Ray’s passing is not only a great loss to football, it is a great loss to society. If everyone conducted themselves in the manner Ray did then we would be living in a better place. He was a real gentleman, a very classy guy and a friend I’ll miss greatly.
It was Ray, in fact, who first talked me into joining Manchester United.
We had become great friends after meeting as two football-daft 17-year-olds at an England training camp at Lilleshall then rooming together in Switzerland for the mini-World Cup — which we went on to win against Finland thanks to Ray’s ‘golden goal’.
If people conducted themselves like Ray Wilkins did, we would be living in a better place
I was initially playing centre back then and Ray was in midfield, already captain, but we were similar in our approach. He was a good trainer, was never late and we struck up a rapport.
As we got older we continued to room together with England and it was there that Ray would work on me to join United once he’d signed, talking up how good it would be for us to be in the same team.
When I joined, Frank Stapleton had just arrived, and we all used to go out for lunch with our wives around Manchester and grew close to each other, like extended families.
Myself (left) and Wilkins (centre) became good friends as young kids playing for England
Despite taking the England captaincy from him, Wilkins was nothing but supportive
It was actually down to Ray’s misfortune, when he broke his cheekbone against Bournemouth, that I was given the captaincy for United and England. That had been something he was so proud of yet, when he came back and I kept both armbands, he was never anything but supportive.
Even at the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, when things didn’t work out for either of us, he would be first to encourage the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Peter Reid who stepped in.
Ray was incredibly brave on the ball, always in space or shouting for it no matter how great the pressure became or how bad the team were playing.
He would be criticised for going sideways but he really was ahead of his time as he realised the importance in keeping possession and had the skill to do it.
At Mexico 86, when things didn’t work out for both of us, he still encouraged everyone else
I will always remember when he ran off to celebrate after scoring in the 1983 FA Cup final
My abiding memory of him will be when he ran off to celebrate after scoring that brilliant goal against Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup final.
Ray would rarely need to move so to see him sprinting off into the distance towards the fans with us struggling to catch him — I think if they’d opened the gates he would have carried on running — it still makes me smile.
We would see each other occasionally at Legends events and stayed in touch on the phone but sadly I hadn’t seen him enough in recent months.
My heart goes out to Jackie, his wife, and the family.
Ray Wilkins died in hospital aged 61 after suffering a suspected heart attack