Tributes paid to Ray Wilkins – Column
Wednesday, 4th Apr 2018 19:41 by Clive Whittingham
Tributes have been pouring in for former QPR midfielder and manager Ray Wilkins who passed away today aged 61 after suffering a heart attack.
Ray Wilkins played for Manchester United, AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Glasgow Rangers during a glittering playing career. He was captain of Chelsea at 17 and won 84 England caps. But it was Queens Park Rangers he played for more than any other club, over two spells and seven years including a stint as player manager.
He was signed from Scotland in November 1989 by his former England and Rangers team mate Trevor Francis, but never played for him as Francis left the club at almost exactly the same time. Wilkins was linked with the job himself but at 33 he insisted he was “far too young for that” and had come to QPR to play. And play he did, making his debut at the start of December in an away match at Crystal Palace partnered in midfield by another veteran, Peter Reid. Rarely has a midfield of such a combined age graced the top flight of English football, but ‘graced’ was definitely the word that day as the pair of them rolled back the years, ran the show, and won 3-0.
Wilkins became the mainstay of the midfield at Rangers for the next five seasons, making 215 appearances well into his 30s for first Don Howe and later Gerry Francis. He scored 11, usually spectacular, goals in that time, almost all of them so memorable they’re talked about to this day – a hooked volley in a cup quarter final at home to Liverpool in 1990, flighted 25-yard lobs against Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon in 1992, a stooping header in a 4-1 home victory over Spurs that same year where he carved the visitors apart in a supreme second half performance, a 30 yard piledriver against Liverpool in 1993.
His reputation as a ‘crab’ who only passed sideways was a gross injustice. Few midfielders could pick a killer ball like him. An injury time 40-yarder which cut Norwich in two on a frozen pitch for Dennis Bailey to score a late winner sticks in the memory, as does a chipped pass in a midweek game at home to champions-elect Leeds which drew John Lukic from his line but held up beautifully allowing Bradley Allen to get to it first, round the stricken keeper and slot home.
His poise and elegance on the ball was mirrored in his mannerisms off the field. QPR at that time bought low and sold high, bringing through youth teamers and players from lower divisions to play in their first team at the top level. Former team mates Andy Sinton (who signed from Brentford) and Ian Holloway (who came in from Bristol Rovers) are both back with the club now and have spoken this week about how Wilkins dealt with players in their situations.
Holloway said: “He was the best team mate I’ve ever had. He made me believe in myself and made me believe I was good enough to be there sometimes. You come that late into a club like we are, a huge club, you’ve got somebody like him who’s played 80-odd times for England and he’s telling you you are good enough, believe in yourself, you’ve got more time than you think. He was immense for me. The best five years of my life was playing with that group of people. He was somebody I needed in my life to help me. All I can ever do is thank him.”
Sinton added: “First of all he was an outstanding footballer, but he was an even better person. He was an inspiration to me and I’m sure I speak for many of my team mates – the likes of Clive Wilson, Les Ferdinand, David Bardsley, Rufus Brevett, Kevin Gallen… the list could go on and on. He taught me so much about the game, so much about being a better person, so much about believing in yourself. I owe a hell of a lot, as do all those names I’ve listed there and many more besides, the careers we had were largely down to Ray Wilkins. Hs professionalism, he oozed class as a player, the way he trained, the way he looked and conducted himself. He could dictate a game when needed to, he was a leader, a captain, an inspiration. He was fantastic in the dressing room. He arrived at QPR with 84 England caps and played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, you weren’t sure what you were going to get but from the moment he walked through the door he was pure class. I can’t believe we’re not going to see him again.”
Wilkins left to join Crystal Palace in the summer of 1994 but was quickly back at Rangers to take over from Gerry Francis as manager. He led Rangers to an FA Cup quarter final at Man Utd and a top half Premier League finish but his spell turned sour when Les Ferdinand and Clive Wilson left that summer without adequate replacement. He was unlucky that Ned Zelic, who went on to have a decent career at the highest level in Germany, didn’t settle in London, but his attempt to replace Ferdinand’s goals with his old England and Rangers team mate Mark Hateley was ill-fated and contributed to relegation. Wilkins left after a dispute with the board early the following First Division season.
His open affiliation for Chelsea grated on some in his latter years as a commentator – he was on the gantry for Sky when Rangers beat Andre Villas Boas’ men 1-0 in 2011. But he spoke warmly of QPR and was a frequent returner to Rangers, holding court in the Crown and Sceptre and supporting the club’s Forever R’s initiative – to which he was inducted last year and received a rousing reception.
A modern day club legend.
Message board tributes
RIP Super Ray Wilkins - as much our player as anyone else's but for once we should be united with the enemy in our grief. My dad always said that he played his best football for us. I took him along to see us play his beloved Liverpool one day and Super Ray blasted one in and he couldn't believe it was him. -ElHoop
The word 'legend' is completely overused nowadays and consequently has lost it's value. But in the traditional, old-fashioned sense of the word Ray Wilkins was a true legend. I was raised on the 70's team and all the passion an excitement of that. By the time the nineties came along, life had certainly got in the way of my full-time commitment to QPR. Consequently,it was only years later that I really appreciated just how good that team that contained Ray, was. Rest in Peace. -Myke
Dreadfully sad news, I thought somehow he'd get through this and he'd be back in a few Months talking on the radio about football in his own special way, he was passionate about the game and worked hard at it but most of he could play the game on the pitch. I last saw him in a packed Crown & Sceptre sat a table with a glass of red wine willing to talk to anyone about the game he loved, I can't remember what I asked him but he did call me 'young Man' in response, I can still see him now sat there. RIP Ray you'll be sorely missed. -TedHendrix
Being born in 84, he, Sir Les and Macca were my heroes growing up. I used to play in midfield as a kid and used to try and play like Ray (failing obviously, but copied his mannerisms at least!) My few interactions with him proved him to be a pure gentleman. I so badly wish I knew then what I know now so I could have appreciated that team and players like Ray more than I did at the time. Thanks for inspiring my younger self, Ray. And for making this club so easy to fall hopelessly in love with. May you rest in peace. -Padula’s Shampoo
RIP Super Ray. Sad news. Wonderful player and seemed to be a lovely genuine bloke as well. -PunteR
Ray was just a model footballer. He played at the very highest level but never lost his love of the game. I feel privileged to have watched him in the Hoops and was lucky enough to go to the game at Palace, where him and Reidy were simply awesome. Plus his lovely clipped shots into the net, that always seemed so measured . Thanks for the memories Super Ray. -Kingo
I remember his debut at Selhurst park like it was yesterday. A few of us had a Friday night out in Nottingham, but we all made it back in time to see Ray Wilkins, with Peter Reid and Andy Sinton tear palace apart. Can't believe that's almost 30 years ago. Great memories. -Hayesender
Very sad news. Condolences to his family. My best memory was watching him away at Villa, when he was in the twilight of his career. For about 65 minutes the games was proceeding at 100 mph but every time Ray got the ball he was in 5 yards of space with time to look up and pick a pass. In the last 30 his legs went and we ended up losing but for a good part of the game it was a masterclass in creative midfield work. -DerbyHoop
What a wonderful, inspirational player and leader he was. Boy, could he pick a pass and control the tempo of a game. Unsure if there will be many better players and a more genuine person to wear the hoops shirt. We have been blessed with many brilliant players at Loftus Road throughout time - Ray was right up there with them. RIP Ray. Will be sorely missed. -QuickPassRotter
His control of the midfield the day we beat Man Utd at OT was something I will never forget. They weren't mugs that he was up against but the country's finest and he still dominated them. -Esox Lucius
Very sad news. I will forever remember that when he came to take corners by the wheelchair user section he always acknowledged Richard Ireland with a kind word or shake of his hand. A class act and a true gentleman. RIP Super Ray. -Noel MC
Changed our club utterly and completely with his skill, wisdom and decency. The most influential QPR player since the 70's. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal. -BrianMcCarthy
It's hard to describe how good he was. I didn't get to see Stan or Rodney play but those two and maybe Taarabt get brought up as the most skilled Rs; Ray could not have been more different. Faurlin at his best showed glimpses of his ability. It wasn't just his extraordinary passing but his ability to understand and dictate the tempo of the game. My memory of that era was of a metronomic pace at which we would gain superiority and then overcome the opposition. There were plenty of other exceptional players up front, alongside and behind him - six or seven each year were England-team quality - but they never seemed to have to do exceptional things as Super Ray pulled the strings so beautifully. -HoppHoops
When I look back at some of the players QPR have had it makes me extremely proud. People say to me “It’s only QPR”, but it’s not only QPR, they’ve had some fantastic footballers at QPR. Often when you leave a club you can be forgotten easily so it gives me immense satisfaction to even be thought of after all these years, let alone named in best ever teams by fans. Ray Wilkins : I’ve always said that atmospherically QPR is as good a ground as any. It only holds nineteen or twenty thousand but by Christ when it’s full the noise down on the pitch is something special, it’s as good as it gets. We had some great times there playing some massive games against big teams and sometimes absolutely battering them as well. -Paul Parker
Really sad. Lucky enough to meet him a couple of times, a gent. Also wrote him a letter in 95, a sort of rallying cry because I was so angry the media was assuming we'd lose in the FA Cup QF away at Man U. He wrote back afterwards apologising that we didn't. Lovely man, brilliant leader, true pro and a superb player. Criminally underrated, and should have played for England while with us. -Antti Heinola
Our little club from Shepherd’s Bush has had some bloody great players play for it. Ray Wilkins is one of those. I used to watch that great side he played in, and I used to think of how lucky we were to have him. He may have started out at, and supported Chelsea, but he always had nothing but nice words to say about our little club. It was an absolute privilege to watch you play in the blue & white hoops Ray. You was a kind gentleman off the pitch too. That’s some team being assembled up there. Rest in Peace Mr Wilkins. -Snipper
RIP Butch. Superb human being. Helped me when I was trying out to be a player. Him and Glenn Roeder were brilliant with me. Hugely encouraging. So sad to hear this news. RIP a great player and person. Thoughts with his family. -Bosh67
As a player he was the best midfield player i've ever seen wear the hoops. A brilliant passer of the ball, nicknamed the crab as an insult for passing sideways in an era where keeping possession of the ball was seen as a bad thing. I'd compare him to Xavi in how he passed the ball, his range of passing was sensational and he was a massive influence on the likes of Bardsley, Parker, Ferdinand, Sinton, Sinclair, Gallen so many of our best players became what they were due to Wilkins.
It's seems mad to say it now but if he hadn't got injured in the 92/93 season we could have won the league that year. He got injured just before we played Man Utd at home and we were only a few points behind them with games against the rest of the top 4 (Norwich, Blackburn and Villa) to come at home. He missed 3 months and we fell away badly in that time.
As a manager he lost Ferdinand which was a major blow but just as big a loss was Wilkins himself, if you look at results during his time as a player we rarely won a game without him and as he didn't play much in that relegation season he was a big loss for the team. I think he picked himself for that must win game at Coventry but he should have played a lot more that season
How he is seen now is a tragedy, he should be up in the top 10 players we've ever seen at this club but his induction to the forever r's club was mocked by many.
I had the honour of meeting him after the 1-0 win over Chelsea at LR. He was working for Sky that day and was outside the Lower Loft shaking hands with fans, he was saying how the crowd affected Chelsea and I took the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him he was one of the best players I'd ever seen. his reply was so humble he seemed shocked and genuinely pleased someone had said that to him. -DaveB
I helped out a little with the Kevin Gallen testimonial year. Lots of ex players were invited along for the legends match beforehand. My job was to meet them and shepherd then into the offices which were makeshift changing rooms for them that day- and make sure any guests they brought were taken through and seated in South Africa Road. One ex player turned up with 13 people demanding they be given a box and really creating a bit of a scene when he was told they were all occupied.
When Ray arrived he brought along some friends and I asked him to come over to get changed and that I would take his party through- but he was having none of it and insisted on paying full whack for his whole party (himself included) at the box office (which he queued for) despite my remonstrations that Kevin did not want that- no it was Kevins day and I am putting my hand in my pocket. He was a gent all day. -Phildo
My dad and I went to watch the last game of the season against West Ham when we won 3-0 and still went down. We travelled from Peterborough like we have for most of the last 2 decades and is was my 11th birthday a few days later.
As a treat my dad said do you want to go to football? "Yes please Dad"
I wanted to do the usual wait meet players and get some autographs. When I saw Mr Wilkins, shaking and excited I asked for an autograph. I told him it's my birthday in a couple of days and he smiled and said well happy birthday young man. I carried on getting autographs.
Then a feww minutes and he got his PA to come downstairs with a envelope. It was tickets to the game with a pass to the special pub as my dad said. We were also asked to stay behind at the end as Mr Wilkins wanted to speak to my dad.
He came back with a bag of QPR goodies for me. I was in tears with excitement and my dad was speechless for the first time in my life. He didn't have to do any of that but that's just the kind of person he was. A legend on the pitch and a true gentleman off the pitch.
Get well soon Mr Wilkins I am not a religious man so I won't be praying but I have been touching every wooden door, side and cupboard I walk past for you. -QPR85
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