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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

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Barrow AFC greats remember club giant Ray on 20th anniversary of his death

FA TROPHY heroes Neil Doherty and Kevin Proctor recall their memories of great Barrow AFC manager Ray Wilkie

TO many people Ray Wilkie will be seen as the saviour of Barrow AFC.

For FA Trophy hero Neil Doherty, he was a brilliant boss and an honest man who instilled a lot of belief in him.

And for Kevin Proctor, another member of that Wembley winning side, he was a friend and a father figure.

Wilkie, who died 20 years ago in November, had an enormous influence on everyone he touched, and the Geordie bookie will always be remembered in our community, both by football supporters and people with no interest in the game.

“The club was on its knees but he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and really turned not only the football club around but also helped the town at a time when redundancies were just starting in the yard,” said former Barrow and Birmingham City ace Doherty.

“It was a real shot in the arm for everybody, and the fact that now we’ve got the Wilkie Stand and Wilkie Road, is justifiable testament for what he did.

“Unlike managers before and after him who wanted to spend the money to get a better team on the pitch, Ray’s perspective, as I remember it, was that he was protecting every penny that the club had, so he was really good for the financial stability of the club.

“I think he was one of those managers that could make something good out of nothing. The football club, at the time when he took over, didn’t have any money at all, and he managed to bring players through that weren’t particularly great at other clubs but he got the best out of them, both individually and collectively.

“To take a club from nowhere to the FA Trophy semi-final and to the final and win it, and up into the Conference from where they came from, was an absolutely outstanding achievement.

“The one thing I can say of Ray is he was absolutely brutally honest. He didn’t tell you anything he didn’t believe. He wasn’t that type of manager that would put his arm around you. He just said it as he saw it. He would say to me ‘you are quick, you’ve got two good feet, you’re skilful, but you can’t tackle, so don’t bother with that!

“He would say to other players, you can only tackle, you can’t pass, so give it to Kenny Lowe and he’ll do all that sort of stuff. He knew what players were like.

“He did give me a lot of belief in myself that perhaps wasn’t there before, and I would say I went off to Birmingham because of that. I think in terms of the community he would often talk about how great the supporters were and how good the town was, and he gave us a little bit of pride in ourselves.

“He was from the north east and he said we didn’t realise how lucky we were here. And I think he perhaps provided a different viewpoint for everybody here and made us a little bit more proud of what we were, and what we’ve got, and that obviously transferred onto the field. It certainly got the supporters behind us.”

Doherty travelled to Wilkie’s home to see him with other players in the period before his death, and he said: “When somebody passes away that you are quite fond of it knocks you back. And I know it was the same for the other players.”

Doherty was managed by ex-England boss Graham Taylor when he joined Watford as a youngster, and later worked with Barry Fry, a manager with a huge personality, at Birmingham. And while they had excellent attributes, Wilkie was the top of his list.

“Ray really did have a magic touch. He didn’t have any resources but he just used his charm, personality and knowledge of the game.

“The saddest thing is that probably we never got to see what he could do in the end because he became ill. We were sort of an established Conference club when he became ill, we finished mid-table in the Conference we had been to the Trophy final, we had a little bit of money in the bank and it would have been interesting to see what he could do after that.

“I know he was really keen to see a youth system developed at the club to get a proper reserves set up there.

“We look at Morecambe quite enviously now and I think we were ahead of them at that time. Somebody like Ray would have kept us ahead of them, I think.

“I am pretty certain we would have gone from strength to strength.”

Midfield enforcer Kevin Proctor also has nothing but fond memories and admiration for his old boss.

“He was a big piece of the history of the club,” said Proctor. “He got a team of lads together who weren’t world-beaters but we all played well together. He brought people in and if they didn’t fit in with what he had, they disappeared as quickly as they came. He was a great bloke, I got on really well with him.

“He knew what your strengths and weaknesses were. Our weaknesses were football, but our strengths were we stopped other people playing it as well!

“I was always in midfield for my tackling so we could carry the luxury of Kenny Lowe. He had a big influence. He got a good set of lads together and the big thing we had was team spirit.

“Ray was the manager but one of the lads. You could have a good craic with him, take the mickey, he’d do the same to you and if you really upset him you were on the bench. Everybody respected him.”

Proctor said Wilkie was grooming him as a coach before his death, as the midfielder was approaching the end of his career. Proctor also said that after winning the FA Trophy the players were encouraged by Wilkie to visit schools and hospitals.

“I don’t think we had a night where we weren’t at presentations, and he used to come over for it,” he said.

“He had strong feeling for the Barrow football community because they got behind his teams. He appreciated everything that they did for him.

“The town was buzzing, it had always been a rugby town but we turned it round and the football was what everybody talked about.”

He added: “My dad died Ken only a week or so after the Trophy final. He’d gone down to watch us and I got back on the Monday and saw him and he just said, ‘I’ve seen you play at Wembley, I’ve had enough.’ He died within a week.

“Ray was very supportive. I feel he was a very good friend. He wasn’t just my manager, he was always there when you needed somebody to talk to.”


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