England 1966 Hero Ray Wilson Dies At The Age Of 83
The ex-Everton and Huddersfield full-back was the oldest member of Alf Ramsey’s victorious side when he climbed the famous Wembley steps aged 31 to claim his World Cup winner’s medal from the Queen on that famous day.
On leaving school Wilson began working as an apprentice on the railways but was spotted by a scout while playing at amateur level with Huddersfield Town and was able to combine his passion for football with full-time employment by working on the tracks in the evenings and training with Huddersfield during the day.
A slight, but well-built left-back, what really caught then Town Manager Bill Shankly’s eye was his ability to get forward on the overlap as well as fulfilling his defensive duties and it wasn’t long before he was offered his first professional contract in 1955, making his debut against Manchester United that same year.
His performances for Huddersfield soon meant he was a regular fixture with England and by the time he had left for Everton in 1964, after 266 games for Town, he had made 30 appearances for his country, making him the Terriers’ most capped player even to this day.
Despite missing most of his first season at Goodison Park through injury Wilson was part of the Blues team which lifted the FA Cup in 1966 against Sheffield Wednesday the same year as surely his greatest achievement in the game which came some two months later.
He had been part of the England squad for the 1962 World Cup in Chile and had played in all three group games prior to the side’s elimination, but his impressive performances meant he was a certainty for the competition when it came to England four years later.
Claiming his 50th cap in the Quarter-Final with Portugal Wilson ensured his place in the final thanks to his calmness on the ball and a level of consistency which was unwavering during something of a hard-fought qualification campaign.
As it turned out Wilson's only real error came in the final when his weak header fell to West German striker Helmut Haller, who pounced on the slip to give them the lead, but a hat-trick from Geoff Hurst and another from Martin Peters meant England ran out 4–2 winners.
Wilson continued as England’s first-choice left-back through the qualification process for the 1968 European Championships with the Three Lions, eventually going out in the semi-finals of the tournament while his 63rd and final England cap came in the third-place play-off against the USSR.
1968 also saw further disappointment in the FA Cup as, after reaching the Twin Towers once more with Everton, this time the Blues were defeated by West Bromwich Albion.
Following more struggles with injury Wilson was granted a free transfer and joined Oldham Athletic in 1969, a move which meant he ultimately missed out on Everton's First Division title win of 1970.
That same year he joined Bradford City and even became the club’s caretaker manager in 1971 when Jimmy Wheeler left the club; taking charge for ten games prior to the arrival of Bryan Edwards and after his retirement several months later he went on to build a successful undertaker's business in Huddersfield.
Wilson was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2004, an illness which has also affected his 1966 teammates Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles and something which many believe was due to heading heavy leather footballs from an early age.
On hearing of his death many of his former colleagues have been quick to pay their respects to one of the most complete footballers of his generation as well as the two clubs which he represented for the majority of his career.
"Ray is arguably the most successful and best-known player ever to pull on a Huddersfield Town shirt, having been a key member of England's World Cup-winning team in 1966," Huddersfield Town FC said in a statement while Everton said it was "deeply saddened", and added he was "unquestionably one of the finest footballers to wear the royal blue jersey."