Almost every picture of Raymondo features him grinning like a cat that’s been appointed chief taster at Fishy McFishy’s Fish Stick Emporium. Somehow, his expression looks Essex. His face sings out Essex. What is that? How is that? Something to do with the cheeky grin and the pinkish orange skin? Eyes have an almost manically happy intensity to them.
The long curly locks of old have sadly been swept up by the hairdresser’s extra wide brush of time and he’s thickened out a little, but is ageing well and still looks in good shape for a man who must eat his fair share of dinners in the course of telling stories about tarring and feathering Merse before an away game at Elland Road.
Pictures also show a man who, by and large, simply wears the same clothes he’s always worn, only two sizes bigger. As you know, I think ‘get a look and stick with it until you’re dead’ is as good a way to get you through life as any. So I admire such constancy. Most of his clothes look like you could have bought them from Topman any time from 1987-1997 and are none the worse for that.
Hailing from Romford, or “Womford”, to give it it’s more accurate colloquial expression.
Foreign lads is “fowhen ledz”. Any opportunity to turn an ‘r’ into a ‘w’ is taken; ‘s’s are often zeds when at the end of sentence.
In the age of the rising inflective, the ridiculous wholesale takeover of starting every sentence with “so…” and the general blanding out of all our regional differences, as everyone ends up talking like someone from Australia, the San Fernando Valley or Jamaica, Ray’s voice needs celebrating. It really is Pwoper.
I can’t work out if Romford is in Essex or Greater London these days but it certainly used to be fackin’ Essex, squire, are you ‘avin a larf? ‘Course it fackin’ was, what do you take me for, a fackin’ Billiercay Dickie, you nonce?
An unstoppable story-teller, he seems to have a wealth of anecdotes from his playing days, all of which are delivered with the smooth pace of an experienced after-dinner merchant and usually involve practical jokes, eating, drinking and falling over followed by a collision with something moving, be it a car, golf cart, leopard or nun.
Hits and misses
Obviously, he had a stellar (and Stella) career and forged himself that most coveted of things; an ironic but affectionate nickname with a definite article: The Romford Pele. Was one of The Invincibles. Capped for his country 10 times, and played for the glorious working class institution that is Middlesbrough FC – at least until he made reference to Gareth Southgate’s nose.
Since retiring has cut himself a nice little earner as a good vibes pundit-raconteur, mostly on talkSPORT and the Sky sofas, telling tales that end with “…and before you know it I’ve had ten pints of Guinness.” Actual views on current football matters are less interesting. You find yourself wanting him to stop talking about the current game and get back to the days when the boys shaved a goat and told Merse it was a new overseas signing.
His website says he is available for, presumably in a strict order of preference: After Dinner Speaking, Luncheons, Corporate Events, Personal Appearances, Golf Days. Some classic ex-pro lifestyle choices. Anyone grafting a living out of this palette of leisure activities need never buy themselves a meal.
A big miss might be said to be his legendary divorce, the details of which are too byzantine to go into here, but needless to say, it ended up in the Guinness Book of Records and has been added to Ray’s armoury of banterous stories with which to regale any audience who is paying. He really is a lesson in how to turn lemons into lemonade, or in Romford perhaps, fizzy water into Prosecco.
Big club bias
Oh yeah, still bloody loves the Arsenal, don’t he? The Essex cash-for-flash merchant loves the bright lights of the big time and still bathes in it at any opportunity. That being said, the boy has a down-to-earth quality to him that ensures he’s always endearing and has not an ounce of lording it about himself.
Loved or loathed?
Has many admirers and it’s not hard to see why. He just seems great fun. And while it’s easy to imagine Paul Merson thinks he’s the cleverest man what he’s ever met, Jeff, no-one would be putting him forward for a place at football’s Brains Trust, but if you wanted to go out on the lash with any pundit, Ray would be towards the top of the list. You’d not have to do any work, Ray would just hold forth about Wenger getting caught up in a ball net, or dropping apple pie on the floor, or Bouldy eating nine dinners, or the time Merse dropped a vicar out of a helicopter dressed as Judy Garland. Just kick back and let the boy riff, I say.
Seems very good-natured and without any side to him. A classic working class boy makes good story, you’d have to be churlish not find the joy with which he seems to have lived his life attractive. Very definitely “one of the boys” but not overly boorish with it and my social media research very much reflects this.
‘I got a birthday card signed by him once. Therefore he is beyond criticism.’
‘I like the cut of his jib but worry he’s the Alan Brazil for millennials.’
‘Always find him weirdly articulate, at odds with the perception. Often comes across as opposite to Alan Brazil. Which is good.’
‘Won’t give you in depth analysis but always fun.’
‘In the pantheons of PFM, he’s one of their ‘young bucks’ he goes to the offie to buy Jeff, Reidy & Merse’s diamond white.’
‘On a PFM night out it’s Ray who starts off karaoke, gets the first round in & chats up Miss Pontins Great Yarmouth 1993.’
‘I feel like I know what he’s going to say before he does. Boring and predictable.’
‘He sounds untrustworthy, like someone who would sell you a timber shed but actually deliver one made of balsa wood.’
‘Nothing Reidy could throw at him would phase him…as a former member of the Arsenal Tuesday Club…he’d lap it up. Literally.’
‘You wouldn’t be surprised if he told you he’d taken up art.’
‘Loves a cliché, arguably more than any other, often without thought. Comes across as a lovely fell though. No malice.’
‘As SW Essex as a badly made Fiesta in pointy shoes and a single stud earring.’
‘Proper Football Man in the sense it should mean. If you know what I mean. The acceptable face of Essex. Evokes coupon-kinship.’
‘I quite like Ray. Uber PFM but more the young buck keeping up with the big boys.’
‘Distilled essence of Talksport.’
‘I like him. The thinking man’s Paul Merson.’
‘Good pundit but he suffers from can’t be arsed to pronounce players names right syndrome.’
‘Is there a better PFM nickname than, “the Romford Pele”? Essex and everyone knows Pele was top, top drawer, Jeff.’
‘His voice sounds like it was rejected by Harry Enfield for a ‘cockneyest cockney bloke’ character for being too unrealistic.’
‘He’s actually surprisingly well informed. Obviously loves football and watches it a lot. I love that in an ex player.’
Proper Football Man?
An absolute poster boy for the institution of Proper Football Man whose life seems dedicated to the art of the banter. He has the full panoply of premium strength qualifications, right up to the bad divorce settlement and co-share in a pub. Once got fined by Arsene Wenger for being a stone overweight. Mmm, that’s how it should be. Was probably caused by eating all that pasta. It’s boiled wheat, Jeff. That’s just weird. What’s wrong with spaghetti ‘oops instead of pasta?’
Even has a beer named after his Romford Pele moniker. Sweet. You don’t see an Big Sam or Pards beer, do you? No. That’s because they’d be too bitter for public consumption.
The Tuesday Night Club, After Dinners, Golf Days, tales of heroic boozing, crashing a golf buggy on pre-season tours, fighting with a taxi driver in Hong Kong, paying a lawyer half a year’s wages to get you out of jail, rooming with Merse and gambling every day on everything, added into a great playing career and being a fans’ favourite; Ray may be the most PFM we’ve ever seen, boys.
Shame about his girly hair in the ’90s, but everyone is allowed one mistake, especially if it made you look like Charlie Dimmock. What do you mean you’d like to dig her trench, Chunky? Put the Joop down, lad.
The whole “short back and sides” thing with Eileen Drewery under Glenn Hoddle’s England tenure, which got him dropped by the England manager, only makes the boys purr more. Their idea of the laying on of hands is something very different, isn’t it, eh, Suzie Wong? Lovely little thing. The fact Ray has said about the grimacing ex-Spurs holy man, “He was a very good coach, but I was delighted when he got the sack”, will get him a very firm slap of congratulation on the back from the PFMs, in a Beefeater carvery on a Sunday afternoon.
However, despite being an uber PFM, he’s still very likeable, which isn’t something most PFMs care about, preferring to be feared or considered offensive by them PC bed-wetters. Indeed, it’s the only strike against Ray’s PFM credit rating. Lacks the chippy bitterness of the older PFM who thinks he’s being cheated out of birthright by foreigners being giving managerial jobs, and who hates the fact that everyone’s gone foreign these days, even though he must orbit those planets every day.
Obviously the liberal progressive always fears a Romford man’s ability to go all UKIP on your ass at the drop of a Top Hat at Ascot Ladies Day, but so far Ray has emerged unblemished from such cultural and political wars, despite seemingly infinite stories about “the fowhen ladz”.
Well settled at home, his days of seeking the attentions of Miss Cockles and Mussels Alive Alive O Body of 1985 are well behind him, but the chance of some shopping trolley racing action in a retail warehouse carpark would never be turned down after a night out at G Strings n Thongs, the infamous Upminster guitar and lingerie shop and night club. (Yeah, you know you’d go there)
One also suspects that a few pan-galactic gargle blasters from Reidy’s flask of oblivion would go down very well.
Beyond the lighted stage
Seems to have no interest in anything outside of The Golf & The Footy and possibly a couple of other sports. Theatre? Do me a faver. Poetry Slams? Fack me, no. Ballet? You are ‘avin a fackin larf intcha? It’s bleedin’ art galleries and top top exhibitions of Italian Poor Art for me every time, then it’s round to Tony Adams’s gaff for some Buddhist mantras.
Romford Borough Council’s official motto is “Serve With Gladness” and that an seems entirely appropriate description of the ever-smiling Ray; a man who brings some slightly orange light into darkness.