Born in York on 23rd September 1945, rugby was in his blood, rugby the very air he breathed from being a mere toddler, his Uncle Eric, a winger with the same penchant for hurdling, returning in triumph from the 1946 Tour and bringing a gleaming winner’s medal to show him the following May, after Bradford Northern had beaten Leeds at Wembley. Grandad, Uncle Eric, the medal, Wembley, the Tour, Australia; perhaps one day! Schooldays could scarcely have been more encouraging, the successful Tang Hall teams proving to be the ideal seed-bed for the young hopeful’s sprouting talent, with selection for the City Boys the first rung on the ladder, before Heworth Junior R.L. Club took over as a ‘finishing school’ of proven merit. So it was, in February 1963, that the 17-year-old signed for Leeds, initially as an amateur, on the recommendation of Billy Riley, the former York serum-half.
Should it be No 7 or No 13? For all he was to play the more frequently at serum-half during his early apprenticeship, it was at loose-forward that he made his 1st Team debut against Hull at Headingley in November ’63, in cicumstances that were daunting to say the least, since the Loiners had been humiliated in all but one of their previous eight matches. Rarely, therefore, can a rousing victory by 30 points to 7 have been more welcome; or of greater significance, with 16-year-old serum-half, Barry Seabourne, scoring twice in only his second game, and Ray touching down for another, in addition to revealing distinct promise. So that, with 18-year-old Mick Shoebottom, a stand-off or serum-half, also in the running, the means of Headingley’s ultimate salvation were on the assembly lines, providing the management could arrive at the best combination, and subject, of course, to the constraints of patience, until such time as physical maturity matched up to youthful exuberance and skill.
Loose-forward it was! Seizing his opportunity, when Harry Poole returned from the 1966 Tour with a troublesome knee injury, Ray became more or less a fixture, making 33 appearances during the season, and developing his technique match by match as the Loiners emerged from a five-year tunnel of despair, to win both the League Leaders Trophy and the Yorkshire Championship.
Came 1967-68, came the dawning of the millenium, with the Shoebottom Seabourne- Batten triangle an unfailing source of inspiration as Leeds served up vintage rugby of imperial splendour, and deservedly found the fabulous crock of silver (not gold!) at the foot of Headingley’s rainbow-arch of redemption. League Leaders on four more occasions, and Yorkshire Champions on three, of the fifteen Finals they contested between 1967 and 1975, Ray played in all but three (injuries ruling him out of the R.L. Cup in 1971, as well as the John Player and R.L. Championship in 1973), and twice only tasted the dregs of defeat.
Utterly reliable as he was in defence, with an uncanny ability to read the game and thus nip danger in the bud, on attack he was in his element around the serum and at play-the-ball, bamboozling flustered opponents with his sleight-of-hand, before slipping surreptitious passes to those colleagues best placed to profit, with record-breaking Bob Haigh the chief beneficiary in 1970-71. Not that Ray was averse to selling a fine line in dummies on his own account from time to time, as his tally of eighty tries confirms.
As for the highlights of his career in Leeds colours, the 1968 Wembley Final must surely have held a special place in his heart, despite the deluge, for it was just twenty-one years earlier that his uncle had brought the winner’s medal to show him. His dreams were coming true! Perhaps he’d go on Tour, too, like Grandad in 1910 and Uncle Eric in 1946! Alas, a contemporary of the likes of Mal Reilly, Duggie Laughton, Geoff Nicholls and Steve Norton, it was not to be, his representative honours being limited to just four appearances with Yorkshire, and three each for England and Great Britain, so one can well imagine his dismay when Mick Shoebottom, Barry Seabourne, John Atkinson, Alan Smith and Syd Hynes were all selected for the 1970 Tour, with Ray the odd man out. Yet, master-craftsman that he was, he can recall with justifiable pride the 1st Test at Wembley in 1973, when his guile and subtle distribution inspired a resounding victory over Australia by 21 points to 12.
Moving up to 2nd row and prop in his final season, Ray’s retirement in April 1976, with 420 appearances to his credit, signalled the end of an era. Chief coach at Wakefield’s Belle Vue from April 1980 to May 1981, and again from May 1982 to July 1983, he is currently a Director of the York Club and a member of the Rugby League Council.