Ray Wilson (English footballer)
Statue of Ray Wilson (far right)
|Full name||Ramon Wilson|
|Date of birth||17 December 1934|
|Place of birth||Shirebrook, Derbyshire, England|
|Playing position||Left back|
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
Wilson became an apprentice railwayman on leaving school but was spotted playing amateur football by a scout at Huddersfield Town. He began a combination of working on the tracks by night and training with Huddersfield by day, before being called up for national service.
Quickly singled out as a strong and nippy left back with good overlapping skills by the then Huddersfield Town manager Bill Shankly, Wilson signed professional forms with the club after his two-year army posting, and made his debut against Manchester United in 1955. Two years later, Wilson was Huddersfield's established, first-choice left back.
In 1964 Wilson joined Everton, by which time he had played 30 times for England, and remains to this day Huddersfield's most-capped England international. A torn muscle, however, meant that he missed most of his first season at Everton. While Wilson's club career was modest, he did achieve the highest accolade as an international. Wilson was the left-back in the England team that won the World Cup in 1966, and won the FA Cup with Everton in the same year; two years later, he was on the losing side as Everton were beaten by West Bromwich Albion in the 1968 FA Cup Final. Wilson's fortunes declined at Everton following another injury, and he was granted a free transfer to Oldham Athletic in 1969, missing out on Everton's First Division title in 1970. He retired in 1971.
In April 1960, Wilson won his first cap for England in a 1–1 draw with Scotland. Over the next 12 months he became a fixture in the side. The FA selection committee put him in the squad for the 1962 World Cup in Chile and Wilson played in all three group games and England's elimination in the quarter finals at the hands of Brazil.
Wilson kept his England place under new manager Alf Ramsey after the World Cup, and with Ramsey successfully snatching sole responsibility for picking the team from the FA came a firm feeling that Wilson was Ramsey's highest-rated left back. Others, such as Liverpool's Gerry Byrne were given the odd chance but Wilson was Ramsey's first choice.
As hosts of the 1966 World Cup, England did not have to partake in a rigorous qualifying campaign and Ramsey experimented with other left backs as he shaped a squad for the tournament. As it neared, Wilson achieved some domestic success when Everton won the FA Cup at Wembley.
Their opponents were Sheffield Wednesday, who started the game as underdogs. Wilson was almost an immediate villain when the game started as he deflected a vicious volley from Wednesday's Jim McCalliog into the net after just four minutes, though McCalliog rightly claimed the goal as his own. Wednesday went 2–0 up but Everton fought back heroically to win 3–2.
Later the same year, Wilson was playing at Wembley on six more occasions, ever-present as Ramsey's England got through a World Cup group consisting of Uruguay, Mexico and France; a volatile quarter final against a violent Argentina and a semi final against the enigmatic Portuguese, which was Wilson's 50th appearance for his country.
The final against West Germany is part of football folklore, in England and globally. Wilson's weak early header fell to striker Helmut Haller who gave the Germans the lead as a result, but after twists and turns and an historic hat-trick from Geoff Hurst, England ran out 4–2 winners. Wilson was the oldest member of the team – in his 32nd year – and the victory crowned an especially good year for him, winning a major domestic honour and then adding the biggest prize in the game. Only Roger Hunt – a title winner with Liverpool in 1966 – could claim a similarly twofold success.
Ramsey continued to select Wilson as England progressed through the qualification process for the 1968 European Championships, ultimately going out in the semi finals and finishing third overall. Wilson's 63rd and final England cap came in the third-place play-off against the USSR. At the time of his final cap, he held the record for the highest number of appearances for an outfield player without having scored a goal, a record since broken by Gary Neville and Ashley Cole.
A knee injury suffered in the summer of 1968, coupled with the emergence of young Leeds United full back Terry Cooper (who would be as impressive in the 1970 World Cup as Wilson was in 1966, despite England's elimination in the last eight), ended Wilson's England career.
After retirement from football
Unquestionably the 1966 hero with the lowest profile, Wilson nevertheless caused intrigue after his playing days ended by not staying within the game but instead building a successful undertaker's business in Huddersfield. Wilson retired as an undertaker in 1997 to Halifax. In 2000 he and four of his 1966 team-mates – Hunt, George Cohen, Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball – were awarded the MBE for services to football after a high-profile campaign conducted by sections of the media which was surprised that their contribution to English football's greatest day had never been officially recognised. The other six, plus Ramsey, had already received various honours. In 2008, Wilson was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame by a select committee of ex-footballers.
He lives in Slaithwaite near Huddersfield with his wife Pat (three years his junior). They have two children.
Ray and Pat Wilson are interviewed together in the book No More Worlds to Conquer by Chris Wright (2015).
Wilson has since been regarded as one of the best left-backs that England have ever produced. Although not a goal scorer, his vision, passing ability and strong runs down the left flank made him an invaluable member of the 1966 World Cup winning side. He is remembered as one of the greatest players to play for both Huddersfield and Everton.
- My Yorkshire - Ray Wilson talks about the 1966 victory
- BBC radio interview with Ray Wilson, 1999
- Ray Wilson management career statistics at Soccerbase
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