Apr 05

Today an old Chelsea player named Ray Wilkins died at just 61. It’s very sad, it seems like it was a heart attack and it’s a young age to be passing away. Four decades ago he was my first Chelsea hero, a beacon of talented light in a struggling squad.

I only saw him in Blue once. My first game was in March 1979 against Liverpool at the Bridge in the old First Division. It ended scoreless, but as we are almost 40 years down the line, and I was only nine at the time, I don’t remember much about the on-field action. I was not even sure he played that day and had to confirm online.

Ironically, I saw him live more lining up against my team. He was an England regular, and every year they faced my home nation Northern Ireland in the British Championship. We were also in the same qualifying groups for both the 1986 World Cup and the 1988 European Championships, and I was at all four of those games at Windsor Park and Wembley. I probably cheered against my first hero around half a dozen times. Funny how things work out.

Now Chelsea of course are a world away from the club I supported as a young Belfast lad. Things change, time marches on, and at my age it’s not unusual that actors and sports stars and singers whom you grew up with are now dying. Indeed it’s almost a weekly occurrence as I near 50.

But still, sometimes one means more than most. I read about it on the BBC website as I was sitting in a motel room in Gastonia, North Carolina. I wrote a piece about him for the official Chelsea website. It is bizarre how far you can travel from your beginnings in life, both physically and metaphorically.

This is the second time I’ve written about a death in the last four posts. As my dad told me many years ago, “Dying is part of living.” I guess he is right. RIP Butch.

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