Remembering Ray Wilkins

A tribute to a true Chelsea legend one year on from passing away

“Ray was one those select few, he knew what it meant to be one of us a real blue blood. Chelsea flowed through his veins, may you rest in peace Ray.

– Tribute from Chelsea fans against West Ham, 8th April 2018

The word legend gets thrown around too easily today in the footballing world. Ray Wilkins however, was most certainly one of them.

Someone that was Chelsea through and through, Ray was not just a midfielder who simply had it all, but he was also an absolute gentleman off the pitch too.

Passing away at just 61, Wilkins enjoyed a wonderful playing career which spanned 24 years, playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Showcasing his talents for Manchester United, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Glasgow Rangers, ‘Butch’ as he commonly known in the game, left a lasting effect on all of those clubs.

Hours after his passing, Milan played rivals Inter Milan in the Derby della Madonnina (Milan derby) at the San Siro. His former captain Franco Baresi – arguably the greatest centre-back of all time – laid a bouquet of flowers next to Wilkins’ shirt by the side of the pitch. A section of Milan fans held aloft a banner which read “Ciao Ray: Leggenda Rossonera”, when translated, it read “Goodbye Ray: Legend of the Red and Blacks”.

Wilkins also enjoyed a long and established international career for England, making 84 caps and having the prestigious honour of captaining his country on ten occasions.

But he’ll forever be remembered for playing for his beloved boyhood club. Making his debut in 1973 at the age of 17, Wilkins was the young jewel of SW6. He was seen as a beacon of light and hope during some of the darkest times the club has ever faced. This was none clearer when Ray was made our youngest ever permanent captain (at 18). A role he would have for five years, Wilkins cherished every single game he was ‘our leader’ as wearing the armband meant the world to him.

Even after departing for Man Utd in 1979 and enjoying success across Europe… his heart forever belonged at Stamford Bridge.

This was apparent when he returned to Chelsea in a coaching role on two separate occasions. Firstly in 1999, when he joined Gianluca Vialli’s coaching staff, his experience was priceless in our first Champions League campaign, which included a memorable draw at his former San Siro home as well as winning the FA Cup beating Aston Villa.

Wilkins would soon leave after Vialli departed in 2000 but would return for his second coaching role in 2008 when he replaced the departing Steve Clarke as one of our assistant managers. That was initially under Luiz Felipe Scolari, before teaming up with interim boss Guus Hiddink. Wilkins would help the team to it’s fifth FA Cup trophy, beating Everton.

In the summer of 2009, Carlo Ancelotti had taken over from Hiddink but retained Wilkins as his trusted lieutenant and under their management, Chelsea made club history by winning the Premier League and FA Cup Double in the 2009-10 season.

Ancelotti, to this day, appreciates what Wilkins did for him during his time at the club, writing about him in his autobiographical book The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius:

“Ray is one of those select few, always present, noble in spirit, a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins … without him we wouldn’t have won a thing.”

– Carlo Ancelotti on Ray Wilkins

Just like other Chelsea greats that are sadly gone such as Roy Bentley and Peter ‘Ossie’ Osgood, Wilkins left a lasting legacy on this club. A legacy that is so huge to us all that when he passed away last year, his passing hit the entire Chelsea community, and football as a whole too, to its absolute core.

That lasting legacy was felt by many at Chelsea, most notably John Terry, who sees Wilkins as one of those who helped him to have a successful career:

“Ray, you played, coached and managed at the highest level, sharing your knowledge with all who had the pleasure to play with you. I loved our talks on football and the stories you had on our beautiful game, the greats you had played with and against.

For me personally you were such a great influence on my career, I can hear you now as a 17-year-old “come on fella get ya boots on” and you would take me on the pitch Pinging left and right foot diagonals, making it look so easy.

“You was a GREAT footballer and a true GENTLEMAN who had time for everyone. I will forever miss you Ray.”

Loved by everyone, it would be impossible for anyone to find a bad word said about him.

As much as he was respected, loved and appreciated by those in the world of football, away from the game Wilkins was also the perfect gentleman. He had time for everyone. This was most noticeable for one person especially…

Having personally met Ray a couple of times, he was one of the kindest human beings you will ever meet. A truly wonderful man.

A legend of the club, an ambassador and someone that breathed Chelsea Football Club… You could take the boy out of Chelsea, but you could never take Chelsea out of the boy.

You are dearly missed ‘Butch’. Gone, but will never be forgotten.

Terry Sazio

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