In 90 minutes of celebration, the football family gathered to pay their respects to family man Ray Wilkins today.
A congregation including England captains, England managers, team-mates and colleagues from Chelsea, Manchester United, QPR, AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Rangers gathered to reflect on a life lived to its fullest but cut tragically short. Wilkins died following a heart attack on April 4, aged 61.
Frank Stapleton, a former Manchester United team-mate and close friend, spoke for all present when he addressed Wilkins’ on-field talent in a moving eulogy.
&ldquoIf he was playing now he’d be spoken of as one of the best players in the world,” Stapleton said.
Wilkins said his ambitions were simpler. In later life, during his broadcasting career, he told his Sky colleague and Chelsea fan Rob Wotton that the only thing he wanted was to be the best husband – to his wife of nearly 40 years, Jackie – and the best father and grandfather he could be.
‘Pop’, as he was known by his grandchildren, would tell friends and family he was “dangerously well”.
But behind the chirpy exterior, Wilkins “had his demons”, son Ross said.
He was referring to his father’s well documented battle with depression and alcohol. He also had ulcerative colitis.
“(He) found it very difficult to help himself (and) focused his attention on people around him,” Ross Wilkins added.
“Behind the exterior was a broken man, who struggled to find peace without football in his life.”
Ross Wilkins called for greater awareness of mental health, while his sister Jade read a moving poem, which had been written for her father’s funeral last Saturday.
Jade, born in Milan and Christened in St Luke’s and Christ Church in Chelsea, where Tuesday’s service was held, paused before concluding: “There’s only one Ray Wilkins, that’s what the fans say and that is as true of tomorrow as it is of today. Not just a great sportsman but a truly great man.”
Wilkins’ outgoing demeanour was outlined throughout a service attended by Gareth Southgate, the England manager, and his predecessors Roy Hodgson, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan.
Ray Lewington, Hodgson’s long-time assistant, played in midfield for Chelsea when Wilkins came into the side, captaining the Blues aged 18.
Wilkins left Chelsea only after their relegation to the second tier in 1979, joining Manchester United and scoring in the 1983 FA Cup final.
But his heart belonged in west London. Born in Hillingdon in September 1956, Wilkins had a Chelsea season ticket in the lower East Stand at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, chairman Bruce Buck, staff past and present and former players Frank Lampard and John Terry were among those to attend.
Terry and Lampard captained England, like Wilkins, who made 84 appearances. England skippers Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker and Terry Butcher also gathered to reflect.
With Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli, Mark Hughes, Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen present, quite a fantasy football team was present. Wilkins would have been the midfield linchpin.
He was adored by team-mates and players he coached and appreciated as a footballer and a man by prime ministers and princes.
Former Italy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, when AC Milan owner, joked he and Wilkins should both have a hair transplant.
Wilkins was unsure how to address Prince Ali of Jordan ahead of his appointment as national team boss, so he asked the Crown Prince himself.
When Chelsea and Manchester United meet in the May 19 FA Cup final at Wembley, Wilkins will be remembered by supporters in the eighth minute.
Stapleton called on the final to be named after his friend and team-mate, who was derided for his love of singing along to Lionel Ritchie.
There is only one Ray Wilkins.