Ian Wright: Right Wright
Even this achievement he managed to make funny
58 today. Is he our second GOAT? He must feel that the gods conspired against him to ensure he wasn’t our GOAT because he was 27 before he finally made the big time at Arsenal. He still managed to become our best goalscorer, scoring good goals, great goals, scruffy goals, important goals, not so important goals, left foot, right foot, headers, and in off any part of his body that was legal. He was a poacher, a guy who could feed off scraps, he could accelerate to make space, he could dribble and make a goal by himself. If he was a bit taller, top defenders would have been crying even harder when they had to face him. His lack of height never deterred him, though, he would spring up into the air as if on, well, springs.
Alex Ferguson once famously said that this guy is destroying us as he took apart the Man Utd defence. He was consistently our top scorer but unlike Henry, the team had bad seasons under George Graham, and, of course, the personally disastrous one that Wright had under Bruce Rioch when he banished him to the wing.
A great role model
But kids, if you ever need a role model, take a good look at Ian Wright. He grew up poor, black, in a bad part of London where drugs and crime were prevalent. He had a father who left and then a stepfather who abused him. He had talent for football but was small and struggled with that bane of a young footballer’s life, he was born in November, which meant as he went through the years, he was always up against kids almost a year older than him, which also was affected by his height, making him even smaller.
He overcame a humble beginning
He found it hard to get noticed at pro clubs, having some trials but never making it. By 21 he was still playing amateur and such players rarely make the jump to the pro leagues. That dream was more or less dead. He had essentially got married young, had a child, and had to work as a plasterer on building sites to get by. He ended up in prison for not paying tax and insurance on his car. So he was 21 years old, with heavy marital responsibilities, in prison and the one thing he loved doing in his life, playing football, was not going to be his salvation. But he decided, no, this prison cell is not me. I have the talent, I will force the belief to come, I will make it as a footballer.
He needed a chance
And of course, he did. Crystal Palace gave him a trial, liked what they saw, and his foreman at the building site gave him his blessing, said, Ian, go for it, I will always give you your old job back. This chance was all he needed. He knew that there were many super players playing in the amateur leagues that will never make it. But with grim determination, he vowed he would not be one of them.
At Palace he showed he deserved his place at the top table
I loved him when he was at Palace, and saw him playing against the Arsenal in the 80’s when I lived in London. The partnership he formed with Mark Bright was one of the best I have ever seen. The 2 of them were quick, could win the ball like midfielders, could hold the ball up, and terrorise any defence. They enabled Palace to play almost with 2 banks of four, and rarely give away goals.
I was thrilled when he came to Arsenal, and I would have been delighted if we took both of them, although Alan Smith may not have been too happy. He soon settled in to become our top goalscorer.
The hunger came from his life
As I have said, though, he is a great role model. He had a hunger to develop, born of his years in the wilderness, he stayed on at the grounds to practice, working on his skills and probably felt a little of the imposter syndrome, that if he didn’t work hard, keep getting better, they might discover he was that little kid who was nearly a year younger than the rest, and not able to cut it at the highest level.
At Arsenal, he became a great
And so he learned from all the top players, as he got into the England squad, his own teammates and his opponents but he credits the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp as being the transformation in improving his skills. Bergkamp trained hard, but smart, all about becoming a better player, even though he already had sublime skills. Ian realised that the harder he practised, the luckier he would get. People would say, did he mean that, or was he just lucky? Clever training means that you develop the ability to do things that others can’t, and so they say that was lucky. Eh, yes, maybe a little, but it is born of all the practice.
Time for regrets?
He also had, in common with all great sportsmen, that overwhelming, crushing desire to win that made defeat unbearable. He wanted everything that football could give him, trophies, goals, respect and he got it all.
Regrets? He probably has a few. More England caps and goals for sure. Lineker and then Shearer blocked his way. Going to Arsenal as a kid, like his great buddy, David Rocastle, would probably be another. Then he could have been our GOAT and the 185 goals he got from 27 years old would have been a dwarf figure, maybe 350 or 400. Henry would never have been able to leave us as he chased that record.
Didn't really get the chance he deserved at England
But perhaps that was never the plan of the cosmos. He had to suffer, he had to be humiliated in jail, to have had his difficult upbringing, to overcome it all on the way to becoming Wrighty, known by his nickname to all as if he is their best friend, a guy who has a joy for life, who loves laughing and smiling most of all.
Have the greatest birthday ever
We at Arsenal Supporters Club in Bulgaria have had many encounters with this extraordinary ambassador for Arsenal football club. My regret is that I wasn’t aware of their existence until a couple of years ago and I have never met him. I hope, one day, to rectify that.
Some members of ASCB at a great day in their lives in Athens getting to meet the birthday boy.
Our own Georgi Stoyanov meeting with Lee Dixon and Ian Wright in Sofia