Ask even the most avid football fans to name England’s only World Cup-winning team and the name most likely to elude them is that of Ray Wilson.
So low a profile did the quiet man of that glorious summer of ’66 keep that few fully appreciated the best left back ever to play for this country.
The best ever? Yes, to this his dying day. Yes, better than Ashley Cole, Stuart Pearce, Emlyn Hughes, Graeme Le Saux or any of today’s Premier League No 3s.
Ray Wilson, the England 1966 World Cup-winning hero, has passed away at the age of 83
Wilson (third right) lifts up Bobby Moore in the iconic England photo after the 1966 final
1952-1964: Huddersfield – 266 apps
1964-69: Everton – 116 apps
1969-70: Oldham – 25 apps
1970-71: Bradford – 2 apps
*League appearances only
FA Cup (Everton)- 1966
World Cup (England) – 1966
Don’t just take my word for it. Let Terry Venables tell a story of another contender which demonstrates how the passage of time blurs the clarity of judgement.
When Venables was manager of Crystal Palace he was advising the ebullient Kenny Sansom on some key points of his play.
Venables said: ‘I told Kenny to remember how Ray Wilson positioned himself in certain situations. He looked at me blankly and asked – Ray who?
‘It was only ten years or so after the World Cup final at Wembley. I could hardly believe my ears but I had forgotten how young Kenny was and how quickly the generations change.
‘He went away and watched films of Ray and came back to me and said how it had opened his eyes about England’s best left back. Which, by the way, Ray Wilson remains.’
Not for nothing did the railways apprentice from Derby become an idol at Huddersfield, then an FA Cup winner with Everton at Wembley in that same World Cup year.
In company with Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton, Wilson was one of England’s four truly world-class players, which by general consensus is the minimum core requirement for a team to have a real chance of winning the World Cup.
Wilson (pictured in the World Cup final) started at left back as England won at Wembley
(L-R) Roger Hunt, George Cohen, Alan Ball, Wilson and Nobby Stiles with their MBEs in 2000
His tactical intellect, astute positioning, pristine defending, precision passing and eye for the over-lap were among his characteristics.
So was his sense of impending danger, as Moore testified: ‘Ray closed off opposition attacks before they could develop and covered me on the left flank before I knew I might need it. He was not only the best of all England left backs but at that time probably the best in the world.’
That is no exaggeration and 63 England caps accumulated despite some difficulty with injuries are a testament to Wilson’s greatness.
That reserved nature prevented him translating his understanding of the game into management.
So he went into business as an undertaker, which suited his under-stated demeanour but also gave rise to kindly amusement among his old team-mates.
Two other heroes of the ’66 World Cup winning team, Moore and Alan Ball, have passed away previously. As have squad members Jimmy Armfield and John Connelly.
Sadly, England’s heavenly dressing room is filling up all too fast.
Huddersfield posted this image of Wilson in a club shirt alongside their heartfelt tributes
ENGLAND’S 1966 SQUAD IN FULL
Goalkeepers: Gordon Banks, Ron Springett, Peter Bonetti
Defenders: George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore (captain), Jimmy Armfield, Gerry Byrne, Norman Hunter
Midfielders: Nobby Stiles, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters, Ron Flowers, Ian Callaghan, George Eastham
Strikers: Jimmy Greaves, Geoff Hurst, John Connelly, Terry Paine, Roger Hunt