Northants head coach David Ripley pays tribute to long-time friend David Capel

"It was all about his family and cricket for Capes, and anything else was miles and miles behind"

By Jeremy Casey
Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 1:53 pm
David Capel and David Ripley oversee a net session at the County Ground in 2006
David Capel and David Ripley oversee a net session at the County Ground in 2006

Northants head coach David Ripley has paid a warm and emotional tribute to his former team-mate and long-time friend David Capel.

The former County and England all-rounder passed away on Wednesday at the age of just 57, having fought a two-year battle against illness.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2018.

David Capel in batting action

Ripley has been friends with Capel for more than 35 years, the pair having first met when Ripley left his home in Leeds to join Northants in the summer of 1984.

They played in the same Northants team together until the late 1990s, and then both progressed to land jobs on the coaching staff at the County Ground, the pair folllowing a similar path through the Academy and, ultimately, to the first team.

Indeed, in 2012 when Capel was relieved of his duties as the head coach at Wantage Road, it was Ripley who stepped up to take his place - with his old friend's blessing.

The pair remained good friends until Capel's sad passing this week, and Ripley took the time to speak to Chron sports editor Jeremy Casey about a man he remembers as being 'a very warm, welcoming fella', and one he is going to sorely miss.

David Capel (centre, back) enjoys Northants' NatWest Trophy triumph in 1992

"There is a longevity and a shared history that we have in playing and coaching," said Ripley.

"I know he wasn't well at the end, and seeing him suffering would not have been great for anybody, and with him being such a kind of go-getter as well.

"It was maybe best in the end that he didn't have a long, suffering battle against it, but it is a sad day."

Ripley first met Capel in 1984, when he left his home in Yorkshire to chase his dream of becoming a professional cricketer and signing for Northants.

David Capel, Wayne Larkins (centre) and Rob Bailey pose for the camera after their selection for the England tour to the West Indies in 1990

So does he remember the first time the pair set eyes on each other.

"I don't remember our first specific meeting," said Ripley.

"My memories are of him, Rob Bailey and Duncan Wild being three lads who were very kind and welcoming to me.

"They were all a little bit older than me, but they were all very friendly and looked out for me as a 16, 17-year-old staying away from home, so I recall that.

David Capel was used as a pinch-hitter in one-day cricket towards the end of his playing career

"Those days when we were all young and Brian Reynolds was in charge, and we all had a lot of fun even though we were all a bit frightened of Brian to start with!

"That evolved with Brian into real respect and friendship with what he did for us all, but at the time we were all a bit scared of him in the day, and then tried to let our hair down a bit in the pub in the evening!

"Capes was a very warm, welcoming fella, and I guess the other thing is that we had families very much of a similar age, and he was always asking after mine, and when they were around he was always very kind to them."

Ripley of course quickly progressed to the first team along with Capel, Bailey and Wild, and they joined a unit that was one of the best in the club's history, with the likes of Geoff Cook, Wayne Larkins, Allan Lamb, Richard Williams, Winston Davis and Roger Harper among others.

Capel and Ripley remained regulars for getting on for 15 years, winning one major trophy in the form of the 1992 NatWest Trophy.

They should have won much more, but were still a fantastic team to watch, with Capel one of the key men.

David Capel at the County Ground

"Capes was instrumental in that team," said Ripley.

"As an all-rounder you are always a key cricketer in any side because you bring both skills, and he did that.

"He was really competitive when he took the field, and had great skill. It was lovely to watch him bat, he was a very graceful player and if he scored runs he was always worth watching.

"He also had some pace with the ball, and on his day he would run in and bowl quick.

"The very least he would do is swing the ball, and swing it both ways, and he had that competitive spirit that always came out.

"We had a good side and he was central to that. We didn't maybe win the trophies we should have done, but we were always in the shake-up.

"The B&H Final at Lord's when he got 97, that really wrestled the game back for us and all but got us over the line, and they were very good days.

"We had a lot of fun, and it was a different era. There were a few nights in the pub and then getting up and playing hard the next day, that's just how it was.

"But Capes was very professional in how he prepared in terms of his physical preparation, and doing his running and keeping fit, practising in the nets, he was a very good professional."

England honours eluded Ripley, but that was not the case for Capel, who made his England debut in 1987 and went on to play 15 Tests and 23 one day internationals.

It was at a time when all England all-rounders were compared to the great Ian Botham, which is unfair, but Ripley says Capel would have relished that challenge!

"I remember watching the News At Ten when he was out in Pakistan, and he was out for 98," said the Steelbacks' head coach.

"I think it was Jack Russell who was down with his camera, ready to take the picture of Capes getting his first Test match 100, and he didn't get it... I remember that like it was yesterday.

"He had some good moments in the England shirt, but Ian Botham was a tough act to follow.

"Capes was his own man, but knowing him I think he would have really wanted to fill that void, and he wouldn't have left himself short in terms of effort and commitment.

"The number of Tests he played is at the least the number he should have had with the ability he had, and he chipped in with runs and wickets in those matches."

After retiring from playing in 1998, Capel moved into coaching, working his way through the Northants Centre of Excellent and then second team before taking the first team top job in 2006.

"It was his enthusiasm for cricket that really led his coaching," said Ripley.

"He was absolutely committed to it in terms of the hours he put in, and the time he put in with the players in terms of the actual coaching and then planning.

"He was a real whole-hearted guy and a lover of the game, and when you are in cricket that long you have to love the game, and have that real appetite for the game.

"It was all about his family and cricket for Capes, and anything else was miles and miles behind.

"We all have our hobbies, whether it be golf or anything else, and people have other things they like doing, but you never got past family and ricket with Capes, there wasn't much else there."

In 2012, Capel was sacked as first team coach and the Northants committee turned to Ripley to step up in his place.

That was something Ripley felt awkward about, so his first phone call before making any decision was to Capel.

"We had the conversation, and I said to Capes that the club have asked me to take over, and said to him 'how do you feel about that?'," said the 53-year-old.

"That was a very important phone call for me, to see what he thought. His answer was 'go and get stuck in, and I wish you all the best'. That meant a lot to me.

"I enjoyed my role with the second team and wasn't necessarily thinking I wanted to be a first team coach, but when I was asked, and knowing he was behind me, then I thought I would give it a go.

"When the club talked to me about it, the first phone call I made was to Capes and it was a very important one.

"He then continued to send me messages when we were doing well, and I got the odd message when things weren't going so well, telling me to keep my chin up and keep going.

"I was going through all the things he experienced as head coach, you have bad days, you hopefully have a few good days as well, and he was very supportive."

After he was diagnosed with the brain tumour in 2018, Ripley revealed that his illness led to them 'reconnecting'.

"I saw less of him in the early times when we had crossed over (in the coaching roles)," said Ripley. "But when he had his diagnosis and his operation then we saw more of each other.

"Myself, Rob Bailey, Devon Malcolm, Nigel Felton, we just made more effort and we had some good laughs, although we were drinking coffee rather than beer by this stage!

"I was pleased we had that time to reconnect a little bit, and I have a lot of good memories."

Ripley was speaking ahead of coaching the Steelbacks in their Vitality T20 Blast clash against Glamorgan at Edgbaston on Thursday night.

Northants are going well in the competition this season, and Ripley admits it is a format of the game that would have suited his old mate down to the ground.

Asked if he would have suited T20 cricket, the head coach said: "Definitely!

"He kind of had a little taste of it when he started opening the batting in 50-over cricket, and there was a little change in the game where people we going in and playing aggressively.

"Capes was used in that role by us, and I remember seeing him spank Yorkshire all over Headingley in that role.

"They had Darren Gough coming down the hill and bowling at pace, and Capes just kept hitting him and taking him on, so he would have loved Twenty20 cricket there is n doubt about that.

"I never played it, he never played it, but he certainly had a more to offer than me running the ball down to third man for a single.

"He would have been hitting them up into the stands for sure."

The Styeelbacks players will be wearing black armbands in memory of Capel when they take to the field on Thursday, and Ripley says plans are being made for a tribute when the team next plays on home soil.

"There are plans in place to pay respects when we play our next match at the County Ground," said Riple.

"I think there is going to be some video, and I know the club are on to that one, but tonight it is a Sky game and they will decide if we can have a minute's silence, or applause or some sort of video montage, but we have asked them to consider it.

"We will be wearing our black armbands, and I hope we can put on a good display for him."

David Capel was 'a cricket lover'