Ian Wright turns 60 today. The Arsenal and England legend joined the Gunners from Crystal Palace in 1991. By the time he left in 1998, Cliff Bastin’s 50-year-old Arsenal goalscoring record of 178 goals was usurped by Wright’s 185.
Wright accomplished this in 288 appearances and averaged 26 goals per season as a Gunner. No matter what level you are playing at that is phenomenal, and that is exactly what the forward was at the height of his powers.
What’s most surprising in Wright’s legend was that in football terms he was a late bloomer. He didn’t pen professional terms until just shy of his 22nd birthday when he joined Palace in 1985. After lighting up the Second Division and then the top flight with the Eagles, Arsenal sanctioned a club-record £2.5 million fee to bring Wright to north London and it was certainly money well spent.
At first the decision was questioned. Arsenal had just won the First Division and Alan Smith had picked up two Golden Boots in the past three seasons, while the club also boasted the likes of Paul Merson and Anders Limpar. George Graham’s decision to bring in Wright was soon proven to be a masterstroke.
Wright netted on his debut as the Gunners travelled to Leicester City in the League Cup and he followed this up with a hat-trick on his league debut at Southampton. The Highbury faithful were quickly captivated and it didn’t take long for the classic ‘Ian Wright Wright Wright’ chant to echo around the ground. Wright scooped up the Golden Boot in his first season with Arsenal, dramatically pipping Tottenham Hotspur’s Gary Lineker to the accolade with a hat-trick in the final game, which was also against the Saints.
The striker was not just a prolific goalscorer but a skillul footballer which allowed him to score some great goals, including the lob against Everton in 1993 when Wright juggled the ball with some neat touches before pulling the trigger. He was majestic to watch and his personality made him such a beloved figure in N5. He was also known to be a practical joker in the dressing room as well as the choreographer of many goal celebrations.
After helping Arsenal become a formidable cup side, winning two FA Cups, a League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup during his seven-year stint, it wasn’t until his final year that he collected the biggest prize, the Premier League title. It was early in that season too when Wright cemented his status as a club legend, his hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers seeing him eclipse Bastin’s accomplishment which had stood for half a century.
The love Arsenal fans have for Wright has since become universal 25 years after he bid farewell to the club. He has become a very popular pundit covering both men’s and women’s football. He has been one of the biggest male advocates for women’s football over the years and he is as knowledgeable as they come about the female discipline.
For those who were not watching Wright as a pundit or in his other football-related appearances, they became charmed by his character when he appeared on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here in 2019. He is one of the most likeable people on TV because he is honest and speaks up about sensitive subjects in the knowledge that his platform can have an impact.
He never forgets his roots either, and is always on hand to help his local community. For example, he opened a 3G pitch at the primary school, Turnham Academy, where he and his late former team-mate David Rocastle grew up playing.
Remembering where he came from, there is also that viral clip of him reuniting with the school teacher who Wright regards as having changed his life. Wright believed Mr Pigden to be dead at the time of the reunion so when his former mentor surprised him Wright was overcome with emotion as he hugged the man who helped shape him to be the person he is today.
There are great footballers and great human beings, Ian Wright has ticked both boxes.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change