement from Everton about his future, grew disheartened, left the club, joined the Army and went off to serve in India.

When Ringstead came back to England he began working as an upholsterer, and decided to give another go. He joined Ellesmere Port Town FC, and then moved to Northwich Victoria in July 1950.

Word spread quickly to League clubs about him and, when the manager of Sheffield United saw him play for Northwich against Buxton on November 8th, 1950 he was so impressed that he signed him for United that same day.

Ringstead seized this second chance to prove his worth as a professional footballer. He was fast and direct, good on the ball, with a wickedly powerful shot, and excellent in his individual battles with defenders.

Alf had everything a top-notch winger should have but what really set him apart was his prolific goal-scoring. He excelled from the beginning of his time with Sheffield United and endeared himself to the club’s supporters by scoring with a spectacular flying header at home against Coventry in his first league match for United. The goal was a fine example of his impressive heading ability, which was a rare and valuable skill in a winger.

He didn’t let up, and when the 1951/52 season started he came flying out of the blocks. When Sheffield Wednesday came calling to United’s Bramall Lane ground in September 1951 for the grudge match of the year, the Steel City Derby, he made it clear that his spectacular start had been no fluke.

Sheffield Wednesday took just ninety seconds to score in the Derby match, leaving United somewhat stunned, but Ringstead burst into life, dancing through tackles as he pushed forward to force an opportunity for a telling pass or shot, making runs and pulling opposing defenders out of position, opening up space for his teammates to exploit.

United fought their way into the game and turned the tables on their rivals by scoring twice before the break to take a 2-1 half-time lead.

At the start of the second half Wednesday scored again to bring the scores level and put the result up for grabs again. However, before the visitors could mount a further comeback, Ringstead stepped up and scored two goals, which cut the life out of Wednesday. Their spirit was broken and United took advantage, crushing them 7-3.

The game is still sung about in the city, and Ringstead’s vital contribution etched him into Sheffield football history and added to his growing reputation as a top-notch player. He was top scorer for the Blades that season with 24 league goals, a barely believable haul for a wide player.

Ringstead was also a Republic of Ireland international player, having made an impressive debut in May 1951 against Argentina. The Irish Independent report of the game said: “Ringstead was positively brilliant, fast and direct, with some lovely curling crosses that brought moments of real worry to the visiting defence.” The report concluded by saying Ireland had “the right man for the right wing.”

Pictured: Alf Ringstead during his glory years.

Pictured: Alf Ringstead during his glory years.

In his second game for Ireland, Ringstead kept up the good work with an excellent goal-scoring performance against Norway, and from then on he rarely missed an international game, becoming as reliable for his country as he was for his club. Ireland were not a great team during Ringstead’s era but they did have a chance to get to the 1958 World Cup. All that was needed was one little home win. The only problem was they had to play England who had beaten them 5-1 a fortnight before.

The game took place in May, 1957 at Dalymount Park, and in the first minute England almost scored. In the third minute, a deep cross from the Irish left beat everyone in the English box, then broke for Ringstead who had shaken off his marker to get into space. He advanced with the ball and “coolly drove it into the back of the net,” according to the match report. 1-0 to Ireland!

For the rest of the first half the score stayed as it was. After halftime Ringstead was heavily involved in Ireland’s attacking opportunities. Soon after the game’s hour mark, he played a one-two pass which almost brought a goal and in the last ten minutes of the game he put another teammate through but there was no end product.

With full-time approaching it looked like the job was done. The Dalymount Crowd roared the players on towards victory, and all seemed well. But in the last seconds England stuck a dagger in the heart of Irish hopes. As the referee breathed in to blow the final whistle, the English scored. It is said that when the ball hit the back of the Irish net, the silence could be heard in O’Connell Street.

That game was the last chance for many of the Ireland players, who never came so close to international glory again. For Ringstead, his goal that night was the last he scored for his country. His time in top-level football was nearing its end, and he played his final international in May 1959.

Two months after that final Ireland game, Ringstead left Sheffield United. In his eight years with the Blades he had scored a phenomenal 101 goals in 247 league games. He moved to Mansfield Town, then joined Frickley Colliery to wind down his career.

Ringstead finished up back where he started, playing for a small team in a small town in the north of England. But in his day he shone in the big time. For the whole of the 1950s, Alf Ringstead of Sheffield United and Ireland was “the right man for the right wing.”

By Gavan Bergin