RAY WILKINS EXCLUSIVE: My battle with illness, depression… and those booze rumours

Feb 21, 14 RAY WILKINS EXCLUSIVE: My battle with illness, depression… and those booze rumours

Until now this is the kind of conversation Ray Wilkins would have had with his therapist.

By Matt Lawton

Until now there has been no need to reveal his battle against depression. Or his dependency on Valium as a teenage captain of Chelsea. Or indeed the acute embarrassment he has endured for more than 20 years because of the symptoms associated with suffering from ulcerative colitis.He has never considered it necessary to give an interview admitting to the deep sense of shame he felt in being found guilty of drink-driving for a second time last July. It was enough that he regarded himself as ‘dirt’; ‘a disgrace’. It was this conviction, he says, that convinced him he needed help to climb out of ‘a deep, dark hole’. Wilkins then spent a month away from his family confronting his problems at the Sporting Chance clinic for sportsmen who suffer with mental and addictive illnesses. ‘I went in there,’ he says. ‘I visited Alcoholics Anonymous. I visited Narcotics Anonymous. I needed to suss out what was going on with me.

His wife and grown-up children, painfully aware that he was caught in a vicious circle of alcohol and mental illness, had already urged him to seek professional help. But Wilkins had fooled himself into thinking he could handle it. In reality, he was just another ‘macho’ man unable to admit to his own fragility, even though he was already taking medication for the depression he first suffered at 18. Medication he has now been on for two years.

Only when he realised just how much his wife Jackie and their children, Ross and Jade, were hurting did he finally reach the decision to check himself into the clinic, which he says has provided him with the ‘tools required to survive’.


Short stay: Ray Wilkins was sacked by Fulham this week along with head coach Rene Meulensteen despite only being appointed in December

That was five months ago. Wilkins is talking now because of the rumours that have circulated since he was sacked by Fulham earlier this week”


While the club have offered no official explanation of his departure beyond the desire of their new manager Felix Magath to work with his own staff, there have been suggestions Wilkins lost his job as assistant to Rene Meulensteen because he had been drinking ahead of last week’s Barclays Premier League game with Liverpool. On that night he became involved in an altercation with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, and failed to return to the dug-out after the  half-time break.

Wilkins has already addressed the matter in a short statement, explaining that failure to take his medication for colitis had led to something approaching an anxiety attack.

Now he has agreed to discuss his problems in detail. ‘If I don’t deal with the latest rumours my  footballing life will be done and dusted,’ says Wilkins. ‘End of story.

International honours: Wilkins won 84 caps for England during the 1970s and 80s

“International honours: Wilkins won 84 caps for England during the 1970s and 80s”
Good times: Wilkins and Bryan Robson celebrate England's 8-0 win over Turkey in 1984

“Good times: Wilkins and Bryan Robson celebrate England’s 8-0 win over Turkey in 1984″

‘There are a load of rumours flying about that I was out of order at the Liverpool game. Well I can categorically deny those accusations. This is difficult for me to talk about because this is a situation with the toilet. It’s embarrassing. But I’d been up to Aston Villa and back on the train to see the Under 21s play that day and I hadn’t taken my medication for colitis.

‘To be honest, I’d been so euphoric since I’d returned to football in December, I hadn’t particularly felt the need to take it every day. But my wife noticed a few of the old symptoms coming back and by the time the game started my stomach was bubbling.

I can appear agitated and ashen. Before the game I’m standing as close to Mr Khan  (Fulham owner) and Alistair  Mackintosh (chief executive) as I am to you now. So there obviously wasn’t an issue then.

‘OK, I had a row with Brendan (Rodgers). We’d gone a goal up and then they’d equalised, so I’m a little bit agitated. But it was just a row. It happens on the touchline. By the time we get to half-time I need to use the toilet. That was why I didn’t go back to the dug-out.’

Flying the flag: Wilkins and Kevin Keegan were key players for England at the Euros in 1980

“Flying the flag: Wilkins and Kevin Keegan were key players for England at the Euros in 1980″
Teaming up again: Keegan and Wilkins were re-united at Fulham in the late 1990s

“Teaming up again: Keegan and Wilkins were re-united at Fulham in the late 1990s”


Wilkins was first diagnosed with the illness in 1990. ‘When I was at QPR,’ he says. ‘I had reflexology for a time but eventually alternative medicine didn’t work and I got it full blown, which is tough because you’re always concerned you need to be near a loo.

‘My worst bout was six years ago when I was hospitalised for 12 days. I lost two and a half stone at the Cromwell Hospital in London. At one point the surgeon said I might need to have my colon out. I was 51 and I really didn’t want a bag. Luckily I started to improve the next day.’

He says he has taken strength from the way Darren Fletcher has overcome the disease to return to Manchester United’s first team.


True blue: Wilkins made over 170 appearances for Chelsea in the 1970s

“True blue: Wilkins made over 170 appearances for Chelsea in the 1970s”


Ulcerative colitis is an illness that causes inflammation in the bowels and colon.

Symptoms include stomach pains, bloody stools, fatigue, weight loss, anaemia, fever and dehydration.

Serious cases can be treated with medication, including steroids, but more severe problems may require sugery.



  • Sir Steve Redgrave
  • Lewis Moody
  • Darren Fletcher

‘I’ve gone from seven pills a day to four,’ he says. ‘I’m no longer on the steroids. I used to suffer with those. I’d get this really fat face. I remember walking into a Chelsea team meeting, when I was working with Luca (Vialli), and Graeme Le Saux starts singing The Addams Family theme tune and everyone starts laughing. They thought I looked like Uncle Fester. But I’m off that stuff now. These days I just take medicine to treat the colitis.’

However well Wilkins has coped with what remains a debilitating physical illness, the mental issues he has endured appear to have troubled him more.

When he arrives in the lobby of the London hotel he has chosen for this interview, Wilkins is surprisingly ebullient for a man who has had a pretty rough few days. This is a Chelsea sanctuary — the place to which Mourinho retreated when he was sacked by the club. Wilkins knows everyone and bounces around in his Barbour jacket and flat cap, shaking hands and embracing old acquaintances.

On your bike: Wilkins gets some leg exercise on a chopper bicycle


Young Star: Wilkins made his debut for Chelsea as a 17-year-old
“Young star: Wilkins made his debut for Chelsea as a teenager before moving to Manchester United”


‘I’ve just spent an hour with the therapist I see once a week and we had a really good chat,’ he says.
He wants to discuss everything, going back to the formative years of a great career that would include spells at AC Milan and Manchester United, not to mention 84 England caps. 

The product of a remarkable  football family, one of four brothers who inherited the talent of their professional footballer father George, he quickly rose to  prominence at Chelsea in the early 70s. Promoted once, but relegated twice, he was an emerging star of the King’s Road scene. United, Milan and Paris St-Germain would all soon recognise his talent.

For the first time today, he admits that the pressure of being a  footballing prodigy took its toll. ‘I did have a problem when I was made captain at 18,’ he says. ‘I was on Valium. I wasn’t quite handling the situation as well as I could have. The doctor would give me Valium every Friday night. I think I felt responsible for the team. It helped me sleep but it calmed me down as well, because I was playing appallingly at the time.


Telling all: Wilkins talks to Sportsmail's Matt Lawton about his 20 year battle with ulcerative colitis

“Telling all: Wilkins talks to Sportsmail’s Matt Lawton about his 20 year battle with ulcerative colitis”




Chelse 179
Manchester United 160
AC Milan 73
PSG 13
Rangers 70
QPR 176
Crystal Palace 1
Hibernian 16
Millwall 3
Leyton Orient 3


England caps: 84
England goals: 3


ASSISTANT AT: Chelsea, Watford, Millwall and Fulham



Man Utd: 1983 FA Cup, 1983 Charity Shield

Rangers: 1988-89 SPL, 1988 Scottish League Cup



‘Looking back, I guess it was a bit of an indicator. I suppose I’ve had three bouts of depression in my life, and that was the first one. At the time I just saw it as a bit of a tough period that passed as things improved in my career.’

Wilkins would encounter further difficulties when he realised his playing career was coming to an end. When time began to takes its toll on his ageing body, and perhaps more significantly when he realised he was no longer required. He would discover, as a seven-year spell at QPR was drawing  to a close, that he did not handle rejection well at all.

‘It’s not that I’m arrogant,’ he says. ‘I’ve never been like that. Footballers who think they are something special are making a terrible mistake. I always told  my kids I’m nobody but their dad. But I just don’t cope well with rejection. I had depression when I left QPR. I went to see a doctor linked to The Priory at the time.

‘I was lucky enough to play until I was 40, 41. But when time decided I could no longer continue I struggled in a way I’m sure a lot of sportsmen do. It’s hard to replace what sport gives you.

‘After QPR I suffered badly with depression and it had an impact on the whole family. But I didn’t take any medication at that stage. I’ve been on medication for depression for the past two years but back then I saw the doctor and then simply battled on.’


Moving on: Wilkins left Chelsea in 1979 and signed for Manchester United

“Moving on: Wilkins left Chelsea in 1979 and signed for Manchester United”

Management and coaching would provide Wilkins with a focus. ‘It’s not the same as playing but it maintains that connection with the game, with the dressing room,’ he says. But his departure from  Chelsea in November 2010, only a matter of months after he had assisted Carlo Ancelotti in guiding the club to a domestic Double, would have a devastating effect.

There were, he acknowledges, a number of different theories about why he was axed, including reports of an angry exchange with Roman Abramovich on the night Chelsea lost in the Champions League to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.

Birthday boy: Wilkins celebrates his 21st Birthday with his mum

 “The early days: Wilkins with his mum Wyn”


‘That was my darkest time,’ he says. ‘I slipped into a deep hole.

‘I did have a conversation with Mr Abramovich, one of the directors, Eugene Tenenbaum, and Carlo after the Inter Milan game. I don’t think I crossed the line with them. Not at all. But it’s the only explanation I can think of, even if it was months later that I was sacked.



Carry on playing: Wilkins played on into his 40s at QPR and it was there he was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis

“Carry on playing: Wilkins played on into his 40s at QPR and it was there he was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis”



‘There was a little kerfuffle going on when I walked into the dressing room. I asked to sit in because  Carlo’s English was still improving and to my mind we just had a  couple of words. But, like I say, it’s the only explanation I have for what happened.

‘I’ve always enjoyed a night out but I’ve never had a drink problem.

‘After I lost the Chelsea job it had a huge impact on me. If you’d asked me to take the Under 11s I wouldn’t have had the confidence to say yes.’

It would prove to be the start of a three-year spell away from  football for Wilkins, and the longer he remained on the  outside the more he struggled.


Good times: Wilkins helped Chelsea win the FA Cup under caretaker manager Guus Hiddink in 2009

“Good times: Wilkins helped Chelsea win the FA Cup under caretaker manager Guus Hiddink in 2009″

In May 2012, he was stopped in his car near his Surrey home, three times over the legal limit. ‘The alcohol fuelled depression and vice-versa,’ he says. ‘They were linked. No two ways about it. The driving problem came when I was suffering, big time.

‘I struggled and I’m not happy about that situation. I’m still paying for it. I disgraced myself, even though, yeah, it took the second one (drink-driving conviction) to kick me into touch.’



Dark days: Wilkins was charged with drink driving in 2012

“Dark days: Wilkins was charged with drink driving in 2012″

While Wilkins says he was ‘never suicidal’, this was his nadir. ‘I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning,’ he says. ‘I’d be moping about. Feeling like dirt. It’s hard being out of work. That’s the same for any man. Something was getting a grip of me and I didn’t like it. One day I sat down with Jackie and the kids.

‘They said, “You’re so down, you need help”. The drink-driving pushed me in to Sporting Chance. I said, “OK, I’ve made a real mug of myself, and you”. That was the bit I really struggled with. What I’d put them through. Horrendous.

‘I’d let myself down. I’d let my family down. And I had to do something about it. So I took myself out of their lives for a month and went to some wonderful people.’

Founded 14 years ago by former Arsenal and England defender Tony Adams and Peter Kay, who died suddenly last year, Sporting Chance provides care and treatment for athletes who suffer from mental and addictive problems. ‘The job they do, the honesty they get out of you to help you overcome your problems, is amazing,’ says Wilkins.

‘I went in there for a month and I came out a better bloke. I felt much more solid about myself and that is down to them. I still see my  therapist once a week, to keep me on the straight and narrow. But Sporting Chance gave me the tools to cope.

‘I don’t think it’s uncommon that men struggle with these problems. We’re just not very good at  admitting it. One of the things I learnt, coming out of Sporting Chance, was the discipline you need to retain in your life and the triggers that might lead to you being in a place you don’t want to be. You learn how to cope with certain situations.

‘I visited Alcoholics Anonymous. I visited Narcotics Anonymous. At Sporting Chance they take you to all the different groups so you get to hear what they’ve got to say and you see how, in lots of cases, people get themselves so down they end up in those situations. 

‘I needed to get in there and suss out what was going on with me. And since I came out I’ve been so much more positive than I had been for a long, long period. It’s why I’m not happy about the accusation that has been levelled at me concerning last week.’

He nevertheless insists he does not want to dwell on the more  negative aspects of his brief time at Fulham. He also insists he feels no animosity towards the club. ‘I think it’s fair to say me and Fulham are not a good fit,’ he says. ‘I was first there with Kevin (Keegan) and I lasted seven months. This time I’ve lasted just over a month.

‘Two stints. Little more than eight months. So I don’t think I’ll go for a third term. But I feel no anger towards them. Rene brought me back into football, and I greatly appreciate that, but it was always dependent on it working. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult, even though the lads worked so hard, and now the new manager wants his own people in. That’s football.


First time around: Wilkins lasted seven months at Fulham

“Not a good fit: Wilkins lasted just eight months at Fulham over two spells at the club”


‘I bought two season tickets at Fulham in October and I will keep watching them. Just as I’ll be at Chelsea this weekend to see their game. I have four season tickets there.

‘And I’d now like to help others with the problems I’ve had. I don’t want  anyone to feel sorry for me, because I’ve made mistakes. Not least with the drink-driving. But I just want people to understand what some of us are going through. What the man on the street might be going through but can’t tell his mates because he’s too macho to do it.

‘I’ve got close friends who only now are discovering this about me. There’s a goalkeeping coach, a very dear friend of mine, who called me an hour ago. This is a fella who would rip a bear’s head off. He said he’s been suffering from colitis for the last seven years. He said, “Why didn’t you tell me about it?” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me!?”

Here to help: Wilkins is keen to help others who are suffering like him

“Here to help: Wilkins is keen to help others who are suffering like him”

‘Men don’t talk about this stuff but we have to accept sometimes that we are fragile. Maybe I could now work with people with the same problems I’ve endured.

‘I’m hoping, by talking to you today, that I can keep working. In the media, perhaps. I’d love to continue with the media. Whether the media want me to continue is another matter but I hope that’s the case. I’d also love another job in football although I realise I’m back in the queue now.’

At home there’s more security.  ‘That’s when I have to remind myself that I’m actually very lucky already,’ he says. ‘This morning I was with my grandson and I have to remember that the family comes first and the job comes second.

‘Unfortunately we sometimes get that mixed up. I certainly did.’


For full article by Matt Lawton in the www.dailymail.co.uk please (CLICK HERE)

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