We caught up with 90s fans favourite and towering centre back David Lee this week after the shocking news that another club hero Ray Wilkins had passed away. We wanted to gather his thoughts and memories on the former midfielder, who became Chelsea captain at the age of 18.
Lee was at Chelsea for ten years of his playing career throughout the 90s and was a popular figure amongst the Chelsea faithful. Often under rated, Lee had the ability to pick out a searching long passess from the back, setting up many of our attacks, which the likes of Gianluca Vialli would thrive on.
Like Wilkins, who was affectionately known as ‘Butch’ at Chelsea, Lee had his own nickname of ‘Rodney’, pointing towards his resemblance of Rodney Trotter from Only Fools and Horses. But unlike the character, Chelsea’s Rodney had intelligence on the pitch and a real footballing brain. He played in a sweeper role at the back which is pretty much unheard of now, and he was calm and comfortable on the ball.
Lee met Wilkins a number of times, he recalls ” I first met Ray at Stamford Bridge when I was playing for Chelsea, and I used to see him at games. Then I played against him when he was at QPR, and I watched him a lot as a kid. I was actually there watching at the 1983 FA Cup final when he scored that lefty curler for Manchester United”.
Lee also remembers playing alongside Wilkins in a number of charity games for Chelsea since retiring, he fondly recalls Wilkins characteristics and personality “he was so charming, very humble and genuinely had time for you. He loved being one of the boys but was also very respectful no matter who you were. He was widely adored and respected, because he was a brilliant player and a charming person”.
Since passing away, there has been so many heart warming stories and memories of Ray’s kindness, cheekiness and examples of the kind of person he was throughout his life. The most notable is of course was the story of a former soldier who was living on the streets. He was approached by Ray who kindly handed the homeless man some money. Just one example of what a big heart he had.
Another side of Ray was his cheeky persona, and there is one situation that sticks out in Lee’s mind on this subject. “I will never forget when Ray was player manager of QPR and I was at Chelsea, we beat them 2-0. After the match Ray just bowled into our bath because the water was cold in the away dressing rooms! No one else could get away with that and the lads loved it!”
Wilkins knew football inside and out, he lived and breathed the game even after he finished playing, anyone who had dealings or interactions with him even as a rival, would always go away feeling warm from being in his presence. Lee remembers one of these moments he had as a coach at Bristol City..
“I was at Bristol City and we were looking to take a Chelsea player on loan. I called Ray and he told me to come up to Cobham. He made me feel very welcome and we chatted about the player and other players. Then he said ‘watch training fella’. He was so at ease with you, had a tremendous knowledge of football and knew all about the players”.
On Saturday there were tributes and minutes applause across the whole country and even further afield, marking respects for Wilkins. He was simply adored and respected by the sporting community worldwide, and he will be fondly remembered by so many. Chelsea conducted their own tributes before their home match against West Ham and it was an emotional affair.
But Lee sums it up perfectly here and he speaks for us all when he rounds up our chat..
“Everyone will miss his football stories, his knowledge and his warmth as a person. God bless u Ray”.
Ray Wilkins 1956 – 2018 – a true legend.
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