Ray Wilkins in 1979

When Wilkins faced Maradona at Old Trafford

Saturday 04 April 2020 05:00

Ray Wilkins, who passed away two years ago today, will always be fondly remembered at Manchester United and in football generally.

After making his name with Chelsea, the consummate midfielder joined the Reds in the summer of 1979 and went on to make 194 appearances, scoring 10 goals, before being transferred to Italian giants AC Milan in 1984. He proceeded to give service to several clubs, including Paris St Germain, Rangers, Queens Park Rangers and Hibernian. Ray also represented England 84 times at senior level.

In this archive feature published in United Review in 2011, Wilkins reflected on one of his favourite nights in a red shirt.


I was lucky to have a long career in football and to play in some massive matches, but I have never experienced a night like the one when we beat Barcelona 3-0 at Old Trafford.

We had lost 2-0 at the Nou Camp where Barça had hammered us, but we were looking forward to the return in the hope of turning things round.

However, there was some trepidation as they were so gifted, with players such as Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster.

Classic match: United 3 Barcelona 0 Video

Classic match: United 3 Barcelona 0

Today, we’re reliving one of the Reds’ greatest-ever European comebacks, against Barcelona in the Cup Winners' Cup…

European nights under the floodlights against foreign teams are always special, but this game in the quarter-final of the European Cup Winners' Cup stood out because of the calibre of opposition.

The odds were stacked against us but, with the help of a near-60,000 crowd, the atmosphere was electric – we managed to claw it back after an unbelievable night of tension.

Our manager Ron Atkinson was renowned for his motivational skills. He told us we had nothing to lose and to go out and give it our best.

Ron gave us belief that apart from needing three goals, we could also make sure we kept a clean sheet. An away goal would have put us under intense pressure, so not conceding was as important as scoring that night.

Young defender Graeme Hogg came in for the injured Gordon McQueen for both legs of the tie and did remarkably well. I can still remember the goals vividly.

Norman Whiteside nodded on my corner for Bryan Robson to score with a diving header at the far post for our opener. We then scored twice in three minutes early in the second half. 

I ought to have scored the aggregate equaliser but scuffed my shot, which came back off their keeper [Javier Urruticoechea] and Robbo slotted home to make it 2-2 overall.

When Frank Stapleton banged home our third, the noise was incredible – I will never forget that as it was really something to behold.

Maradona then had a last-minute free-kick that just flew the wrong side of the post. Thankfully, we held on for what still ranks as one of the club's finest victories over two legs.

My only disappointment that night was that I had been booked for a foul on Schuster, and missed the first leg of the semi-final against Juventus at Old Trafford.

I had to mark him, and he was strong and deceptively quick for a big guy and one of the world's top midfielders at that time.

Ray on Schuster

"I had to mark him, and he was strong and deceptively quick for a big guy and one of the world's top midfielders at that time."

As for Maradona? He was a genius. You could put him in any good team and they would become a great side. He was coming towards his peak during his time at the Nou Camp, in what was a strong Barcelona side.

Still, when you assess the quality of the opposition we beat that night, it makes the victory much more gratifying.

This piece first appeared in United Review, the official match programme at Old Trafford, in 2011.

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