The following tribute to the late Ray Jones appeared in the Ealing Gazette on 31st August 2007:
QPR will mourn the tragic death of teenage striker Ray Jones when they play Southampton this weekend. Jones, who was killed in a car accident on Saturday, would have celebrated his 19th birthday this week.
His death has inevitably hit the club hard and, following the postponement of last Saturday’s game at Burnley, a return to action at an emotion-filled Loftus Road will not be easy for Rangers’ players. All of them will wear shirts with Jones’ name on the back rather than their own – a one-off tribute authorised by the Football League.
Manager John Gregory said: “We decided it would be an appropriate way of publicly remembering Ray. He was a fantastic person with a big heart. He had his best footballing years in front of him. He was already a hero among QPR fans and had the potential to go on and become a legend.”
Rangers’ number 31 shirt, which Jones scored six goals while wearing last season will be retired permanently as a mark of respect. Floral tributes have been laid outside QPR’s stadium in South Africa Road all week and thousands of messages have been posted on various internet forums as fans struggle to come to terms with the tragedy.
Jones, an England U19 international, looked destined for a great career and impressed when he broke into the first team last season. He attracted interest from a number of Premier League clubs. Wigan were the most seriously interested and were monitoring his progress constantly, while Fulham made a speculative attempt to sign him before he agreed a new contract with QPR last season.
This week a number of those closest to Jones said they were too upset to comment on the tragic news. But his former coach at Rangers, Joe Gallen, gave a hugely emotional tribute. Gallen helped bring Jones to QPR along with the club’s then recruitment officer, John O’Brien. At the time, Jones was playing park football.
Gallen then coached Jones at youth level and remained close to him. The pair last spoke just days before Jones was killed. “We spent loads of time together and he was fantastic,” Gallen said. “He trained hard and would always be coming to me and saying ‘Joe, let’s do more training. Let’s practice finishing.’ Gary Waddock gave Ray his first-team debut when he was still a second-year apprentice.”
“When he scored his first senior goal, I said to Ray afterwards that it’d be the first of many. I was totally convinced that it would be. And when he made his international debut for the England U19s, when he was still just 17, I looked at him and felt I’d be seeing a lot more of him in an England shirt.”
“I took his mum to that game. I was so proud of him and so proud of her. I was always convinced that once he got through the teenage years and into the early 20s, he’d be absolutely unstoppable. I know others in football felt the same.”
“Compare Ray at 17 or 18 with Peter Crouch at 19. When Peter first came back to QPR from Tottenham he struggled a bit. Ray was stronger than Peter at a younger age, had a brilliant touch for such a big guy and was scoring goals at an even younger age for QPR than Peter did. I used to say to Ray he was better than Crouch was at his age. And look at Crouch now – playing for Liverpool and England. Ray was on the same career path. There was never any doubt in my mind that Ray was destined for the top. Not just the Premier League, but the international stage as well. That’s how good he was.”
Jones’ passing comes 15 months after promising QPR youth team player Kiyan Prince was stabbed to death outside his school. For Gallen, who also coached Kiyan, news of Jones’ accident was hard to take in. “When I got the call on Saturday telling me what had happened to Ray, it was like the similar, terrible call I received about Kiyan last year. It knocked me for six,” he said. “I just feel so awful for his family and what they must be going through.”
Gallen added: “Ray was a credit to himself and his family, and he will be sadly missed and fondly remembered, I was so proud of him.”
I was travelling up the motorway to Burnley with Dave Llewellyn and Roger Stokes when Jbee called me on my mobile to give me the terrible news. We pulled off at the next Motorway Services to gather our thoughts and emotions before eventually turning back. When I got home I remember watching a very moving tribute on ‘You Tube’ over and over again.
Ray Jones will never be forgotten by his QPR family.