Full name: Ian Edward Wright MBE
Date of birth: 03/11/1963
If you had told the 21 year old Ian Wright in 1985 that he would become one of the greatest ever English goal-scorers, a household name, and be awarded an MBE he would probably have given you the same look of contempt he gave to many a referee over the years and return to plastering walls.
Ian Edward Wright was born on the 3rd November 1963 in Woolwich, London. He quickly developed a love of football and was impressive for his school and local youth teams. However, in his late teens he had unsuccessful trials with Brighton and Southend and began to give up on his dream of being a professional footballer. He looked set for a full-time job as a plasterer in London, whilst playing non-league football.
It was during his spell at Dulwich Hamlet FC that he was spotted by Crystal Palace scout Peter Prentice and was invited for a trial at Selhurst Park, where he impressed rookie manager Steve Coppell. Wright was soon a regular in the Palace first team and finished second top scorer in his first season with 9 goals.
Wright’s career took another leap forward in the summer of 1986 with the arrival of Mark Bright from Leicester City. The two of them formed a formidable striking partnership and were the main factor in Palace’s forthcoming success.
Promotion and the FA Cup final
After two seasons of consolidation, followed by narrowly missing out on a playoff spot in 1988, Palace managed to reach the playoffs in 1989. Wright was Palace’s top scorer in the 1987-88 season with 23 league goals and followed this with 33 in the promotion season, as he was voted the club’s player of the year.
Within five years, Wright had gone from playing on a park to playing in the country’s top flight. Despite an injury blighted season, he notched 13 goals in Palace’s first campaign in the First Division and his return from a broken shin helped the team avoid relegation.
Wright capped the season with two goals after coming on from the substitutes bench in a 3-3 draw in the 1990 FA Cup final against Manchester Utd. Palace sadly lost the replay 1-0.
Silverware, England caps and a big money move
The next season was Palace’s most successful in recent memory as the club finished third in the league and won the Zenith Data Systems Cup. Wright scored 25 goals, including two in the ZDS cup final against Everton. He also made his debut for England in February 1991 as Graham Taylor started him in a friendly against Cameroon
Wright continued his form into the next season and, after 5 goals in 8 games, was signed for Arsenal by George Graham for a club record £2.5 million. He had scored 117 goals in 277 games for Palace, making him their most prolific post-war striker, but it was at Highbury that he was to have his best years.
A great start at Arsenal
Wright made an incredible start to his Arsenal career. He followed up a debut goal against Leicester in the League Cup with a hatrick in his league debut against Southampton. He was awarded the 1992 Golden Boot, after scoring 31 goals in all competitions for Palace and Arsenal.
Despite this, he was not included in Graham Taylor’s England squad for the 1992 European Championships, as Alan Smith, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Nigel Clough were preferred.
In the 1992-93, the club moved into the newly formed Premier League and Graham opted for more defensive tactics in this season, with the team relying almost totally on Wright to score their goals. Arsenal finished 10th in the inaugural Premier League season and were the lowest scoring club in the whole league.
They managed a meagre 40 goals in 42 games, with Wright getting 17 of them. But Arsenal faired much better in the cup competitions, winning both the League Cup and the FA Cup. These were the first major trophies for Wright, who repeated his feat of 1990 by scoring in the FA cup final and then again in the replay as Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1.
The next season brought a further 22 Premier League goals for Wright. These included two hatricks in consecutive away matches against Ipswich and Southampton. He helped Arsenal to fourth in the Premier League and the 1994 Cup Winner’s Cup, although he was suspended for the final in which they beat favourites Parma 1-0. This was the only European medal Wright won during his career.
Wright’s international career also began to blossom as he scored a late equaliser against Poland and then four goals in a 7-1 win over San Marino. However, that summer, Graham Taylor was replaced by Terry Venables, who dropped him from the squad in October 1994.
The 1994-95 season was a tempestuous one for Arsenal, as they recorded their lowest Premier League finish of 12th position. In February 1995, George Graham was sacked after it was discovered he had accepted illegal payments for players. These difficulties did not affect Wright, however, as the striker scored over 25 goals.
He also notched a goal in every round but the final, as Arsenal were runners up in the 1995 Cup Winner’s Cup due to a last minute wonder-goal from Real Zaragoza’s Nayim. Wright also bagged his 100th goal for Arsenal that season, ironically against Crystal Palace.
Wright’s Arsenal career faltered somewhat under the management of Bruce Rioch. Despite forging an impressive strike partnership at the start of the 1995/96 season with Dennis Bergkamp, Wright did not get on with the new manager and handed in a transfer request, which he later retracted. Although not playing every game, he still managed 15 Premier League goals as the club finished fifth.
The Wenger Years
In August 1996, Rioch left the club after a dispute with the board and Arsene Wenger eventually took over. Wright felt much more comfortable under the Frenchman’s management and, despite now being in his mid-thirties, proved he was still one of the most deadly strikers in the league, scoring 28 Premier League goals that season.
Wright was one of the first black players, after John Barnes, to be a huge superstar in the English game. Inevitably he had to deal with racist abuse at certain points in his career. In February 1996, he was embroiled in controversy after a two-footed tackle on Peter Schmeichel in a game against Manchester United.
This challenge sparked the first of many disputes between an incensed Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. The two players were involved in several confrontations throughout the game and, after the final whistle, Wright accused the Dane of racially abusing him in that game and others. The case was eventually dropped and the two seem to have reconciled, as in recent years they have appeared on Match Of The Day together.
The 1997-98 season was Wright’s last for Arsenal. It also brought him his first league winners medal, as the club went on to win the Premier League and FA Cup double. He started the season brilliantly with six goals in his first seven games, including a hatrick in a 4-1 demolition of Bolton. It was during this game that he broke Cliff Bastin’s record of 178 goals for Arsenal.
Wright had prepared a t-shirt with ‘179 – Just Done It’ written on it and when he scored his first he took off the Arsenal shirt to reveal it, only to discover that he had only equalled the record! Undeterred, Wright went on to score again just five minutes later and repeated the celebration.
An unfortunate hamstring injury sustained in January 1998 meant he missed most of the second half of the season and was only an unused substitute at Wembley for the FA Cup victory over Newcastle. Wright scored 11 goals that season, with his last for Arsenal coming in a 2-1 win over West Ham at Upton Park. He was to join the Hammers the following summer for £500,000.
Ian Wright scored 185 goals for Arsenal in 288 games in all competitions. His record has recently been beaten by Thierry Henry but he is still regarded as a hero by Arsenal fans. Wright was Arsenal’s top scorer in his first six seasons with the club, scoring over 30 goals in five of them.
His England career was rejuvenated after the arrival of Glen Hoddle. In November 1996, Wright was drafted back into the squad after two years of being in the international wilderness. He scored a brace in a thrashing of Moldova and the opening goal in England’s 2-0 win over Italy in Le Tournai in 1997.
Most people consider his battling performance to be his best in an England shirt, as he lead the line in the 0-0 draw in Italy which sent England through to the 1998 World Cup. However, a re-occurrence of his groin injury kept him out of the World Cup finals.
Wright played 33 times for his country and scored nine goals. His last game, and Hoddle’s, was a friendly against the Czech Republic at Wembley in November 1999. Remarkably, he never played in a major international tournament.
Later career, family and celebrity status
Post-Arsenal, the remainder of Wright’s career was fairly nomadic. After scoring nine goals in his first season for West Ham, he struggled to get into the team the following season and had spells at Nottingham Forest, Celtic and Burnley before retiring in the summer of 2000 aged 37.
Wright is now the patriarch of a famous footballing family, as his adopted son Shaun Wright Phillips plays for Chelsea and England, and his son Bradley Wright-Phillips plays for Southampton in the Football League Championship. He also has sons in the Reading and Charlton youth academies respectively.
After his retirement from football, Wright has become something of a celebrity. He is a regular pundit for England matches on Match Of The Day, where he has gained popularity for his straight-forward talking style and unerring patriotism.
He also has a show on TalkSport radio and has appeared on popular programmes such as Top Gear, Big Brother Celebrity Hijack and Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. He also fronted a campaign to tackle child obesity and is a patron of the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust.
Wright’s professional career spanned 15 years, during which he made 526 appearances scoring 313 goals. In 2000 he was given an MBE for Services to Football. He has a Premier League winners medal, two FA cups, a League Cup and a Cup Winners Cup. Any follower of English football during the nineties will remember him for his explosive pace, cheeky and petulant attitude, dogged determination and, above all, his steely composure in front of goal.
- FA Cup – Winner (1990, 1993, 1998)
- Premier League – Winner (1997/1998)
- English Division Two – (1989)
- Zenith Data Systems Cup – (1991)
|1984 – 1985||Greenwich Borough||Unknown (?)|
|1985 – 1991||Crystal Palace||225 (89)|
|1991 – 1998||Arsenal||221 (128)|
|1998 – 1999||West Ham United||22 (9)|
|1999||Nottingham Forest (Loan)||10 (5)|
|1999 – 2000||Celtic||8 (3)|
|1989 – 1992||England B Team||3 (0)|
|1991 – 1998||England||33 (9)|
|Golden Boot||1991, 1992|