MID­FIELD MAE­STRO

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS - ROBERT J WIL­SON pays trib­ute to the late, great Ray Wilkins…

A trib­ute to the late Ray Wilkins

BORN in Hilling­don, west Lon­don on Septem­ber 14, 1956, Ray­mond Colin Wilkins would be­come one of the most well-re­spected and liked men in foot­ball.

He came from good stock. His fa­ther Ge­orge was a pro­fes­sional foot­baller, who had spells with the likes of Not­ting­ham For­est and Brent­ford.

Ray’s brothers, Gra­ham, Stephen and Dean all made a liv­ing from the game. Dean was later the man­ager of Brighton & Hove Al­bion for two sea­sons and was tem­po­rar­ily in charge of Southamp­ton in 2010.

Ray was a hugely tal­ented foot­baller. You only have to list some of the clubs he played for - Chelsea, Manch­ester United, AC Mi­lan, Paris St Ger­main and Glas­gow Rangers - to ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity he pos­sessed.

You don’t rep­re­sent those clubs and play 84 times for Eng­land if all you do is pass the ball back­wards and side­ways.

Dur­ing his time with Eng­land, Wilkins, was un­fairly la­belled with the nick­name ‘crab’, pre­sum­ably be­cause he was overly cau­tious in pos­ses­sion. That is ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous. He was a proper top player.

How we could do with a player who can re­tain pos­ses­sion so com­fort­ably now? Yes, Wilkins was a steady in­flu­ence in mid­field for club and coun­try, but the un­fair stigma con­nected to that nick­name never did him jus­tice. He was far bet­ter than that. Sim­i­larly to David Beckham, Wilkins could switch pos­ses­sion with rel­a­tive ease, he could pro­vide the fi­nal ball to re­lease the for­wards ahead of him and he pos­sessed a deft touch that oozed class. His brain worked so much faster than most and that is why he sur­vived in the mid­field bat­tle­fields of the 1970s and 1980s. ‘Butch’, as he was fondly called within the game and by those who were ap­pre­cia­tive of his ta­lent and warm per­son­al­ity, could also mix it with the best. Win, lose, or draw, the always perfect gen­tle­man acted with class. The only time he was ever sent off in his ca­reer was in the heat of Mexico when his frus­tra­tion got the bet­ter of him and he threw the ball down in dis­gust at an­other de­ci­sion go­ing against Eng­land. Bobby Rob­son’s side, hav­ing lost their open­ing game to Por­tu­gal, were strug­gling to un­lock a stub­born Morocco side. Wilkins’ frus­tra­tion saw him booked for a sec­ond time when the ball bounced up and hit ref­eree Gabriel Gon­za­lez. No-one would have felt as low as Ray would have done for let­ting his team­mates and the coun­try down. Wilkins may have had an amazing way with peo­ple and been a calm­ing in­flu­ence to those around him, but when he crossed that white line, he had a tremen­dous in­ner-drive to win.

A born winner, he was a leader by ex­am­ple and he was a tough com­peti­tor when he needed to be. He had to be.

As a cul­tured mid­field player, in a time when pitches were not as pris­tine as they are now and when play­ers could use their phys­i­cal­ity more freely, Wilkins had the foot­balling in­tel­li­gence to be think­ing two, three, four steps ahead of his di­rect op­po­nent.

Ian Hol­loway re­mem­bers that he was so an­noyed about be­ing dropped at Queens Park Rangers once that he told the then age­ing Wilkins he was go­ing to take his frus­tra­tion out on him at train­ing.

Ray sim­ply smiled and said ‘all the best with that, son’. Need­less to say, Hol­loway got nowhere close enough to kick him!

‘Butch’ also scored some mem­o­rable goals, most no­tably a sub­lime lob for Eng­land against Bel­gium dur­ing the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships of 1980.

He also put his then club Manch­ester United 2-1 ahead in the 1983 FA Cup fi­nal with a dis­guised curling shot from just in­side the Brighton & Hove Al­bion box.

Brighton would force a re­play but were well beaten 4-0 at Wem­b­ley to give Ray his first ma­jor hon­our. He also ar­guably scored his best ever goal in an Old Firm clash with Celtic in 1988 when won­der­fully con­trol­ling a vol­ley from out­side the box.

Wilkins had an un­ri­valled passion for foot­ball. It meant ev­ery­thing to him. He wasn’t into the fame, the glam­our or all the trappings that come with it. He just wanted a ball and 11 men v 11 men.

He had cap­tained his beloved Chelsea at the ten­der age of 18 and, in the ab­sence of his close pal Bryan Rob­son, would cap­tain his coun­try on ten oc­ca­sions.

He loved play­ing foot­ball and that is why he kept on play­ing for as long as he could, wind­ing down his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer be­yond the age of 40 with the likes of Wy­combe Wan­der­ers, Mill­wall and Ley­ton Ori­ent.

He was also player/man­ager at Queens

Park Rangers and dur­ing 1995/96 led the club to a su­perb eighth-place fin­ish in the Premier League.

Why he was sacked in favour of Ste­wart Hous­ton in Septem­ber 1996 re­mains some­thing of a mys­tery. Was he too nice per­haps?

If he couldn’t play, then Wilkins thrived out on the train­ing pitches of Chelsea, Wat­ford, Mill­wall and As­ton Villa.

He was the perfect as­sis­tant man­ager and he loved to work with young play­ers and to be around foot­ballers. He in­spired so many peo­ple in the game with­out prob­a­bly even re­al­is­ing it. There was no gloat­ing about his own play­ing days, but a pure hum­ble­ness and ded­i­ca­tion to help­ing oth­ers to try and fol­low in his foot­steps. The num­ber of trib­utes from those play­ers he had pro­vided use­ful ad­vice to, or who he helped re­build their lost con­fi­dence with a kind word here or there, was tes­ti­mony to a great man. Ray Wilkins always had time for oth­ers and he had a kind na­ture that made you feel re­laxed in his pres­ence. He gen­uinely wanted to help other peo­ple re­alise their true po­ten­tial in the sport he adored. When he was harshly sacked by Chelsea after as­sist­ing Carlo Ancelotti to a do­mes­tic dou­ble in 2010, Wilkins was forced to turn more to pun­ditry. Of course, he craved the chance to get the track­suit back on and to be out there working with promis­ing young foot­ballers and that is per­haps why he strug­gled with al­co­hol in later life. Ray was a nice fella, who didn’t take re­jec­tion too well.

As a pun­dit with var­i­ous media out­lets, Ray Wilkins was hon­est and in­sight­ful. He didn’t court pub­lic­ity or say harsh things about foot­ballers or man­agers for the sake of it.

He de­tested crit­i­cis­ing any­one be­cause he had in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing and coach­ing at the very high­est level.

Ray knew how easy it is to make a mis­take or not be able to per­form well in ev­ery game.

When he was crit­i­cal of oth­ers, it was fair and con­sid­ered. You lis­tened and ap­pre­ci­ated it be­cause he did it so rarely.

As a player now, Wilkins would have been even more of a star be­cause the modern era would have suited his pass­ing style. He kept the ball in­tel­li­gently and we are cry­ing out for our foot­ballers to do that for Eng­land now.

Ray sadly passed away on April 4 after suf­fer­ing a car­diac ar­rest a few days pre­vi­ously. He leaves a wife, Jackie, and his two chil­dren and five grand­chil­dren.

Ev­ery­one loved Ray­mond and now he will be spray­ing passes ‘up there’ with the best of them.

Hav­ing a laugh: At Chelsea train­ing with Tore An­dre Flo

As QPR man­ager

On the ball for Eng­land

Play­ing for QPR

At Manch­ester United

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