Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Ray Wilkins (1956-2018): A Chelsea hero

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I was surprised at how much the death of Ray Wilkins affected me today. He was my second Chelsea hero: the first and greatest was Charlie Cooke.

There have been many fine tributes to him as a man and a footballer today, but I shall quote one from 2009.

Here is Richard Williams, the first presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test and now a sportswriter on the Guardian:
Ray Wilkins was 18 years old when Eddie McCreadie gave him the captaincy of Chelsea back in 1975, with the team newly relegated to the old Second Division. The fresh-faced teenager was succeeding Ron "Chopper" Harris, the most gnarled of veterans. 
To outsiders it seemed as though McCreadie was taking an outrageous chance. But Wilkins's precocious calmness and football intelligence made him a superb captain of a side that mixed a few old stagers – Peter Bonetti, David Webb, Charlie Cooke, Ian Hutchinson – with a lot of much younger players, and two years later they were back in the top flight. 
I saw Wilkins in one of his early first‑team appearances, before McCreadie made him captain, and what I saw persuaded me that it was worth making a special effort to watch him regularly. With no allegiance – prior or subsequent – to Chelsea I bought a Stamford Bridge season ticket for those two seasons in the Second Division and got value for my money (£50, all told, for a good seat in the then‑new West Stand) from his performances alone.
In his Chelsea years Wilkins showed himself to be as good a manipulator of the ball as any English footballer I can remember, including Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney. 
At Stamford Bridge I saw him return a goal‑kick with a volley that found the net from the halfway line, and I saw him play the ball out of defence to a winger – probably Kenny Swain – and race upfield to score from the return with a diving header.
He really was that good as a teenager. It is hard to resist the feeling that he sacrificed his talents to serve lesser players in his later career for Manchester United with England.

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