Chelsea hero Ray Wilkins a true Blue gentleman, missed by many
The many concerns Chelsea supporters harbour about the issues affecting the club were put firmly in perspective with Wednesday's tragic news that former player, captain and assistant coach Ray Wilkins had passed away at just 61.
The word legend is overused in modern football so much so that to describe Wilkins as such would be underplaying his status not only among Chelsea fans, but also followers of England, for whom he won 84 caps. In recent years, Wilkins had reached a global audience via the media channels he worked for. His wisdom, insight and opinion -- particularly regarding his dearly beloved Chelsea -- was sought and respected.
In the modern era, Stamford Bridge has become a transient place; a stopping off point for a procession of managers and players. Owners have come and gone. The only true constant at a football club are the supporters. For them, the players and officials they hold dearest to their hearts are the rare ones, the genuine ones, the ones for whom Chelsea has always meant everything as opposed to being a fleeting affair bound by the terms of a contract of employment.
Wilkins fitted this category perfectly and there was an aspect to his involvement with Chelsea that made him unique as he spanned generations of fans. Older supporters remember the sparkling gem of a youth player who broke into the first team in 1973, was made captain at just 18 in 1975 and during the turbulent days of financial hardship and relegation from the old First Division, led the team back to the top flight. A prodigiously gifted footballer, Wilkins' talent and Chelsea's penury would lead to him being sold to Manchester United in 1979, but the truth was he never wanted to leave Stamford Bridge. It was where his heart lay and fans knew this.
A nomadic journey followed from Manchester to Milan, Paris, Glasgow and back to London but although he never played for Chelsea again following stints managing QPR and Fulham, he returned in 1999 to become a part of then manager Gianluca Vialli's coaching team. This was an exciting time for supporters. Champions League football was on the agenda for the first time and at the end of the season, Chelsea won the FA Cup.
Wilkins, a link to the past, was now very much a part of the present, and his genial personality and enthusiasm for the club was infectious. Unfortunately forced out shortly after Vialli's sacking and the appointment of Claudio Ranieri in September 2000, he returned home again in 2008 to become Luiz Felipe Scolari's assistant and this stint at Chelsea was not only hugely successful but also won Wilkins a whole new legion of devotees. A younger generation who immediately saw the affinity he had with the club and its younger players and readily understood that because he had trod that path from youth team to first team, he knew exactly what it meant to pull on the Blue shirt.
In typical Chelsea fashion, Scolari wasn't long for the manager's job and when the Brazilian was sacked in February 2009, it was Wilkins who was placed in charge of first team matters. It was only one game: an FA Cup tie against Watford which Chelsea won 3-1.
Wilkins, the only Chelsea manager with a 100 percent record. Ask supporters who went to that game and they'll wax lyrical about that and about the man himself who would go on to work alongside Scolari's temporary successor Guus Hiddink.
Chelsea won the FA Cup at the end of the campaign and the following season under Carlo Ancelotti they went one step better, winning the Double for the only time in their history. Wilkins, of course, was Ancelotti's right hand man. At the time it was a dream come true for the fans, seeing one of their own be a part of the club's greatest triumph, but of course Chelsea being Chelsea, it wouldn't last and their hero would leave again in November 2010.
Ray being Ray, a genuine Chelsea supporter and a true gentleman to boot, there was never a word of malice to be heard about the club, just the same sparkling words of enthusiasm there always had been. His phenomenal part in history will never be forgotten.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco