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On his retirement in 1971
On his retirement in 1971
As the members of Gareth Southgate’s squad prepare themselves for this summer’s World Cup, the news of the death at the age of 83 of Ray Wilson, the left-back in Alf Ramsey’s Boys of ’66, comes as a sharp and poignant reminder of a different time, when a World Cup winner could retire from the game and spend his remaining decades as a professional undertaker.Like the Liverpool striker Roger Hunt, Everton’s Wilson was destined to be one of the less celebrated members of Ramsey’s immortals. But they were two without whose honesty and diligence the Jules Rimet Trophy could not have been won.
Wilson was the oldest member of the team that went out to face West Germany in the final 52 years ago, and the most experienced. He was 31, and had won the first of his 63 caps in 1960, in a 1-1 draw with Scotland, under Walter Winterbottom. He had played in all of
England’s four matches at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, including the quarter-final
defeat by Brazil that in effect ended Winterbottom’s reign. His right to his place in the 1966 side was unquestioned.In the last two matches of the tournament he was up against Portugal’s José Augusto and then West Germany’s Helmut Haller, the skilful Bologna winger. But Wilson was seldom ruffled, even by the street-smart Haller, and more than earned his place as the fourth man alongside the West Ham trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters in the handsome statue that stands today near the entrance to Upton Park.
He was born in Shirebrook, a small Derbyshire town whose salient feature in those days – no longer, of course – was its coal mine and that was also, less predictably, the birthplace of the actors John Hurt and Jason Statham. He was christened Ramon simply because his mother liked the name. His parents split up when he was seven – an unusual
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occurrence, as he pointed out to the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, at that time and in that sort of working-class community.
When he was about 13, Wilson ran away from home and stayed away until he was found six weeks later. The arrival of a stepfather he liked helped to settle him down and at 15 he went to work on the railways, cleaning and repairing wagons. But at 17 a schoolteacher put in a word with Huddersfield Town, and his destiny was set.Wilson played for the West Yorkshire club as an amateur before he had to endure 18 months of national service. On his return in 1952 he was invited to sign professional forms by Huddersfield’s manager, Bill Shankly. Twelve years and
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266 league appearances later he followed Shankly’s path to Merseyside – not to Anfield but to Goodison Park, where he played a further 116 league matches as a part of the Everton side managed by Harry Catterick. Alongside such stars as Alex Young, Derek Temple and Brian Labone, he collected an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1966.
In that summer’s World Cup the entire England defence – from Gordon Banks in goal to Nobby Stiles in the screening midfield role, with a back four of George Cohen, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore and Wilson – played every minute of all their six matches while Ramsey tinkered with players such as Jimmy Greaves, Terry Paine, Ian Callaghan and John Connelly in the more advanced areas. “We were basically a defensive team,” Wilson told the journalist David Miller 30 years later. “That was the first quality of the team.”
But they could play, too, of course, not least their left-back, a slight figure by comparison with Cohen on the opposite flank but always a resourceful footballer, able to rely on an ability to read the game and anticipate his direct opponent’s moves. At that stage he
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was one of the England players with a chance of making a World XI, although he would have had to fight off competition from Italy’s Giacinto Facchetti.
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