Once more, the world of football has been plunged into mourning with the news that former England footballer, Ray Wilkins, has passed away at the age of 61.
With respect to Ray, we have written the same story, over and over - about how a strong soul in the game has left us. Weeks ago it was Cyrille Regis, a barnstormer in black excellence and 'the Third Degree'. Before that, it was Ugo Ehiogu, then Dalian Atkinson, and of course -in between - it was Graham Taylor.
With that in mind, you don't really need to be fed more morbid details, do you? Do you want blogging that reads like a coroner's report? A sea of copy, CTRL+V'd across platforms? I don't want to read it. I don't want to write it. Let me try something different. I want to reflect on the person that Ray Wilkins was.
I didn't see the man play, but many say he was good. It is his character that is worth more to me, and the world right now, because Ray had many important things to say.
The Daily Mail is leading with the line that Wilkins, a former coach at Aston Villa, was a one off. I want to challenge that. Wilkins cannot stand to be a one off, because now he should be nothing less than an example. A template of how we all should be, and act.
The foremost example of this would be Ray's own words, immortalised within a television interview with Eamonn Holmes. Holmes, the presenter, puts it forward to Wilkins that Wilkins’ clear compassion could be took as a weakness. Ray nods, and his eyes seem to drink in the question. Eamonn finishes by suggesting that through Ray’s considerate nature, that there’s less of the ‘hard man’ in him than there should perhaps be. Scratching and twisting his hands in a manner that many people would notice as being a nervous tic, Ray qualifies that, yes, sometimes he’s had to make tough decisions, before being swept up by a wave of confidence and launching an immortal phrase out into the open.
“I don’t find being considerate, and trying to help people, a weakness.”
And why should he? Why should any of us have ever even thought of our compassion, or kindness as a weakness? How did we end up in this position? On the flip side of all of us, do we consider brutality, tyranny and unkindness to be a strength? How curious.
A world of self-help exists out there that truly believes that success comes hand-in-hand with being a monumental pillock. Of putting yourself before others, of being a metaphorical bulldozer sweeping away anything that isn’t ‘me’. I believe some of these ideas can be helpful, but we absolutely mustn’t ever be swept away by the idea that being harmful, hurtful or a pillock to others is allowed, at all. These mindsets of the ‘alpha’ can be all too easy to see. Most, in fact, are playing at these roles simply to get by in life. How did we get here? I’ve seen too much damage in my career caused by people looking to make a name for themselves, too much carnage wrought by those only ever thinking of themselves.
However, when I look at Ray Wilkins, when I look at everything he achieved, and all the stories of him, I see another way. Wilkins took John Terry onto the pitch after hours and blasted cross-pitch passes to a 17 year-old. Wilkins called up Jack Grealish, a prodigy at a club he no longer had a connection to, to offer advice, and a chat. To put it very simply, Wilkins was nice, and that’s all we need to be.
Ray Wilkins was not the prototypical human being. He made mistakes, and was capable of making poor decisions. However, he led his life believing that he was not the centre of it. There’s something we can learn from that.
Rest in peace, Ray.