Former Stevenage football captain who 'conquered' Norway as manager passes away

PUBLISHED: 13:12 01 February 2019

Ray Freeman during his time managing in Norway. Picture: Supplied by Pete Bassett

Ray Freeman during his time managing in Norway. Picture: Supplied by Pete Bassett

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The captain of a former Stevenage football team who ‘conquered’ Norway as a manager has died.

Ray Freeman (second right, back row) with Stevenage Town Football Club. Picture: Supplied by Pete BassettRay Freeman (second right, back row) with Stevenage Town Football Club. Picture: Supplied by Pete Bassett

Ray Freeman passed away on Sunday, January 27 at the age of 74, having forged a successful career across the globe both on and off the pitch.

After joining Stevenage Town Football Club – the town’s first football side – from Cambridge United in 1963, Ray became a crucial member of the team.

Playing as what was known at the time as a left-half – or a left-midfielder in modern footballing terms – he earned praise from local newspapers for his tenacious style of play.

Ray helped the club to third place in the Southern League Division One and promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in the 1966/67 season, before taking the captain’s armband for the following campaign.

Ray Freeman (wearing number five, second left, third row) during his time with American club San Diego Torros. Picture: Supplied by Pete BassettRay Freeman (wearing number five, second left, third row) during his time with American club San Diego Torros. Picture: Supplied by Pete Bassett

The club finished 18th in the 67/68 season, one place ahead of Burton Albion who now play in the third-tier of English football.

Stevenage Town folded at the end of that season, and Ray decided to follow manager George Curtis to American side the San Diego Toros.

He won the North American Soccer League in his single season there, playing alongside legendary Brazilian forward Vava – the first player score in two World Cup finals.

He returned to England in 1971, but his playing career was ended when he broke his leg while representing Romford.

A newspaper article on Ray Freeman. Picture: Supplied by Pete BassettA newspaper article on Ray Freeman. Picture: Supplied by Pete Bassett

The following year, aged just 27, Ray took up the role as manager of Norwegian side Brann.

In his first season at the Bergen club, he guided them to their first Norwegian Cup in 47 years as they beat Rosenborg 1-0 in the final.

News of the success travelled back to England, with a headline in football magazine Goal reading: “An unknown Briton has conquered Norway”.

He also earned the nickname Madman of Bergen during his time there because of his touchline antics.

In later years, he would leave football, instead working in the wine industry and going on to set up his own antiques dealership.

Paying tribute, his grandson Louie said: “Ray was a very kind and gentle man. He had five children with his loving wife Liz and seven grandchildren.

“He was an inspiration to those around him with his determination to achieve – which was based firmly in his competitive footballing nature.

“He will be sorely missed by them all, and remembered as a warm, loving man who, without fail, saw the best in everyone and everything.”

Ray’s funeral will be held on Monday, February 18, at 12pm in Teversham All Saints Church.

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