Ray Wilson: The defender who overcame error to help England to their greatest moment

Ray Wilson holds the World Cup trophy aloft in 1966.
Ray Wilson holds the World Cup trophy aloft in 1966.
0
Have your say

It was a routine clearance that should have presented no problem for someone with the ability and experience of Ray Wilson.

Sigfried Held crossed the ball into the England box, Wilson messed up a simple header when unchallenged and the ball fell to the feet of Helmut Haller.

The striker made no mistake and suddenly the near 97,000 crowd at Wembley were silent. West Germany were ahead in the 1966 World Cup final after just 10 minutes.

At that precise moment it was highly unlikely that Wilson, who has died aged 83, would have thought around two hours later he would be holding Geoff Hurst aloft, with the hat-trick hero clutching the Jules Rimet trophy.

It was a measure of the man - and to those who knew him no surprise - that he recovered from such a start, to help his country to World Cup glory.

For the 31-year-old Wilson, the oldest member of England’s starting XI in the final, was one of the world’s leading defenders in the world’s best team.

He had the lowest profile, but formed a vital part of the defence which laid the foundations for success.

They were 2-0 up against Portugal in the semi-final and had gone 442 minutes in the tournament without conceding a goal when Eusebio scored a penalty following Jack Charlton’s hand ball.

Alf Ramsay’s men held on to reach the final and the rest is history.

Ramon Wilson was born in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, on December 17 1934. His mother named him after her favourite Hollywood film star, Ramon Novarro.

“There I was growing up in a Derbyshire village full of hairy-a***d miners with a name like that,” Wilson told the Independent newspaper in 2006.

“The registrar refused to accept it, so my mother went to Mansfield instead. I changed very quickly to Ray. But sometimes I think calling me that name made me a bit fiercer.”

He had to be fierce, forcing his way into the local under-15 side when aged just 11.

He was spotted by a scout from Huddersfield while working as a railwayman and, after two years’ national service in Egypt, in 1952 he turned professional for the West Yorkshire club, then managed by Bill Shankly.

Wilson went on to play 266 times for Huddersfield, before moving to Everton in 1964.

The highlight of his club career took place in the FA Cup final on May 14 1966. Trailing 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley, Everton came back to win 3-2.

Just under seven weeks later Wilson was back at Wembley, celebrating again with England.

Ramsay later said that Wilson’s error in the final was the only mistake he made in his 63 appearances for England, while Bobby Moore wrote in his autobiography: “It was a comfort to play alongside him. He was a fiery little fellow who would stand up to all the pressure. He always looked good.”

Wilson left Everton in 1969 after making 116 appearances. He would enjoy short spells with Oldham and Bradford before injury ended his footballing career.

He decided to leave football behind and ran a successful undertaker business in Huddersfield until retiring in 1997.

Vast fortunes were not made by players in Wilson’s era. He sold his World Cup medal in 2002 for a little over £80,000, which was shared between his two sons Neil and Russell.

In 2000 he was awarded an MBE for services to football, after a long campaign for his achievements to be recognised.

Four years later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Two other members of the World Cup team have also been diagnosed with the illness: Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles.

His final years were spent in a village on the outskirts of Huddersfield, being cared for by his loving wife Pat. The couple married in 1956.

She holds no grudge with football, as questions continue to be asked about the links between football and dementia.

“Ray always said he was doing something he absolutely loved and getting paid for it,” said Pat in an interview with the Daily Mail in January 2017.

“Football doesn’t owe us anything, why would it? I feel quite strongly about this. The world has changed. It’s a compensation age and that’s quite sad.

“I’m not bitter. Life’s too short to be bitter.”

Steven Gerrard perfectly summed it up when talking about Wilson and the boys of ‘66.

“Only 11 heroes have played for England, and I’m not one of them,” he said when reaching his 100th international cap.

Ray Wilson. A hero.

Lead dancers with the Northern Ballet Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor at Harewood House, as Northern Ballet announces, it is to premiere Victoria, a ballet by Cathy Marston in spring 2019.

In her bicentenary year, Victoria’s life becomes a ballet, with Yorkshire premiere