HONOURS even, The Times publishes the New Year gongs in their entirety, and in the same titchy print whatever the accolade.

It was on a southbound train on the morning of Saturday, December 29 that, as last week’s column noted, the name of Raye Belford Wilkinson – services to young racing stable workers and veterans – leaped from the page as effortlessly as Red Rum clearing Becher’s.

It was 9.30am on New Year’s Eve, however, before we were able to ring with congratulations. “He’s out taking an injured stable lad to the doctor’s,” said Kathleen, his wife.

Raye’s 76, his MBE wonderfully well merited, his efforts unpaid and unending.

Traditionally the stable lads and lasses have been the equine dogsbodies, the menials and the muckers out. For 40 years and more, Raye has been mucking in.

He was also a half-decent footballer and has long been a football scout – hence today’s headline – though there’s little chance of royal recognition for the touchline troubadours.

We are old friends. On January 2 we sit eating Christmas cake in his front parlour in Wensleydale, tireless telephone still seeking his counsel.

Raye, the most unassuming of men, had only decided to accept the honour on the last day allowed by Downing Street. “Honestly,” he says, “you could have knocked me down with a feather.”

He was born in Barnoldswick, near Skipton, then in Yorkshire but now annexed by the House of Lancaster, an all-round sportsman good enough to win cross-country titles and to have football trials with Aberdeen and spend two years with Preston North End.

His sole appearance for Aberdeen Reserves, named as Newman – “they called all the triallists Newman” – brought 3-1 defeat at Dunfermline. “After that I was never going to get a contract as long as there was a hole in my head,” he says.

Instead he became a social worker, introduced to racing – “I didn’t know one end of a horse from another” – when his cricket captain at Gargrave in 1966 suggested he watch out for Sundown Sky, trained by Ernie Weymes at Middleham.

Soon afterwards, one of his young clients expressed interest in becoming a stable lad. “I didn’t know anyone in racing but felt like I knew Ernie Weymes. The horse had won at Beverley so I rang him and to his great credit he agreed to give the lad a three-week trail.

“When I went back to see how he was getting on, the head lad asked if I had a dozen more where he came from. He even made his own bed, stable lads didn’t do that. Ernie remains my best friend in racing.”

In 1974 he joined North Yorkshire County Council’s social services department, based in the Catterick area. Three years later he wrote to the Jockey Club, suggesting that they might look at the life of stable staff – low wages, split shifts, oft-cantankerous employers, the ever-present danger of a kick in the head and usually far from home.

The rest, says Raye, is history.

In 1978 he was appointed northern and Scottish organiser for the Stable Lads Welfare Trust, later Racing Welfare – “financially it wasn’t the brightest move” – based in a broom cupboard office at the town hall in Middleham, the heart of racing country.

Even that arms-width empire might have been bigger than when he worked from beneath the stairs at home.

“There’d been support for the stable staff, mainly other sporting activities, but not really any welfare,” he recalls. “The only notion of welfare was usually provided by the trainers’ wives.”

Some trainers were suspicious, not least the infamously irascible Captain Neville Crump, another Middleham man. “I was in no sense a union man but once at Catterick he gave me the rollocking of my life because I’d politely written to ask if one of his lads could have a day off to play football.

“The effing and blinding were terrible. He said the lad could go to effing Afghanistan so long as he didn’t expect to be paid for it.”

The town hall cupboard became a stable staff sanctuary, nonetheless. “I was a great believer in working late, leaving the light on. It was a time when things often came to a head, going back to their digs after a long day, often in the dark.”

One evening a stable girl looked in at 6.30pm, pretty much at the end of her halter. “She was in a desperate state,” Raye recalls. “I did what I could and now she’s married, has three youngsters and is taking a university course. I hope I helped.”

He also helped organise numerous sporting events, for both the benefit and involvement of stable workers, particularly golf days and a national boxing tournament. Many further benefitted from the racing industry’s wealthy backers.

A new Rolls Royce was offered as top prize in a £200-a-ticket raffle. “People were very good,” says Raye. “They quickly sold out, of course.”

Probably only his wife would know the hours he’s worked, the sacrifices he’s made or the extra miles he’s travelled. One morning he left home at 6am, had appointments in Edinburgh, Perth and Ayr and arrived home at 3.30am next day.

Back in the office by nine? “Probably 9.30,” he says.

He resigned 11 years ago, unhappy with the direction the charity was taking – “we didn’t fall out” – still works voluntarily with stable staff like the lad with the stitches in his head. “He was lying down at the time, that’s quite usual. The doctor couldn’t take them all out because the wound hadn’t healed and he was due back in India on Thursday.”

He also personally sponsors an annual event at Ripon for jockeys who’ve never won a race – the trophy says “They can never take it away from you” – and when he won £2,000 in a contest for outstanding contributions to the sport at once gave the money to good causes.

Much has changed, not least that stable staff are now equally male and female. “When I started it was maybe one girl in ten. Now it’s a much more settled environment. Fifty years ago every stable lad in Middleham would be popped up on a Friday night and maybe looking for a fight.

“The racing world is different, but they still work very hard indeed. It’s a very skilful job – anyone can stack shelves at Tesco, not everyone can ride a racehorse.

“It’s still dangerous. I can think of six people who ended up paralysed in wheelchairs. One lad in Gateshead got murdered, shot. You have to deal with it.”

He and Kathleen live in Harmby, near Leyburn, views across the fields to Middleham and its miles, great acres, of yards.

“I’ve never regretted it. You ask social workers if they’d do the same thing if they could start again and nine out of ten would say they wouldn’t.

“From the moment that I took that first lad to Ernie’s I grew to love horses and the people who work with them,” he says. “Racing had this mystery about it; I’d even give up my holidays to come and muck out.”

In the winners’ enclosure at Buckingham Palace, he may find a kindred spirit.