Ray Ruffett: 1924-2021

Cambridge United are saddened to learn the passing of former player, Ray Ruffett on the 29th September...

Ray Ruffett, who was The U's oldest surviving former player, died on September 29, at the age of 97.

A skilful and influential ball-playing wing half, Ray signed for Abbey United in 1950 and stayed on as the club became Cambridge United the following year. Over five seasons he turned out 200 times for the U’s, contributing four goals and captaining the side from 1951 onwards.

Born in Luton on 24 July 1924, Ray, who appeared for England schoolboys, played for the town’s club during World War II before signing up for the army. Flying with the 6th Airborne Division’s glider-borne infantry forces, he saw action in Greece, in the Allies’ 1944 landings in Normandy and in the battle of the Rhine crossing in 1945. The savage fighting that formed these actions no doubt helped to equip him with the cool level-headedness that he later displayed on the football pitch.

Back at Kenilworth Road after demob, he waited a long time for his debut in the Football League’s Second Division. It arrived in April 1949, when the Hatters lost 3-1 at Bury – and Ray suffered an injury that limited further opportunities.

He signed for Bill Whittaker’s Abbey United, then playing in the United Counties League, in the summer of 1950 at the age of 26, and made his first league appearance in a home draw against Corby Town. Soon he was a vital member of a stern but creative half-back line alongside Whittaker and Johnny Percival.

An ever-present in the 1951-52 season, during which Abbey United became Cambridge United and stepped up to the Eastern Counties League. By now he was one of the fledgling professional club’s highest-paid players, earning £6 a week to complement the wages he earned as a commercial traveller.

Player-manager Whittaker had no qualms about handing Ray the responsibility of captaining the side: he was, said the boss, the best man for the job – a shrewd and experienced tactician who was liked and respected by his teammates.

He was seldom missing from the first team as his United career progressed, and the accolades kept coming. The Cambridge Daily News reporter was once moved to write: ‘Ray Ruffett moved about the field like a Roman emperor, calm, scientific, throwing out long passes to both wings with such an air of confident ease that I expected him at any minute to polish his nails.’

Ray played a key role in the thrilling FA Cup runs of 1953 and 1954, when the U’s beat Football League opposition for the first time, although the ECL title proved elusive. After a 1954-55 season in which United had exited the Cup in unfortunate circumstances at Torquay, he decided not to sign on for another season, preferring to join Biggleswade Town and shorten his commute from his home in Luton. No longer would he have to endure interminable bus-train-bus journeys via Hitchin to reach Newmarket Road.

Apart from his years in the army, Ray spent his entire life in Luton. It was there that he died following a battle with cancer.

The club and the former players’ association extend their condolences to the family and friends of a much-loved friend and colleague.