Anyone lucky enough to meet Ray Wilkins will know what John Terry, Frank Lampard and Jose Mourinho are about to tell you.
And here at talkSPORT, we knew it so well. Everything was a little brighter until Butch left us on April 4, 2018, aged 61. He’d be 65 today on the day his beloved Chelsea about to defend their Champions League ground at Stamford Bridge.
Every morning, our former co-host would be ‘dangerously well’ and everyone was his ‘matey’ – from the work experience kids to the presenters.
‘Hello fella’, he’d say, with a certain warmth that you only truly feel when it’s gone.
“Anyone who knew Ray will know the phrases,” Chelsea legend Terry told talkSPORT in a documentary, which celebrated the life of Wilkins and was presented by his children, Ross and Jade.
“He’d come in and say, ‘Hello fella, how you doing?’ I’d say, ‘Alright’. And he’d say, ‘Well, inform your face, fella’.
“It was little bits like that which put a smile on everyone’s face every day. He was such a great human being.”
Arsenal favourite Ray Parlour agrees entirely with the picture painted of Wilkins. “He’d never had a bad word to say about anybody and anyone who came up to him, he’d have a good chat with them. It’s just a nice guy and it was such a shame losing Ray.”
Gianluca Vialli, who had Ray as an assistant at Chelsea and Watford, can vouch for that, too: “He would say, ‘Luca do you want a drink?’ I’d say, ‘No I’m fine’. And he’d always respond, ‘Yes Luca I know you’re fine, but would you like a drink?’
“I find myself using the same expressions, and every time I do, I think about him.
“He’s still there, he might not be around anymore, but I think he is in a lot of people’s lives as a huge memory.”
His charming way and chirpy manner swirls around the thoughts of Glenn Hoddle, too, who was lucky enough to call him a friend during their England playing days.
He tells talkSPORT: “I often find myself thinking about Ray when I’m driving to a game and little memories pop in.
“He was just a wonderful guy and we miss him so much. It was a privilege to be a friend of his.”
Ray’s famous manners were reserved for nobody, not even his enemies, and Jose Mourinho can’t forget about Wilkins either despite never working alongside him.
“Every moment I shared with him was a real pleasure, even as an opponent,” the Tottenham boss tells talkSPORT.
“Sometimes a bad result would change your mood, you would just want to disappear. With Ray, I couldn’t even remember if I won or I lost.
“Whenever we played against each other, after the game, a gentleman was there. And when you are with a gentleman, you have to behave like one.
“I always felt that one of his big strengths, as a person and a football man, was that everybody loved him.
“I keep his smile, because I always remember that little fella with the nice smile, and I really loved him.”
Most people would count themselves lucky to leave one legacy, but Ray left two: the footballer, and the gentleman.
Let’s talk about the midfielder who played for Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Queens Park Rangers – among others.
Wilkins played like the pitch was made of carpet, but only for him. Like Nobby Stiles, Ray was ahead of his time for the way he prioritised keeping the ball, and the style with which he did it. Pep Guardiola would’ve loved him.
“I think he’s the kind of player where it doesn’t matter about the generation,” Mourinho tells talkSPORT. “Sometimes there are players who you think belong to a generation and you say they were amazing 20 years ago, but now I don’t think they would fit.
“Ray was the kind of midfield player who would be playing for the biggest clubs in the world if he was playing today.”
Wilkins’ playing career
- Chelsea (1973–1979)
- Manchester United (1979–1984)
- A.C. Milan (1984–1987)
- Paris Saint-Germain (1987)
- Rangers (1987–1989)
- Queens Park Rangers (1989–1994)
- Crystal Palace (1994)
- Queens Park Rangers (1994–1996)
- Wycombe Wanderers (1996)
- Hibernian (1996–1997)
- Millwall (1997)
- Leyton Orient (1997)
His personality translated into his play and his constant endeavour to see the best in everybody made him Chelsea’s youngest captain at the age of 18.
Wilkins would take the ball from players who didn’t want it to help them out, and carry players who needed lifting.
Graeme Souness, his long-standing rival as a player and later Wilkins’ manager at Rangers, where they won the Scottish title together twice, tells talkSPORT: “He would offer himself up on the pitch to take the ball off players who weren’t having a good time, or players who had no options.
“He knew he might get a kick, but he always wanted to get on the ball. It didn’t matter if he was having a great game or a bad game, he wanted the ball from the first minute to the last.
“Guys like that are few and far between – he took on the responsibility for others.
“It’s easy to talk about his qualities as a footballer, but his qualities as a human being – he was top class. He gave me everything, both on the pitch and off the pitch.”
Les Ferdinand, a teammate of Wilkins at QPR, echoes those thoughts, telling talkSPORT: “As a player, Wilkins was pivotal to me in learning how to be a professional footballer. He had this special quality.
“I’ve come across a lot of self-centred footballers but Ray cared about everybody in the team and wanted to get the best out of them.”
While another teammate, Man United and England legend Bryan Robson, was also captivated by just how good Wilkins was: “He was just a great player, always wanting to receive the ball with a great passing ability, both feet.”
But ask anybody how they remember Wilkins and it’s not the classy pass master who got 84 caps for England and scored the winner in the 1983 FA Cup final. It’s the gentleman they really remember.
Wilkins left his mark on everybody, from players, to coaches, to strangers he met on the street.
Millwall legend Neil Harris tells talkSPORT: “First and foremost, before we talk about his capabilities as a coach or an assistant manager or a footballer… what a bloody nice fella.
“Fella is the right word, because everybody to him was a fella. He had class about him, but real humility as well. He would talk to the tea ladies at length about what they had done at the weekend, about their families.
“He just had time for people. I learnt a lot about me as a person.”
Wilkins’ coaching career
- Queens Park Rangers (1994–1996)
- Fulham (1997–1998)
- Chelsea assistant (1998–2000)
- Watford assistant (2000–2002)
- Millwall assistant (2003–2005)
- England U21 assistant 2004–2007
- Chelsea assistant (2008–2010)
- Fulham assistant (2013–2014)
- Jordan (2014–2015)
- Aston Villa assistant (2015)
Terry and Frank Lampard, the two Chelsea icons, speak about training with Wilkins for hours after dark, not least because his knowledge made him the best person, but because his approachable way meant he was always willing – and not just with them, but with everybody at the club.
Both men have since gone into the world of management, and both of them carry Wilkins’ inspiration with them.
Chelsea boss Lampard tells talkSPORT: “I was overwhelmed by the warmth of Ray, how engaging he was with people and how supportive he was as an ex-player.
“He had an incredible touch in terms of how he communicated with people. Every time I met him, he just had a great way about him when he spoke to you.
“I’ve got very warm memories of working with Ray, specific memories of extra drills that we would do after training.
“Anything I would ask Ray – if I wanted to do extra work on my shooting, finishing, passing – we would come up with extra drills that would help. That was a nice feeling as a player.
“That common touch that Ray had, along with his football experience, is what made him so good at his job.
“Ray was big on manners. He was big on calling people out behind the scenes when they deserved credit. When you make people feel special, that’s a big deal.”
Wilkins had an unforgettable way about him, which is perfectly captured by Terry, who played under Ray as a coach at Chelsea over two separate spells, the first when he was breaking into the side.
The former Chelsea captain adds: “Forget about what he did as a player. As a human being, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone in the world of football as nice as Ray.
“Ray made everyone feel like they were the most important person at the club. We were at the lowest in the club at the time, being young players, but he showed us so much respect and gave us so much time.
“From the dinner ladies to the kit men, the way he spoke to people and the respect he showed was an eye-opener for us as young players. He knew everyone’s name, he knew their husbands, their kids’ names, he had time for everybody.
“It was very humbling to meet such a lovely man.”
Terry, now an assistant himself at Aston Villa, starts to tear up. He continues: “Ray was very unique in what he had. He could make people smile, he could make people laugh.
“Even now, it gets me emotional. It’s a huge miss, not only to football, but to society. He’s someone that, now I’m going into management, I think I’d like a Ray Wilkins next to me.
“He should be remembered first and foremost as one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, and whenever you’re down, the first person to ring is Ray Wilkins.
“For me, Ray should’ve been given a knighthood. We wait until people pass, and then we do all these nice things for them. I think we missed out on the chance to tell Ray he was one of our best and we were very proud to have him as an Englishman.”
Proud we were. What a fella Ray Wilkins was.