Alzheimer’s robbed football hero Ray Wilson of World Cup memories in final years


He was one of the footballing heroes who lifted the 1966 World Cup, but in later years Ray Wilson could not remember the historic Wembley win.

Arguably England’s greatest left-back, Ray died on Tuesday night, aged 83 , following a long battle with Alzheimer’s .

Ray had a wicked sense of humour and battled the illness with the same bravery he showed on the pitch.

And while the cruel disease robbed him of his memories, his legacy will long be cherished by friends and fans alike.

Fellow 1966 World Cup-winning defender George Cohen, 78, who bonded with Ray watching cowboy films in hotel rooms on England duty, led the tributes.

He said: “Ray was an outstanding ­footballer, but he was also a lovely man.

Ray runs with the Jules Rimet trophy alongside teammates

“I only ever saw him make one mistake and that was in the World Cup final.

“It cost us a goal, but he kept his cool and helped us to victory.

“It is hard to understand that he is no longer with us. He will be badly missed.”

Another 1966 teammate, Sir Bobby Charlton, said: “Ray was a close friend. We shared some wonderful memories throughout our career and I had the pleasure of being his room mate. Ray was a great man.”

Goalkeeper Gordon Banks said: “He was such a wonderful guy, on and off the field. He was always one of the lads who wanted to have a laugh. He was a world-class player without any question.

“There were players we just couldn’t do without and he was one of them.”

1966 World Cup Final at Wembley

World Cup final hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst said: “I will always be telling Ray’s stories to anyone who will listen. Great company, great bloke and helped generate the fantastic team spirit we had in ’66.”

Jimmy Greaves, a member of the 1966 squad, added: “We had some laughs and some very late nights through the years. Even with your illness you carried on coming with us and keeping us on our toes. Goodbye old friend.”

Born in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, on December 17, 1934, Ray was named Ramon by his mother after Hollywood heart-throb Ramon Novarro.

He became an apprentice railwayman after leaving school and started training with Huddersfield Town, but was posted to the Middle East for two years of Army national service.

He hated it so much that on his return he got a tattoo on his forearm that read: “Egypt, never again.”

Huddersfield manager Bill Shankly signed him up and he played 283 times before joining Everton in 1964.

Ray in his footie heyday

Ray won 63 caps for England and was the oldest member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s team. After retiring from football her returned to Huddersfield to work as an undertaker, which suited his dark sense of humour.

After hearing that George Cohen was battling bowel cancer for a second time, he rang his friend to ask how he was doing.

When George told him he was doing fine, Ray replied: “I was ringing to offer you a deal.”

The heroes of ’66

The pair were among the five members of the World Cup-winning team who had to wait until 2000 before being awarded an MBE.

George said: “We were in a room and a palace official came in, talking us through what would happen.

“When the guy finished speaking, Ray cracked a joke about his accent that went clean over his head and we all fell about laughing.

With wife Pat in Scarborough in 1956

“It certainly eased the nerves. Ray had a terrific sense of humour. He would crack a joke in that wonderful voice or come out with a northern saying none of us had heard of and have us in stitches.”

Ray sold his World Cup winner’s medal in 2002 for more than £80,000 and split the money between his sons Russell and Neil.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004, aged 69. He still woke up each morning singing Frank Sinatra songs and discovered an artistic talent his family had never seen, spending hours drawing after breakfast. The disease also brought out his romantic side.

Pat and Ray after Alzheimer’s news

He would pick flowers for wife Pat, having never done so in more than 60 years of marriage.

Ray worked with the Alzheimer’s Society in a campaign lobbying all football clubs to become dementia-friendly.

He remained a regular at Huddersfield Town with his sons, enjoying the games – though he could never remember the score.

Fellow World Cup winners Nobby Stiles and Martin Peters have also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Jack Charlton suffers from memory loss, fuelling fears that years of heading heavy footballs left them brain-damaged.

But Pat does not blame the game for Ray’s illness. She said last year: “Life’s too short to be bitter. Ray always said he was doing something he loved and getting paid. Football doesn’t owe us anything.”

Just a debt of gratitude for a World Cup win that may never be seen again.



Source link