Arsenal’s Century Club – Ian Wright – Wright – Wright
Ian Edward Wright, MBE (born 3 November 1963) was born in Woolwich, London.
Wright’s father absconded and left his mother Nesta to raise her family in a one-bedroom house in Brockley, South London. Ian said “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,” He was bullied by an older step-brother, but it was his step-father’s cruelty which caused him most pain. “One of the few things my brother and I looked forward to in the house was Match of the Day, and my step dad used to take that away from us – just because he could.”
Wright’s primary school teacher Sydney Pigden taught him to read and write and made him the register and milk monitor. Tony Davis and Harold Palmer, who ran a local football team Ten-Em-Bee used pick him up at his house and drive him directly to training in an effort to keep him focused and out of trouble with the police. However in 1982, at 19 years old, he ended up in Chelmsford Prison for two weeks for non-payment of driving fines.
Despite having had trials at Southend United and Brighton during his teens, he was unable to attract sufficient interest to win a professional contract offer. Reverting to playing for amateur and non-league teams, he was left disillusioned about his chances of a career as a professional footballer.
But he eventually overcame his deprived childhood, his abusive step-father and a spell in prison to become a professional footballer relatively late in life. A Crystal Palace talent scout, Peter Prentice, happened to see Wright playing for Dulwich Hamlet and invited him to have a trial at Selhurst Park. “It was only a three-month trial but I’d done it: I was able to call myself a professional footballer,” Wright said. “After nearly 11 years of rejection, bullying, prison and all sorts of nonsense, and I had finally gotten my dream.”
Having impressed then-manager Steve Coppell, he signed professional terms for Crystal Palace in August 1985, just three months short of his 22nd birthday. He quickly made his mark in his first season, scoring nine goals to finish as Palace’s second-highest scorer. When Mark Bright arrived on the Palace scene the following year the duo soon established a successful striking partnership and it was largely their goals which took the club to top flight via the playoffs in 1989. Ian was particularly instrumental that season, scoring 24 goals in the Second Division and a grand total of 33 in all competitions.
An ankle injury reduced his initial impact in the First Division. However, after recovering from the injury he made a dramatic appearance as a ‘super-sub’, in the 1990 FA Cup Final against Manchester United. He equalised for Palace a few minutes after coming onto the field forcing extra time, then putting them ahead in extra time. The eventual score was 3–3, but Palace lost the replay 1–0.
With attention-grabbing goals in the league and in the 3-3 FA Cup Final draw against Manchester United in 1990, it was little surprise when Wright gained the attention of bigger clubs. Arsenal paid a club record £2.5 million for the striker in 1991. At the time Arsenal were reigning champions and there were question marks over the necessity of the signing: Alan Smith, Kevin Campbell, Paul Merson and Anders Limpar were already among the clubs’ ranks
He scored on his debut against Leicester City in a League Cup tie, and then scored a hat-trick on his League debut against Southampton. He won the Golden Boot in his first season by scoring 29 league goals, five of which were for Palace, and 31 in all competitions. He scored a hat-trick in the final game of the season against Southampton; his third goal being the last ever scored in the old First Division.
He went on to be Arsenal’s top scorer for six seasons in a row. He played a major part in the club’s success during the 1990s, winning an FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993; he scored in both the FA Cup Final and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday. Ian also helped Arsenal reach the 1994 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final, although he was suspended for the final in which Arsenal beat Parma 1–0.
The period that followed proved to be a difficult time for both Ian and Arsenal, manager George Graham was dismissed over illegal payments, and under caretaker Stewart Houston they could only manage a 12th place finish in the league. The arrival of Bruce Rioch heralded a bleaker time; the two did not get on and eventually Wright handed in a transfer request, which he later retracted. The arrival of Dennis Bergkamp heralded a brief but fruitful striking partnership, and in their first season playing together they helped Arsenal finish fifth in the league and qualify for the UEFA Cup. They also reached the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals, where they went out on away goals to eventual winners Aston Villa.
By the time Arsène Wenger had arrived at Arsenal in September 1996, Ian was nearly 33. Despite his age, he continued to score regularly (being the second highest Premier League scorer in 1996–97 with 23 goals), and on 13 September 1997 he broke Cliff Bastin’s Arsenal goal scoring record with a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers. His final goal at Highbury came on 4 October 1997 against Barnsley and was his 300th career goal for both Crystal Palace and Arsenal. He scored his final goal for Arsenal on 6 January 1998 in a League Cup quarter-final victory against West Ham United.
While he was still a professional footballer at Arsenal, he published his autobiography, Mr Wright. In 1993, he wrote and released a single called “Do The Right Thing”. The song was co-written and produced by Chris Lowe (of Pet Shop Boys) and reached #43 the UK Singles Chart.
In total he registered 185 goals for Arsenal; a record that has since been passed only by fellow Hall of Fame and Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. On 15 July 2008, he finished 4th in ‘50 Greatest Gunners’ listed on the Arsenal website.
Wright went on to play for West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Celtic and finally Burnley (helping them to win promotion) before his retirement in 2000. Since retirement Wright has made a career in punditry and television work.
Clubs: Crystal Palace, Arsenal, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Burnley
Caps: 33, 9 goals
Honours: 1 Premier League, 2 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup
Shortly after his retirement from playing in 2000, Ian was awarded the MBE for his services to football.
|Arsenal’s Century Club|
|** Games played to reach 100 goals.|
Ian scored his 100th goal for Arsenal against Crystal Palace at Highbury on October 1st, 1994.