Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 5 Apr 2018
In the wake of yesterday’s terribly sad news, columnist and Chelsea season ticket holder Giles Smith writes about Ray Wilkins, who was one of his heroes, and a man who exuded class both on and off the pitch…
Some deaths of people you never met feel personal. Peter Osgood’s in 2006 was one of those. Ray Wilkins’s yesterday is another.
I had him as a pin-up. Maybe you did too. Wilkins in the white-trimmed v-neck. A line seemed to connect him, persistently and against the grain, to the glamorous era just gone. A rich stock of skill to go with the glamour, though. A midfield craftsman when the concept was less fashionable.
Captain at 18. Not even John Terry was that precocious. Captain in the first game I saw at Stamford Bridge – against Carlisle, 28 August 1976. We won 2-1. He was always too good for Division 2 and he pulled us up to his level.
But the club was far from flush and had to sell him. Ray Wilkins in a Manchester United shirt: that rather scrambled the senses. Still, it broadened the mind a little, too. It couldn’t be such a bad place if Ray Wilkins was welcome there.
Then, years later, back to coach, which is often the cosy outcome you hope for your heroes. Assistant to Gianluca Vialli and Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. So often just to one side when it all started to come right.
A 100 per cent record as a manager, too, let’s not forget. And those are rare. (He was caretaker in the gap between Scolari and Hiddink. Fifth round of the FA Cup. We beat Watford 3-1.)
Plus you always had the sense that, on top of everything else, he was a thoroughly decent person. He just seemed to exude it. Does that matter? It’s always a bonus. And how nice to have it utterly confirmed by the people who did know him.
I love to bits what Geoff Shreeves wrote. When the news broke last weekend that Wilkins was in hospital, the Sky Sports reporter tweeted this:
‘Come on Ray. I want to ring you as normal and ask how you are? You reply, as usual, "Dangerously well, fella, dangerously well."'
And I equally love the passage in Carlo Ancelotti’s autobiography,The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius (still, by a number of streets, the funniest and most touching book ever written by a football manager) where he talks about ‘the fundamental role played by Ray Wilkins, my number two and my friend’ and of Ray’s work at that time as an Italian-speaking go-between.
‘Because it’s one thing,’ Ancelotti writes, ‘to translate words – plenty of people can do that – but translating feelings is the gift of only a select few. Ray is one of those select few.’
Also this, from the same source: ‘His heart beats in two languages and that helped me. Without him we couldn’t have won a thing.’
With him, in 2010, we won the FA Cup and the Premier League title, the first double in the club’s history and, in a way, just a slightly delayed delivery of the silverware that Wilkins deserved but never saw at this club as a player. And as a pin-up.