Ray Wilkins: A True Gentleman
In May of 2010 Chelsea lifted the FA Cup trophy, completing the first league and cup double in their history. Didier Drogba grabbed the headlines by scoring at Wembley yet again, while Carlo Ancelotti was the toast of West London after turning a team supposedly past its prime into a swashbuckling side capable of blitzing any opposition. But there was another man in the background who would be feeling more proud than most on this historic day.
A lot of the current generation have only ever known Ray Wilkins as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant during the Italian’s stint as Chelsea manager. But Wilkins was so much more than that. In this era it would be almost impossible for a youngster to get meaningful minutes in the first team, let alone become a regular name on the team sheet at Chelsea. A familiar story could have unfolded for Ray Wilkins, who made his Chelsea debut as a 17 year old against Norwich. But in those days Chelsea were not a club that could afford to pay top dollar for top players and the promise of youth was nurtured. At the end of the 1974-75 season, Chelsea finished 21st and were relegated to the second division. As several senior players lined up for the exits, the Blues needed a player who could carry them into the uncertain future. A player who bled blue. A player who knew what it meant to be Chelsea. Up stepped Raymond Colin Wilkins.
Never afraid of taking on responsibility, Ray Wilkins became the youngest ever Chelsea captain at just 18 years of age. An elegant passer of the ball with a vision superior to most of his peers, “Butch” would not be out of place in any of the recent Chelsea teams. Under his captaincy Chelsea won promotion to the first division and Wilkins played almost 200 times for his boyhood club before departing for Manchester United. He also made his mark at clubs such as AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain before returning to England to play for Queens Park Rangers. Needless to say, he was respected and loved at every club and in every country. He amassed a total of 84 England caps as well. Alas, he also earned the ignominy of being the first England player to be sent off in a World Cup tournament.
After hanging up his boots, it was only a matter of time before he returned to Chelsea. Having already worked as the assistant manager at Chelsea during the time of Gianluca Vialli, Wilkins reprised his role when the club hired Luiz Felipe Scolari. Although the Brazilian was let go in mid-season, Wilkins stayed on to assist Guus Hiddink, with whom he won an FA Cup, and then Carlo Ancelotti. The double-winning season was arguably the peak of Wilkins’ coaching career, which also earned him the love of the next generation of fans, the ones who were too young to remember his playing days. And then in November 2010, he was sacked. It was a bolt from the blue which took everyone, including Ancelotti, by surprise. The reasons for his dismissal were never revealed. The players and staff at Chelsea were hit hard by Wilkins’ exit and not unexpectedly, the rest of the 2010-11 season went up in flames, culminating in the infamous sacking of Carlo Ancelotti in the tunnel at Goodison Park.
Wilkins later went on to work as a pundit for television, and although many of us disagreed with his views, there was no doubting his commitment and love for Chelsea. Ray Wilkins is an example for every Chelsea youngster to follow. He came up through the ranks, became a Chelsea hero, played for some of the greatest clubs in the world, had an illustrious career with his country and returned home to create history with the Blues. Who wouldn’t want a career like that?
As the shocking news of his unfortunate demise broke on the 4th of April tributes poured in from across the world. Social media and news sites are awash with messages of condolence from people who had experienced his kindness and generosity first-hand. His graciousness, his positivity and his passion for all things Chelsea will live long in our memory.
Rest in peace, Butch. You will be missed.