The deeply saddening news broke on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 4 that Ray Wilkins passed away as a result of a heart attack he suffered on Friday, March 30. To say it shocked the footballing world would be a complete understatement, as an outpour of kind words and tributes flooded in from his former colleagues, friends and members of the public.
One club, in particular, that held a special place for Ray was Chelsea: the club where he started his glittering career as a player and returned as an assistant manager twice. Upon hearing of the news, the club tweeted:
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. pic.twitter.com/cSDhloOPDZ
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 4, 2018
Wilkins played almost 200 times for the Blues, the side that he made the most appearances for, never masking his love for the team he captained for four years. Chelsea provided the springboard for the future England captain as he led them to promotion to the First Divison with the armband. Wilkins gained something of a legendary status during his time with his boyhood club and with 30 goals, it was the most prolific period of his career.
With such a bright young talent on the books at Stamford Bridge, it was only a matter of time before he was sold and after relegation in 1979, Manchester United snapped him up for £825,000. While that seems like peanuts nowadays, it was one of the most expensive British signings at the time. A successful spell with the Red Devils saw 27-year-old Wilkins move to one of the world’s biggest sides, AC Milan.
Over the ten years succeeding his three-season stint in Italy, the London-born midfielder appeared for eight different sides: PSG, Rangers, QPR (twice), Crystal Palace, Wycombe, Hibernian, Millwall and Leyton Orient. You would be hard pushed to find a single fan from any of those teams that would have a bad thing to say about one of football’s true gentlemen. His influence for England was just as important, gaining 84 caps for his country over a ten-year period.
Wilkins regularly emphasised his passion to go into coaching when his playing career came to an end and it was in that capacity where he reminded Chelsea fans of his love for the club. Originally re-joining in 1999 to replace the outgoing Graham Rix, he wasn’t given enough of a chance to show his credentials as the appointment of Claudio Ranieri meant he had to leave.
That wasn’t his time at Chelsea done, making another return in 2008 as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s right-hand man. When the Portuguese manager was sacked, Wilkins retained his position alongside Carlo Ancelotti and the former AC Milan boss said in his autobiography, “Chelsea flows in his veins … without him we wouldn’t have won a thing.”, praise indeed from one of the game’s best managers.
In a short period of time where football has lost some of its greatest servants, Ray Wilkins certainly justifies his place amongst the greats. The way the whole footballing community has come together to pay their respects to the former Blues captain is beautiful to see and it is nothing less than Ray, and his family, deserve.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this inconceivably tough time. Thank you for your brilliant contribution to football – you will be greatly missed, Ray.