As the tributes pour in for Ray Wilkins, who passed away today aged just 61, a few words keep reappearing.
‘Warm, ‘friendly and ‘helpful’ are just three adjectives that pepper Twitter, the national press and personal anecdotes from people in football lucky enough to encounter ‘Butch’. And that’s before you even start to talk about what a talent he was on a football pitch.
Simply put: Wilkins was one of the good guys.
He has significant links with Fulham too, of course. Ray first arrived in SW6 in 1997 and was handed what was, in hindsight, the thankless task of taking over from Micky Adams, who was dismissed just months into Mohammed Al Fayed’s reign. Ray’s job was made even more daunting by the fact that fellow huge name – and established manager in his own right – Kevin Keegan was brought in as the vaguely titled ‘Chief Operating Officer’.
In what was an exciting times on the banks of the Thames, Ray helped guide the Whites to the play-offs in the club’s first season back in Division Two after a three-year exile. He, alongside Keegan, oversaw the signing and integration of Fulham’s first seven-figure stars, Paul Peschisolido and Chris Coleman, alongside several other key players, including Steve Hayward, Maik Taylor, Paul Bracewell and Rufus Brevett.
The expensively-assembled squad made the play-offs, finishing the season in sixth place, level on points with Wrexham and Gillingham, but with a far superior goal difference. The team lost 16 times in the league that season, with three coming in the last three games, something that ultimately cost Ray his job and the chance to lead Fulham to Wembley.
Wilkins returned to Craven Cottage with unfinished business in December 2013, this time as assistant to the newly-appointed Rene Meulensteen. Sadly, redemption never came.
During the course of the past two seasons I’ve chatted to ex-Fulham players for the official programme. Many played under Wilkins during his season in charge. And again, the same themes always arose. Paul Peschisolido spoke about Ray in glowing terms. Midfielder Darren Freeman described him as “a proper gentleman and a fantastic coach”. Neil Smith, now a manager himself, called him a good friend and said he still called him for tips.
Yep. Ray Wilkins was one of the good guys.