Carshalton stars of the future given a boost by the visit of former Chelsea skipper
Chelsea legend Ray Wilkins MBE is hoping clubs such as Carshalton Athletic, with their dozens of young players, will produce the next Lionel Messi.
The former England international was at Colston Avenue last Saturday as part of the Robins’ reward for being named the FA charter community club of 2012 at county, regional and national level.
Wilkins oversaw the training of almost 100 youngsters on the Colston pitch, in a scene that made the former Chelsea skipper recall how his own footballing life began more than 40 years ago.
It would set the midfielder on a playing career that lasted 24 years and featured 84 international caps, and he is hoping the same will happen for the next generation at Carshalton.
“The FA charter awards are all about grassroots football in a community, and Carshalton was voted the best in that respect last year, which is magnificent,” the 56-year-old said.
“Where are we going to find the next Lionel Messi or Paul Gascoigne if we don’t have grassroots football?
“It is amazing how many people give up their time and energy to give the young boys and girls, as well as the disabled, coaching sessions in the set-up they have here.
“A lot of the kids here wouldn’t have a clue who I am. But they ask me who I’ve played for and I say so and so, and we get chatting and, if that acts as an inspiration, then that is what it is all about.
“The kids see the guys playing at Stamford Bridge and they want to be the next one. So, unless we have events like this, we will never get those players coming through.”
Ray Wilkins signs one of many autographs for the Carshalton youngsters
Wilkins’ career highlights include being given the captain’s armband at Chelsea in 1975, aged just 18, and going on to make 170 appearances for the Blues, scoring 30 goals.
Overall, he made more than 695 senior appearances for 11 clubs, including Manchester United, AC Milan and Glasgow Rangers, and he was shown just one red card.
But it all started as an 11-year-old at Middlesex side Hayes Spurs in 1967, where, in a set-up not dissimilar to the one he visited 45 years later, the future star’s talent was spotted.
Wilkins, nicknamed Butch, said: “I moved to play for Senrab in east London, so the Wanstead Flats, Hackney Marsh and St James’ Park used to be my domain on a Sunday morning. All I ever wanted to do was play football.
“I had a ball at Chelsea. I was there at 10 and I left at 21, but I can honestly say that in the downs, when we were relegated, we always found something to have a chuckle about.
“But my career highlight was captaining England for the first time. To be told you’re going to captain your country was remarkable – when Bobby [Robson] told me, I was flabbergasted. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
However, it was while playing for England in the 1986 World Cup against Morocco that Wilkins would see red for the one and only time.
He said: “I got booked for a foul halfway through the first half. Then I was given offside and I threw the ball, I thought, into the ground in frustration.
“But, having seen it since, it does look like I threw it at the referee, so I got my just desserts.”
Nominations for the FA Community Awards, presented by McDonald’s, are open. To vote for a football coach, club and volunteer go to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/awards.