I initially began writing this before Ray left the club to assist Roy Hodgson with the England squad. It’s taken a while, maybe I missed the boat a little in marking his departure but an International break seems like the right time to finally publish it. It started off as a kind of top five (people who know me will understand my preference for that format) and I retained the basic structure but sometime in the writing it morphed into something huge. I hope it’s not telling you too much you already know it’s intended as a tribute to a man who has been a huge part of the club and who I think deserves a bit of credit. Hats off to Ray!
Ray Lewington was, in one form or another, involved with Fulham almost the entire time I’ve supported the club. Joining as a player in the early eighties he moved into coaching before becoming manager during some of our most difficult years. After a break in which he enhanced his coaching and managerial credentials at Crystal Palace, Brentford and Watford he returned to the backroom staff under Chris Coleman and during that post-Sanchez and post-Hodgson periods Ray again stepped in to keep the club stable. Having been offered a “job for life” by Al Fayed in recognition of his efforts he was shifted around various backroom posts. In the end his recent elevation to the England staff is perhaps the best reward for his many years loyal service.
1. Player (1980-1985) – Despite having played 85 times for our less erudite neighbours Ray did not take long to win the Fulham faithful over. Arriving at the end of the 1979-81 season, after a short spell at Wimbledon, he proved himself a willing worker who enabled other players to shine. He was a fiercely competitive midfielder, a consistent performer who rarely took the limelight but always gave his best.
He was too late to prevent Fulham’s slide into relegation but was a mainstay in the young side that Malcolm MacDonald put together and his experience helped us win promotion back to the Second Division in 1982. The ’82-’83 season saw us close to achieving back to back promotions and reaching the top flight for the first time since the late sixties. Lewington was an ever present in the league that season and remained a first team regular as that side was sold off player by player. Ray stayed longer than most but was eventually sold to Sheffield United in July of 1985.
2. Player/Manager (1986-1990) – Less than a year later Ray was back at Fulham. Following relegation to the Third Division, Ray Harford was sacked and the club came under new ownership with dubious intentions. Lewington stepped into the breach and received something of a baptism of fire into the world of management. Early results were mixed and included that famous 10-0 thrashing at Anfield in the League Cup. Eventually it would emerge that the owners Marler Estates intended to capitalise on the value of the land at Craven Cottage by merging the club with QPR and developing flats on the ground. It was a dark period in our history and throughout it Lewington was a stabilising influence. Having flirted with relegation in his first season we steadily improved.
Jimmy Hill led a takeover in 1987 and though we still did not own the ground we had received a stay of execution as a club. Results for Lewington began to improve and in 1989 we achieved our first appearance in an end of season playoff. After a narrow defeat in the first leg at Bristol Rovers we were thumped 4-0 at the cottage. The following season Rovers would win the league whilst Fulham struggled and avoided relegation by a single point.
3. Caretaker Manager (1991,1994) – Alan Dicks took over in the summer of 1990 and Lewington was effectively demoted to first team coach. Dicks benefited from an influx of money from the ongoing ground ownership situation and, according to Dennis Turner in 1995’s “Fulham – The Team” managed the worst playing record in our history with “the most expensively assembled Fulham side ever”. Dicks had made a complete hash of the job and we missed relegation that year by two points and a huge slice of luck (league restructuring meant only three sides went down). Dicks survived through to the following November (despite the regular, and unintentionally hilarious, chants of “Dicks Out!”) but finally lost his job following a 2-0 home defeat to non-league Hayes in the FA Cup.
Ray stepped in as caretaker for the remainder of the year until Don Mackay’s arrival in the New Year. MacKay initially appeared to have turned things around but with nine games to go in the ‘93-94 season Fulham were 17th and in trouble again. A particularly chaotic performance at Leyton Orient saw Jimmy Hill storm into the dressing room at half time and relieve MacKay of his duties. Lewington was given his second opportunity as caretaker manager but could not ignite the required change in form and, despite an enjoyable 2-1 win at Brentford along the way, a 2-1 loss at Swansea saw us relegated to the lowest tier for the first time in our history.
4. Reserve/Assistant Manager (2005-2010) – It was the right thing for Ray to leave the club when he did, a fresh start was needed not just for the club but also for Ray. He had spells at Crystal Palace, Brentford and Watford, all clubs where he began as a coach and ended up in either a caretaker or permanent role as manager. At Watford it seemed he’d done little wrong, achieving consistent mid-table finishes amidst familiar financial difficulties. He returned to the Cottage with Watford for a pre-season friendly in 2004 and received a very warm welcome. The same season, following a run of poor results, he was sacked. At the start of the next season Chris Coleman, perhaps beginning to feel a bit of pressure himself, brought Lew back to the club as Reserve Team Manager.
Following Coleman’s dismissal towards the end of the 2006-07 season Ray stepped into a first team coaching role alongside caretaker manager Lawrie Sanchez. When things imploded for Sanchez it was Ray the club turned to for his third spell as caretaker manager. He kept the ship steady over the Christmas period and, despite a drubbing at Spurs, picked up important points at home to Wigan and away at Birmingham.
When Roy Hodgson arrived he was happy to work with the existing coaching team and Lewington became assistant manager. Ray would make a big contribution to the success we achieved in this period and it must have been incredible for him to be involved with a Fulham side that reached the Europa League final a mere 16 years after he’d seen us drop into the basement division. Once again he was called into action as caretaker manager following Hodgson’s departure to Liverpool. He faced no competitive games during that period but undoubtedly played an important role in maintaining morale and ensuring the team was ready for the start of the season.
5. Various coaching roles (2010 – 2012) – Mark Hughes appointment saw him turn up with a veritable menagerie of assistants and coaches. Despite this, and thanks to Al Fayed’s recognition, Lew remained as a first team coach. However as the season progressed it was clear that Ray wasn’t going to have much of a role on match days and he was eventually dropped from the main coaching team and given the job of leading the club’s Youth Development Program.
One of Maarten Jol’s first acts after replacing Hughes in June 2011 was to reinstate Lewington as First Team Coach in June 2011. Jol said at the time “We started off with him because he’s a main figure here, at this club, he knows everything”. More recently it seems they may have fallen out, yet again Ray was dropped to Reserve Team manager and Billy McKinlay replaced him on the bench.
When Roy requested Lewington to help him with the England job there was a mini tug-of-love. Perhaps that had more to do with Al Fayed feeling slighted by Hodgson than any desire to really hold back Ray but compensation was agreed and Lew now finds himself at the very top of the pile again.
As a player between 1979 and 1990 he made over 270 appearances and scored 24 goals. As a manager he was in charge for over 200 matches in five separate spells during which he achieved 70 wins, 59 draws and 81 loses. He won’t be remembered as one of our most successful but he certainly deserves to be considered one of our most dedicated.
A Fulham legend in any sense of the word.