Eight days before the launch of another World Cup and England’s heroes of 1966 gathered to pay their last respects to one of their dwindling number.
At the funeral of Ray Wilson in West Yorkshire the tributes flowed for the finest left back of his generation, one of the greatest of all time and one who transformed the role with his pace and mobility and his desire to get forward.
‘A lovely guy and a super footballer,’ said Gordon Banks. ‘He had such great speed. He could give his winger three yards start and still catch him up and make sure he did not get a cross into my box. He was terrific.’
England and Leeds legend Jack Charlton wipes away the tears as he attends the funeral of former team-mate Ray Wilson
Wilson’s coffin is received by pallbearers (pictured). He played for England 63 times and was the side’s oldest player in the 4-2 win over West Germany in the World Cup Final
Sir Geoff Hurst (pictured left) and Sir Bobby Charlton (right, with his wife Norma) were among those who travelled to Wilson’s hometown of Huddersfield for a service on Wednesday
Five heroes of the 1966 team were present and were joined by other familiar faces from the world of football as well as fans wearing shirts and scarves bearing England’s Three Lions and the crests of Huddersfield Town and Everton.
The two clubs Wilson served with such distinction were both represented and Huddersfield are making plans to dedicate a pre-season friendly to the passing of one of their legends.
‘Ray was an icon of Huddersfield,’ said Town director Sean Jarvis. ‘He was a national hero for his football exploits but he meant more than that to us. He was a family man and a fan of our football club and a true gent.’
England will play just 20 miles from Huddersfield on Thursday and yet the FA were represented at the funeral by Tony McCallum, the national coach development manager, rather than any of their senior executives.
Gareth Southgate was busy preparing his team at St George’s Park to face Costa Rica at Elland Road in Leeds. Others were away on business and, although the FA hosted Wilson’s family at Wembley against Nigeria on Saturday, the absence was noted and did not create a good impression.
Jack Charlton (right) leaves the funeral of 1966 World Cup winner Ray Wilson along with his wife Pat (shown left)
Football icons including Roger Hunt (left), Jack Charlton (middle) and Gordon Banks (right) gathered for the funeral of Wilson (pictured in the order of service) as mourners paid tribute to ‘England’s greatest left back’
The coffin is taken into Huddersfield Crematorium on Wednesday afternoon as mourners gather for the service
Mourners stood in the aisles and spilled out through the doors at Huddersfield Crematorium. There was Nat King Cole (Unforgettable) and Frank Sinatra (Fly Me To The Moon) because Wilson enjoyed the classic crooners. And there were plenty of smiles among friends and former teammates as they shared tales of his competitive spirit and devilishly sharp wit.
He was described as a ‘black belt in dominoes and cards’ by Andrew Ward, a close friend who delivered a touching tribute. Among his many recollections was one about the only time Wilson was booked during his career, when Leeds had been awarded a disputed late penalty against Everton and were unable to decide who should take it.
‘You might as well take it yourself, ref,’ suggested Everton’s star full-back. ‘Come here Wilson,’ ordered the referee. ‘Yes Mr Mainwaring,’ quipped Wilson in reply, with comic timing of Dad’s Army precision. His name was promptly taken.
His sense of humour was a common theme, a useful quality when he quit football and moved into the family undertakers’ business. The World Cup winners would meet up regularly, every year or two, and Sir Geoff Hurst told how Wilson would whip out a business card in jest if anyone arrived complaining of an ailment.
Sir Bobby Charlton (left) and Banks (right) were teammates with Wilson, who died after a battle with dementia aged 83 last month, when England famously won the World Cup in 1966
Wilson is pictured hoisting up England captain Bobby Moore as the country celebrates its World Cup win at Wembley in 1966
Wilson’s coffin is carried by a hearse to Huddersfield Crematorium, where mourners and legends gathered to say goodbye
Mike Summerbee (left) and Norman Hunter (right) were also present at the service, which took place in Huddersfield, where Wilson worked as an undertaker after his football career
Hurst said Wilson, the oldest player in the team, was also a calming dressing room influence with his wit and no-nonsense wisdom. Ahead of the final at Wembley, it was his Derbyshire accent which cut through the giddy pre-match excitement to ask what all the fuss was about, and remind his team-mates to calm down and relax because it would be just like any other game.
Banks and Roger Hunt were able to make the journey. As were Sir Bobby Charlton and his brother Jack, towering head and shoulders above the rest of the congregation although, at 83, increasingly frail. Wilson was 83 when he died last month, having lived for years with Alzheimer’s, and he and his wife Pat were praised by Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, for raising awareness of the disease.
Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles are also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and were unable to attend the service.
George Cohen was the other of those World Cup winners still alive not able to make it. Bobby Moore died in 1993 at the age of 51 and Alan Ball in 2007 at the age of 61. These individuals, moulded into a team by Sir Alf Ramsey, would create a bond to survive for decades.
‘It was such a huge achievement,’ said Banks. Something which becomes more evident with every passing four-year cycle. Twelve tournaments have sailed by without England coming close again.
Ray Wilson’s place in history is secure. Not only for his part in a triumphant team but also for his role in hoisting captain Moore into the air for what might be the most famous image of a very famous day.
Former England footballer Wilson, pictured in 2017, died last month aged 83 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease
Wilson, pictured lifting the World Cup in 1966 alongside his teammates, was England’s starting left-back in the tournament
After retiring Wilson went on to have a successful career as an undertaker in Slaithwaite near Huddersfield (pictured here)
Wilson’s funeral cortege of three Mercedes cars slowly ambled towards the crematorium before his coffin was lifted out