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