Port Past Masters: TODAY'S young football talents like Wayne Rooney were superstars before they'd even kicked a ball in the Premiership.
It's a far cry from days when scouting was not as intensive or effective as the blanket coverage in the 21st century. Youthful talents would often slip the net and have to bide their time before opportunity knocked.
One such ace was Ellesmere Port's Alf Ringstead, who had to wait until after his 23rd birthday before making his Football League debut.
But once Ringstead had finally made the professional ranks, he made up for lost time and was playing international football less than a year later.
Alf was born in Dublin on October 14 1927, the son of a famous Mancunian jockey and Irish mother.
At the age of two his family settled in Ellesmere Port and Alf was one of six brothers who turned out in the Ellesmere Port League.
Although he was spotted by the reigning League Champions, Everton, when he was 14, the Second
World War meant that football was only being played in an ad-hoc manner at the time and Alf left Goodison Park feeling that he had not being given the necessary advice nor encouragement he needed.
He rejected a trial with Bolton Wanderers and turned his attentions to local football while working as an upholsterer and later a coach fitter.
After a stint in the Army in India, Alf went back to his roots to play for Ellesmere Port Town.
An alleged contract dispute followed with Alf supposedly asking for a mere pound-a-week more and led to a transfer to Northwich Victoria.
Ringstead bagged 11 goals in just a handful of appearances for the Mid Cheshire outfit and soon came to the attentions of Second Division side Sheffield United.
A few days after the Blades had watched him in a game against Buxton in November 1950, Alf was making his switch across the Pennines for a £2,500 fee.
The meteoric rise continued and after merely a brace of reserve team outings for the Central League team, Ringstead marked his league bow with the second goal in a 2-0 success at home to Coventry City on December, 2 1950, watched by almost 29,000 at Bramall Lane.
In his pomp, Ringstead was one of the most dangerous wingers in the country with a fast, direct, penetrative style.
Operating on the right flank his play was more a kin to an Andrei Kanchelskis than a Stanley Matthews and he was noted for his sense of anticipation that took him into goal-scoring positions and the ability to lose his marker.
Ringstead was able to shoot with both feet with both power and accuracy and was a superb header of the ball despite standing just 5ft 6in.
His aerial prowess was displayed with a hat-trick of headers in a Second Division encounter against Scunthorpe United in the 1958/59 campaign, his last at Sheffield United.
It was with a flying header that Ringstead netted his first league goal against Coventry and he looked instantly at ease with life in the Second Division, hitting the mark in his next two appearances away at Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers.
He finished his first season with 10 goals from 24 outings and when a Blades fan contacted the Football Association of Ireland to inform them that Port bred Ringstead had actually been born in the Emerald Isle, he was invited to turn out for his country.
Ringstead won the first of his 20 Ireland caps in a 1-0 defeat against Argentina at Dublin's Dalymount Park on May 13 1951.
Playing alongside greats such as Johnny Carey, Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglington, Ringstead had never before even kicked a ball in his homeland but again failed to look out of place, completing the phenomenal jump from Cheshire League to international football in barely seven months.
Ringstead would go on to net seven times in the green jersey, against Norway on two separate occasions, Austria (2), Spain and the Netherlands with his final goal coming in his only appearance against England on May 19, 1957, in Dublin.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Bristol City's John Atyeo registering for an England side that contained the likes of Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards, Tom Finney and Johnny Haynes.
At club level, Ringstead was prolific over a five-year spell and reached a century of goals for Sheffield United in just 208 appearances.
Despite playing out wide, Ringstead was the Blades top scorer in back-to-back seasons, grabbing 27 in 1951/52 and 22 in the 1952/53 Second Division Championship campaign.
For the next three years, Ringstead and United were operating in the top flight but they returned to the second tier in 1956, finishing bottom of the Division One table after losing the final four matches.
The disappointing 1955/56 campaign had marked the managerial debut for a rookie boss who later went on to achieve great things - fellow Ellesmere Port man, Joe Mercer.
Mercer had taken the reins at Bramall Lane on the eve of the season following the death of the previous manager, Reg Freeman, who died after being taken ill during a post season tour to West Germany at the back end of the previous campaign.
By now injuries had taken their toll on Ringstead, who was unfortunately a pale imitation of the player few defenders could tame in the early part of the decade.
Various knocks conspired to keep Ringstead out of the side for long periods over the next three years and he joined Mansfield Town in 1959 before winding down his career with Frickley Colliery, Buxton and Macclesfield.
However, with 101 league goals in 247 appearances, Ringstead will be remembered as one of Sheffield United's greatest-ever wingers.
He continued to live in the South Yorkshire area after retirement and died in Sheffield in 2000, and is survived by his wife, Jean, son Ian, daughter Gayle, and three grandchildren.
The Pioneer would like to do more features on past professional players with Ellesmere Port connections in the future. If you have details or photographs on any players, contact sports editor Christopher Beesley, on 0151 356 2494.