The world of football has united to pay tribute to Ray Wilkins, the former England captain who died in hospital this week aged 61.
Wilkins was taken to St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London last week after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was placed in an induced coma five days ago but never regained consciousness.
Chelsea-legend Wilkins played for England 84 times, captaining his country on 10 occasions. His playing career spanned three decades and he starred for clubs in four different countries. After retiring from football in 1997, he became a manager and coach, most recently at Aston Villa.
Figures from across the beautiful game praised his qualities as a player and a man today after his family released a statement announcing his death.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Gary Lineker and Frank Lampard were among the many figures who paid tribute to Wilkins, described by one mourner as ‘one of the finest midfielders of his generation’.
A statement on behalf of Wilkins’ family read: ‘It is with great sadness we announce that Raymond Colin Wilkins passed away this morning.
‘We would like to thank St George’s staff for the amazing work they have done to care for our beloved Ray.
‘We would also like to say thank you for the many goodwill messages we have received from Ray’s friends, colleagues, and members of the public.
‘Ray leaves behind his loving wife, Jackie, daughter Jade, son Ross, and his beautiful grandchildren, Oliver, Frankie, Ava, Freddie, Jake and Archie. We are asking for privacy at this very difficult time.’
Wilkins, who bravely battled poor health including ulcerative colitis over the last few years, was given the all clear after a double heart bypass operation last July.
Two years ago he checked into the Priory Hospital in Woking for a five-week rehabilitation programme after being banned from driving for four years for drink-driving.
Yet the popular former Chelsea, Manchester United and AC Milan midfielder continued to work in the media on a regular basis and was held in the highest regard by everyone in football.
He had carried out media duties on talkSPORT and Sky Sports, performing as a regular pundit on both platforms shortly before suffering the cardiac arrest.
Born in Hillingdon, Wilkins came through the ranks at his boyhood club Chelsea and made his first-team debut against Norwich City at the age of 17 in 1973.
He would go on to play 179 league matches for the club over the next six years having been appointed club captain at just 18.
After relegation in 1978-79, Chelsea accepted an offer of £800,000 from Manchester United and Wilkins was on his way north.
He made 160 league appearances for the Old Trafford club and helped them win the FA Cup in 1983, defeating Brighton and Hove Albion in the final.
In 1984, United sold Wilkins to Italian giants Milan for £1.5million and he spent three years with the club before a brief spell at Paris Saint-Germain and two years at Rangers.
Wilkins returned to London in 1989, spending five seasons with Queens Park Rangers and amassing over 150 league appearances.
He also represented Crystal Palace, Wycombe, Hibernian, Millwall and Leyton Orient in the twilight of his playing career.
Wilkins was called up to play for England by Don Revie in 1976, making his debut against Italy during a tournament in the United States.
He quickly became an established name in the team, helping England qualify for the 1980 European Championships, their first finals in a decade.
In all, Wilkins won 84 caps for his country, captaining the side on 10 occasions and scoring three goals.
Chelsea led the tributes to Wilkins, writing on Twitter: ‘Everybody associated with Chelsea Football Club is devastated to learn of the passing of our former player, captain and assistant coach, Ray Wilkins. Rest in peace, Ray, you will be dreadfully missed.’
Ex-Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard posted on Instagram: ‘Devastated to hear the news that Ray Wilkins has passed away. He was a great player and an even greater man. Full of kindness and humility, with impeccable manners at all times. He had respect and time for everyone and to me he was a mentor and a friend. I’m not sure they make them like Ray anymore. You will be sorely missed fella.’
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: ‘I am very, very sad to hear the news about Ray and send my deepest sympathies to Ray’s wife Jackie, his children Jade and Ross and all of his family.
‘Ray was a great football man, who was well respected and liked by all who knew him and he always had a kind word and time for people.
‘Ray was an impressive football talent and had a fantastic career representing some of the biggest clubs in the world including Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan and PSG and of course his country, England.
‘As a manager, Ray was so popular amongst his LMA colleagues and I know that he will be missed by us all.’
Another former Chelsea player, Jody Morris, wrote: ‘Devastated to hear the news… not only was he a mentor and a fantastic teacher… he was a friend who always on the other end of the phone.. thoughts are with Jackie, Ross and Jade #Razor’.
The PFA added: ‘It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we have learnt that former England midfielder Ray Wilkins has passed away, aged 61. The thoughts and condolences of everyone at the PFA are with his family and friends.’
Manchester United tweeted: ‘The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Manchester United are with the family, friends and colleagues of our former midfielder Ray Wilkins, following his tragic passing.’
Leyton Orient, another of his former clubs, said: ‘The Club are saddened to hear of the passing of Ray Wilkins. Our thoughts are with his friends and family. #LOFC #OnlyOneOrient’
Millwall wrote: ‘Everyone at Millwall Football Club is deeply saddened by the passing of former Lions assistant manager Ray Wilkins. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.’
Gary Lineker, a former team-mate, said: ‘Deeply saddened to hear that Ray Wilkins has passed away. A wonderful footballer and a delightful man. It was a pleasure to have played alongside him with England. No teammate was more helpful and supportive. I’ll be forever grateful. Thoughts are with his family. #RIPRay’.
Crystal Palace wrote: ‘Everybody at Crystal Palace Football Club is saddened to learn of the passing of our former player and coach Ray Wilkins. Deepest sympathy to all his family at this extremely difficult time.’
The Football League wrote: ‘The #EFL are deeply saddened to learn of Ray Wilkins’ passing. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. RIP. #FootballFamily’.
Presenter Richard Keys said: ‘There are times when I hate the world – hate the injustice of it all. Right now is one of those times. Why? Why? Ray was one of the nicest guys ever to walk the planet. I loved that guy. Thoughts with everybody in the Wilkins family. RIP my friend.’
Paul Gascoigne wrote: ‘Such a great loss, just heard he’s just passed away, he was such a gentleman an unbelievable player, 1st player to succeed playing in Italy, I remember playing against him, everyone was saying it’s either him or me for ENGLAND and I didn’t even get a touch, he was brilliant RIP ray xx’.
Stan Collymore posted on Twitter: ‘Very lucky to have worked with Ray Wilkins. Impeccable manners, wonderfully kind and sincere with a cheeky wit always lurking underneath. To his family and friends, the sincerest of condolences. The football family has lost a lovely man.’
David Beckham wrote on Instagram: ‘Incredibly sad to wake up to the news that Ray has passed away. A man that I’ve always looked up to as a United fan and a player, plus he wore our countries shirt with pride. You will be sadly missed! Our thoughts are with your family and friends’.
Joey Barton took to Twitter to say: ‘Absolutely gutted to hear of Ray Wilkins passing. Thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. Football has lost another good one. RIP Butch’.
World governing body FIFA tweeted: ‘Our thoughts are with all of the family and friends connected to a truly great football man in Ray Wilkins, who has passed away at the age of 61.’
Former Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen wrote: ‘You warmed the hearts of everyone lucky enough to have been in your presence! R.I.P Ray Wilkins’.
Ex-QPR player Andy Sinton tweeted: ‘He was my idol, my inspiration, my team-mate, but more importantly than that, he was my mate. I’ll miss him more than he’ll have ever known. Condolences to his family, especially Jackie. RIP Razor.’
OBITUARY BY STEVE STAMMERS
Finally and tragically, Ray Wilkins found a battle he could not win. He had faced many challenges in his life and handled them all with style and no little class, but the fight to beat alcoholism was one too many.
But the memory of Wilkins should not tarnished by one failure. There were too many successes for that to be the case.
He was mature beyond his years. He always was. That is why back in 1975, Chelsea manager Eddie McCreadie made an 18-year-old Wilkins his captain.
Listen to recordings of interviews Wilkins gave then and it was like listening to Wilkins of recent times. Eloquent, well-spoken, sensible – and above all honest. A born leader. Nothing intimidated him.
For some reason, he was given the nickname ‘Butch’ – a label he despised. It was a curious moniker. Wilkins was all about culture. About accurate passing. About vision. About creativity.
He was very much the definitive old head on young shoulders. When it became obvious to everyone that Chelsea were in severe financial troubles in the mid-70s it was Wilkins who suggested to the squad they take a pay cut, was given the approval of the players and went to the late chairman Brian Mears with the proposal. It was gratefully accepted.
At the age of 19, Wilkins was already an England international and it was the start of a ten-year career with the national team. In May 1976, in the Bicentennial Tournament in America, Wilkins was outstanding in a 3-2 win over Italy. He looked completely at ease and went on to win 84 caps for his country.
In 1979, Wilkins moved to Manchester United. Fazed? Not a bit of it. He handled the move as he handled all matters football in his life. With class.
It was the same when he moved to Italy in a £1.5 million move. Few British players have made a successful adaptation to life in Italy. Wilkins was the exception.
He loved the professionalism of life at the Milanello training centre. In a matter of months he learned the language. His cerebral approach to football appealed to the demanding Milan public.
As Milan struggled, Wilkins moved on briefly to Paris St Germain and then to Glasgow Rangers. It is easy to become embroiled in the tribalism that goes with playing for one of the Old Firm clubs. Wilkins refused to do so and made that clear.
Eventually he moved back to West London to be a player and then player-manager at Loftus Road.
Wilkins played his last game in 1997. Such was his love of involvement on the pitch, that he finished his playing days at Leyton Orient.
He was assistant and caretaker at various clubs – QPR, his beloved Chelsea, Millwall (who helped to take to the FA Cup final of 2004 when they lost to Manchester United). He was also briefly on the coaching staff at Aston Villa under Tim Sherwood.
Throughout an illustrious career, an admirable quality in Wilkins was that he never lost touch with the fans. They all thought they knew him, especially at Stamford Bridge where he had season tickets. Before and after a game he would shake hands as if he knew them, mingle and in no way act in a prima donna fashion.
His football brain was one of the sharpest. He learned from the likes of Ron Greenwood, Dave Sexton and Gerry Francis.
His analysis as a television pundit was always frank but never disrespectful. He made his point without any savage verbal attack on a particular individual.
‘Everyone makes mistakes and it is not fair to highlight errors in a nasty way,’ said Wilkins. Of course he made them himself – and had the ignominy of seeing red while playing for England against Morocco in the 1986 World Cup.
‘My own fault, I should not have reacted in frustration at a decision,’ he said after picking up two yellow cards.
He always faced the inquest – whether it was a setback or a disappointing defeat with club or country. Ray Wilkins was never one to hide. He fronted up, as they say.
However, when the boots were taken off for the last time, it produced a scenario for which Wilkins could not prepare. He could not handle not playing, not being part of that active involvement.
Alcohol – the enemy of the player – became his friend. Anyone who knew Wilkins would tell you he was always one strong character, that he faced up to every problem.
Anyone who has a near or dear one who has suffered from alcoholism will tell you it is one of the most evil of addictions.
Wilkins would have ready access to alcohol no matter where he went. It was for so long part of the culture in this country. And he succumbed.
He would drink to socialise but then it became a dependency. To the outside world, there did not appear to be a problem, but inside, Wilkins had demons he could not master.
Finally, Wilkins met an opponent he could not beat. The football world had lost a warm human being who knew the game and loved the game. It was in his private world not the football world that he met his match.