Soccer Boss? You’re Joking – I Want to be an Undertaker

This article, adapted from the original, published in Lancashire Soccer Annual (1970), underlines Ray Wilson’s candour and honesty – and his pride at having played for Everton FC

Rob Sawyer 24/06/2019 18comments  |  Jump to last

By Ray Wilson (abridged from Lancashire Soccer Annual, 1970, by Rob Sawyer)

Ramon ‘Ray’ Wilson, the doyen of left-backs in the 1960s, passed away on 15th May 2018 at the age of 83. In a field, occupied by the likes of Warney Cresswell and Leighton Baines, Wilson is widely regarded as the finest Number 3 to grace Goodison Park. He is also revered by Huddersfield Town and England team supporters who were lucky enough to see him play.

His elevated status at Everton is all the more remarkable for the fact that he only moved to Merseyside in what was felt, at the time, to be the autumn of his playing career. He went on to participate in two of the Empire Stadium’s greatest days in 1966 – for both club and country – but suffered disappointment with Everton two years later. He was known, and respected, for his unruffled demeanour at left-back, positional sense, excellent left foot and a devastating burst of pace, which was used to nullify the threat of opposition speed merchants. A knee injury effectively ended his Everton career but he continued to play for Oldham Athletic in Bradford City – before leaving football to work in the family firm of undertakers. He kept a relatively low profile and, in later life, lived with Alzheimer’s until his death at the age of 83.

This article, which I have adapted from the original, published in Lancashire Soccer Annual (1970), underlines Wilson’s candour and honesty – and his pride at having played for Everton FC.

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One familiar face has been missing from the England line-up since those days of glory in 1966 when the World Cup was won, the face of Everton full-back, Ray Wilson, now captain of Oldham Athletic, in the depths of Division Four.

For Ray, now over 35, and with his eyes on the future, the attraction of turning to management, a magnet which, rightly or wrongly, has drawn many in the past.

He has other plans, plans which shock many football supporters as Ray tells us about his past, his present and his future:

It all began in Huddersfield, when I was 16 and taken on as a ground staff lad with Huddersfield Town. We did our training at night, helping the tradesmen and cleaning the boots, doing work around the ground during the day. Then, when I was 17 I signed professional forms for Town and spent a year in the juniors before going in the forces to do my National Service, when I was 18.

During all the time I was in the forces I never had a game with Huddersfield. I joined up in March and by the time I had completed my initial training, the season was finished. Then I went to Egypt, came back as another season was ending. By the time my two-year stint was finished they had almost forgotten me at Leeds Road - but they had to retain you while you were in the forces. When I finished my National Service, I was given a trial and signed on until the end of the season, then I was signed for the following season.

I had always been an inside-forward, but when I came back to Leeds Road I found that they had plenty of inside-men, and on my first morning back I was given a run-out as a full-back. I was willing to have a go at anything. A year later I was still messing about at wing-half or inside-forward; then, when I was 22 I started to settle down and play at full-back.

It was seven years after first playing at full-back that I went to Everton. I did thirteen years at Huddersfield and yet when people talk about Ray Wilson they talk about “Ray Wilson of Everton”. In fact, I think I tend to think of myself as an Evertonian, though I suppose after 13 years with one club, I should think of Huddersfield first. But it was because everything seemed to happen to me in the five years I was at Goodison: two FA Cup medals and, of course, the World Cup.

I tried to get away from Huddersfield a few times, starting when I was about 24. But it was always the same old story: “We need you here”. In those days if you wanted to get away from a place badly enough you had to refuse to sign, then go without money. But as wages were on £20 maximum, and most players were living in a club house, not many did this. I had family and there was the possibility of being thrown out of the club house, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be at Huddersfield for the rest of my career. Then, when I reached 29, I bought a house and decided to settle down. Only three months after I bought the house, Everton asked Huddersfield if they would sell and they said “yes”. They probably thought that I only had a couple of seasons left in me.

When I got over to Goodison it was like a different world. It was as if I had only been playing at the game all my life – as if I had been pretending to be a professional footballer. It was a terrific change going to Goodison. To start with, the training was different. The training we did at Huddersfield at the time was only good enough for a warm-up at Goodison. And the whole outlook was more professional, with more discipline. It wasn’t just a Saturday afternoon game to Everton; it was all or nothing, which is the way that most big clubs look at things – and the only way in which they survive. The players treated me well and I settled in very quickly. Nobody seemed to bother much about my age but there were a few letters in the papers asking what they (Everton) were doing signing somebody of 29. Some people said I was a panic buy. But I didn’t think I was near the end then, because I am pretty small and have never carried much weight. I had looked after myself reasonably well. I have never been one for stamina; I was always good at short sprints in training but when it came to the slog around the pitch there were some players who could leave me a quarter of a lap behind.

Harry Catterick is a very hard man, and discipline is a big thing with him. A lot of people don’t like him, I suppose, and a lot of players don’t like him at certain times, but there is no getting away from it, he knows the way to be a manager. He’s not in the limelight a lot, like Bill Shankly. But Bill is an extrovert whilst Harry is an introvert - this is the main difference between the two of them.

If you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time then you can become a star. Johnny Morrissey is underrated. In the last couple of season, they have been saying that he has come on and really turned into a player but I think he has just been the same for the past three of four seasons. He is a great player but not a star, because, probably, he did not fit into the public eye. Alan Ball is a great player; he is cocky, happy, always on the go. In fact, he is just the same off the field as on it. He is bubbling over all of the time. When he came to Everton no-one knew about the move. This is the way that harry Catterick works, of course. You don’t read about it in the papers – suddenly he was there, then you read that it had happened.

The Merseyside Derbies are tremendous occasions. The atmosphere is terrific. If you are a neutral it is much more of an experience than a Cup Final at Wembley. When I played, everyone seemed to be a yard faster – they probably were in actual fact (everyone would give a better performance).

I never really felt any tension in the World Cup, probably because there was always something going on. First we went on tour, then we went to Lilleshall, then the competition started. We had games every two or three days and in between there were other games on television or at Wembley, which we watched. I think that I felt worse about the FA Cup, but, even then, it seemed unreal. You go through the earlier rounds, then it comes to the final and it is a terrible anti-climax. To me, it is the earlier rounds which make the final. After the final has ended I have found myself saying, “I wish I could play it again.” I think it is more of a spectacle than a game and you don’t appreciate what is going on around you.

It may sound a silly thing to say, but although being on the losing side (in a cup final) is a terrible thing, I was glad that it happened to me. Two victories, two winners’ medals. Then, in 1968 we lost and it was a terrible feeling. You feel terribly lonely, as though you have let everybody down. After the game you have the national anthem, the presentation of the cup, then the medals and you seem to be standing round for an eternity. All you want is for the ground to swallow you up. But I am glad that I have experienced it as now I know what it is like - I know the feeling both ways.

I spent a season in Everton reserves after a knee injury, then I came to Oldham. It wasn’t much of a come-down really. It was a relief, really, because I wanted to play first team football. I think that is the thing which keeps you going. I still feel that I can do a bit, and that I can hold my own reasonably well, without making a fool of myself. It doesn’t matter to me where I do it, so long as I can play first team football. This is the thing which keeps the enthusiasm going – I felt it dropping when I was in the reserves at Everton and I suppose that it may happen one day at Oldham. So it is a matter of trying to keep in somebody’s first team, even if you go non-League.

I don’t think that I’ll ever be a soccer manager, in fact I’m certain that I won’t. I’m not frightened of the challenge (or being a manager), or that I won’t have the ability to do it, but it’s just not there in me, to want to do it. My father-in-law is in the funeral business and I am trying to pick up the administration side of the job. So I hope that it will be Ray Wilson – Undertaker, one day.


Lancashire Soccer Annual (Kaye and Ward Ltd.) – edited by Tom Tyrrell

Thanks to Richie Gillham (EFC Heritage Society) for unearthing this publication

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Reader Comments (18)

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Ken Kneale
1 Posted 24/06/2019 at 09:08:32
Rob. As ever, an article of great interest.

Ray Wilson was a fine player in a fantastic era for our club. it is a measure of his ability that, as you point out, two other fantastic servants in the same position are fighting for second and third place in the pantheon of left-backs who have represented.

Harry Catterick might have had his foibles but his love of the club and his desire to see us finish first would have been most welcome in more recent times when finished the so-called "best of the rest" seemed good enough for the manager and the club hierarchy. Keep the articles coming.

Darren Hind
3 Posted 24/06/2019 at 15:40:58
Simple man. Brilliant left-back.
Jack Convery
4 Posted 24/06/2019 at 15:49:08
Great read about the best-ever left-back to grace Goodison Park. Thanks.
Alan J Thompson
5 Posted 24/06/2019 at 16:03:00
Strewth, a man who won it all and you compare that to the likes of Lukaku and Pogba and you know why the name Ray Wilson inspires respect.
John McFarlane Snr
6 Posted 24/06/2019 at 16:38:06
Hi Rob, once again another superb article. I don't believe your efforts get the appreciation they deserve, there appear to be too many ToffeeWebbers only interested in 'buying and selling' players.
Martin Nicholls
7 Posted 24/06/2019 at 18:55:51
Great article about a great (our greatest) left back.

I heard a lovely story about Ray from a pub owner up in Cartmel whose wife is Ray's nephew. As we all know, Ray suffered from Alzheimer's late in his life and had also spoken little about his football career after it finished. By 2016, his condition had deteriorated to such an extent that he seemed to have completely forgotten that he'd ever played.

On a visit to the guy I referred to, and whilst out on a walk, Ray suddenly stopped and said, "50 years ago, I was winning the World Cup". The date? 30 July 2016! What a strange thing the human mind is!

Peter Mills
8 Posted 24/06/2019 at 19:33:29
Thanks Rob, I enjoy your articles. This one especially, as I consider Ramon to be one of the 3 greatest Everton players I have seen, Alan Ball and Neville Southall being the others.

He was also a true gentleman, with a wry sense of humour.

Peter Warren
9 Posted 24/06/2019 at 23:24:56
Fantastic read, Rob. The era of Wilson, I wasn't born. Baines is the best left-back I saw for Everton and interesting to read about Wilson who many say was our best.

It shows you how top-draw we were, inspiring even to one of the best left-backs ever and World Cup winner. When reading it, I thought like Alan, comparing Ray's words to those of both Lukaku and Pogba, it's nice to hear and read about true class.

Adam Fenlon
10 Posted 25/06/2019 at 02:42:47
Interesting read. Thanks for posting.

But I especially likeed Ken K's typo in #1 about "fantastic serpents" of our club! Snakes alive!

Ken Kneale
11 Posted 25/06/2019 at 11:35:37
Thanks Adam - it was a genuine typo and in no way applies to Ray Wilson. However, as Alan and Peter point out, the Oxford English definition of 'Serpent' does sadly apply to a number of our modern era players

A large snake. - biblical name for Satan (see Gen. 3, Rev. 20).1.

John Keating
12 Posted 25/06/2019 at 15:12:21
Best left back by far we've had in my time watching.

When you consider he came to us relatively late in his career, he still thought of himself as an Evertonian first and foremost. How many ex-players these days would say that? Lukaku? Stones?

Rick Tarleton
13 Posted 26/06/2019 at 06:08:19
I'm with John Keating, the doyen of full backs was Ray Wilson. better than anyone I've ever seen. He could keep George Best quiet effortlessly. Because of his quiet temprament, it is often forgotten how good he was.
Rick Tarleton
14 Posted 26/06/2019 at 11:09:02
Temperament! I hate sloppy spelling — especially by me!

In the best Everton team of my time (1953-54 to present day), Parker and Wilson are always the full-backs.

Terry White
15 Posted 26/06/2019 at 15:49:42
I'm with you, Rick (#14).
Jay Harris
16 Posted 26/06/2019 at 16:06:53
Great read again, Rob, and thanks for that.

Ray wasn't only the best left-back in the world at that time – he was a true gentleman and Evertonian.

When we use the word "Legend", you would have to include Ramon Wilson.

Tony Heron
17 Posted 26/06/2019 at 17:53:54
Fascinating article, Rob, thank you so much for taking the time to reproduce it and giving us the opportunity to find out a bit more about the GREAT Ramon.

It's one of the privileges of my life to have been able to watch him play. Too often, we may be guilty of looking at some of our old players through rose-coloured glasses, but Ray really was THE BEST and deserves all the plaudits being given.

It must be unfathomable for younger fans to hear how some of the greats from the past are revered while the present day players (well some of them anyway), are looked at as nothing more than mercenaries with no class whatsoever.

Stan Schofield
18 Posted 27/06/2019 at 15:20:11
Great article, Rob. Reading those words from Ray Wilson, what a tremendously modest bloke he must have been.

I was lucky enough to see him in action. Definitely one of the finest Everton players I've ever seen. He was so elegant, made everything look easy.

Jim Potter
19 Posted 27/06/2019 at 15:48:31
Thanks Rob. A good read about a great player.

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