Ian Wright is one of the greatest strikers to have ever played for Crystal Palace and Arsenal in a 13 year spell he will always be remembered for.
Wright enjoyed success with London clubs Crystal Palace and Arsenal, spending six years with the Eagles and seven years with the Gunners. With Arsenal, he won the Premier League title, both the major domestic cup competitions and the European Cup Winners Cup.
He played 581 league games, scoring 387 goals for seven clubs in Scotland and England, as well as earning 33 caps for the England national team.
Wright also played in the Premier League for West Ham United, the Scottish Premier League for Celtic and the Football League for Burnley and Nottingham Forest.
However, it wasn’t all glamorous for Wright as he had to endure a difficult childhood that almost made him fall out of love with football.
Wright revealed in an interview with the Players’ Tribune how he overcame his rough childhood, an abusive step-father and time in prison to become a professional footballer.
He also mentions the people that kept him going to fight his demons and realise his dream.
”I know a lot of people think of me as some happy-go-lucky guy,” Wright said.
”They see the gold tooth and the hat and think I must be joke, joke, joke, joke. But, I’ll be honest with you, it’s been hard to earn this smile.”
”For a large part of my life, I was angry. I was always angry.”
Wright’s father left hurriedly and left mother Nesta to raise a family in a one-bedroom house in Brockley, South London.
”That house wasn’t a good place for me, which is probably why I would stay outside kicking a tennis ball against a brick wall for hours on end,” Wright said.
Wright was also bullied by his older step-brother, but it was his step-father’s cruel nature that hurt him the most.
”He was a weed-smoking, gambling, coming-home-late, gambling-his-wages, womanising kind of guy,” Wright said.
”He was rough with my mum and rough with all of us kids. And I don’t know why, but he didn’t like me in particular.”
”One of the few things my brother and I looked forward to in the house was Match if the Day, and my step dad used to take that away from us – just because he could.”
“Depending on what mood he was in, he’d come into the bedroom just before it started and he’d say, ‘Turn around. Turn around to the wall.”
”We had to face the wall the whole time Match of the Day was on. And the really cruel thing was that we could still hear everything. It was awful. I would cry myself to sleep whenever he did it.”
Wright recalled primary school teacher Sydney Pigden, who taught him to read and write, plus Tony Davis and Harold Palmer, who ran the local football team Ten-Em-Bee.
”They used to come to my house to pick me up and drive me directly to training. I didn’t realise it at the time, but they were doing all they could to help me avoid getting in trouble with the police.”
“And then I blew it anyway and ended up in prison when I was 19.”
Wright spent two weeks in Chelmsford prison in 1982 for failing to pay driving fines and, having already been rejected by Brighton, quit football to become a labourer.
He married first wife Sharon and adopted her son, former Manchester City and Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips but the future still seemed bleak for Wright.
The Breakthrough: Crystal Palace
After playing for Bermondsey-based Sunday league club Ten-Em-Bee, he signed for semi-pro side Greenwich Borough in 1985 for £30 a week. After six or seven matches, Wright was spotted by a Crystal Palace scout and was invited for a trial at Selhurst Park.
After impressing Palace manager Steve Coppell, he signed a professional contract in August 1985. He quickly made his mark scoring nine goals to finish as Palace’s second-highest scorer.
Mark Bright arrived the following year and forged a formidable partnership with Wright as it was their goals that took the club to the top flight via the playoffs in 1989. Wright scored 24 goals in the Second Division and a total of 33 in all competitions.
Wright earned a place in the England B team in December 1989 but a twice-cracked shin bone reduced his impact in the First Division.
However, after recovering from the injury he made a dramatic impact in the 1990 FA Cup final against Manchester United. Wright equalised for Palace forcing the game into extra-time. He went onto score again, this time to put the Eagles ahead but the score finished 3-3 and Palace would lose the replay 1-0.
The next season, he reached 100 goals for Palace and earned full international honours. The club finished third in the top flight which was their highest ever league position.
He also won the Full Members Cup at Wembley, scoring twice to beat Everton in the 1990-91 season before moving to Arsenal in September 1991. He scored 117 goals in 253 starts and 24 substitute appearances. Wright was later named in their centenary 11 and their player of the century in 2005.
Reaching the Pinnacle: Arsenal
Signing for a club record fee of £2.5 million, the Arsenal supporters had extremely high expectations for Wright. Fortunately, he seized the moment by scoring on his debut in a League Cup tie against Leicester City and capping off his strong start by marking his league debut with a stunning hat-trick against Southampton.
Remarkably, Wright went onto finish as the club’s top goal scorer for six consecutive seasons and was integral to the club’s success during the nineties. Arsenal won a League Cup and FA Cup double in 1993 with Wright scoring in both the FA Cup final and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday to seal the victory for The Gunners.
Arsenal would soon be relying on his talismanic qualities in Europe and Wright duly delivered by scoring four goals over the duration of the tournament. The North London club subsequently defeated Italian outfit Lazio to win the trophy, but would be less successful in the next edition of the tournament when they fell victim to a defeat against Spanish club Real Zaragoza in the final at the Parc Des Princes.
Wright had previously scored in every round of the competition, but was unable to participate in the final due to suspension. It had been a difficult season for the Gunners and George Graham was dismissed over controversial illegal payments. Bruce Rioch was appointed manager for the 1995/96 campaign, but Wright along with a number of other first team players failed to see eye to eye with the former Scotland international.
Fortunately, Frenchman Arsene Wenger was chosen as his successor in September 1996 and Wright would be able to enjoy the twilight of his career by reaching his goal of winning the Premier League. Wright was 33 years of age when Wenger was appointed manager but his goal scoring capacity remained as strong as ever during the 1996/97 campaign. He finished as the second-highest goal scorer in the Premier Leagye with 23 goals and marked the beginning of the following season by becoming Arsenal’s all-time top goal scorer with 178 goals with an iconic hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers.
Wright concluded his memorable spell at Highbury by winning both the Premier League and FA Cup in his final season. Although he was unable to replicate his previous goal scoring heroics, Wright score 11 goals in 28 appearances. Thierry Henry has since eclipsed his record at Arsenal, but Wright remains their second-highest goal scorer with 185 goals in 288 appearances (279 starts).
After leaving Arsenal, Wright joined West Ham United in July 1998 for a fee of £500,000. Although he marked his debut with the winning goal against Sheffield Wednesday, he was unable to reach the same form at Upton Park. After fifteen months with the Hammers, Wright concluded his career with short spells at Nottingham Forest, Celtic and Burnley before retiring in 2000.
The Tragic International Career of Ian Wright
Wright had previously played for the England B squad until he was given his England debut during a 2-0 win over Cameroon at Wembley Stadium in 1991. Life on the international scene started extremely well for him and he helped England reach the finals of the 1992 European Championship in Sweden.
His international career spanned over eight years, in which he appeared in only 33 of the 87 matches played by England between 1991 and 1998.
Graham Taylor only handed Wright nine starts and seven substitute appearances. This was surprising as Wright was the highest top division scorer in the 1990/91 season.
However, Wright would go on to help England qualify for the 1998 World Cup by scoring twice in a 4-0 qualifying match win over Moldova in September 1997.
Wright would miss the finals with a hamstring injury and would retire late 1998. Despite Wright’s international form failing to reach the heights of his club form, he still remains one of the most prolific goal scorers the English leagues have ever seen.
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