Book Review: Ian Wright ‘A life In Football’
Ex footballer Ian Wright plots his rise from a South London Council Estate to Summariser on ‘Match of the Day’ in his new autobiography ‘A life in Football’. He lifts the lid on his career, personal life in a very honest and self-critical publication.
From Sunday morning football to Arsenal legend, from professional footballer on a Saturday, to punditry on Saturday night, from a week in prison to supporting young offenders. One thing this story is not is ‘boring, boring, Arsenal’, it is more ’Viva la Arsene’. Within the pages, he shows a lot of mature self analysis, something he was not always known for with silly outbursts on and off the pitch.
As a footballer, Wright was a prolific scorer of goals for Arsenal in the nineties, breaking the club scoring record at the time; becoming the darling of the North Bank. He started his career for Crystal Palace – where he made his mark coming off the bench to score two goals in the 1990 FA cup final, losing the reply to Manchester United. Later he went on to play for West Ham, Celtic and England.
While at Arsenal he shared a room with Dutch footballer Dennis Bergkamp, who had a massive influence on him. ‘A world class player… it was an education… both in football and in life’. Johno on Amazon said ‘You soon realise how much “Wrighty” admires or dislikes someone with his no holds barred assessment of many of the games players and managers. (I never did trust Redknapp)’.
I never did trust Redknapp
Ian thoughtfully dissects Arsene Wenger’s management technique, which to many Arsenal players at the time was strange. At first they were completely baffled with Wenger’s approach to diets and training sessions. As Ian acknowledges under Wenger ‘preparation is everything’. He treats his players ‘like adults’ and that’s how he motivates them; there’s no tea cups thrown around the dressing room and ‘very little said at half time’.
Wright also spoke of Aresne’s ‘good sense of humour’ and how he could ‘laugh at himself’. Those outside the team seldom saw this side of him… ‘he was so intelligent he’d often look at things logically’. Wenger was probably instrumental in preserving Wrights career sending him to a specialist in France. On his return he didn’t want Ian to do any extra training; explaining ‘Remember your age… your body and muscles are different. You have to learn to preserve yourself’. All this knowledge Ian took with him to other clubs, where he found some of them way behind the times.
What is excellent about this book is Wright spends less time talking about funny stories of fishing with Gazza, or tricks in the dressing room on other players; but actually analyses and explains football tactics. Such as learning from fellow England striker Gary Lineker and his battle with Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro; describing the contest as ‘a chess match’.
Injuries to some extent blighted his England career, Wright not being completely fit when Bobby Robson announced his 1990 world cup squad. He admitted not getting on with Graham Taylor who left him out of Euro 1992, felt Terry Venables didn’t rate him, not picking him for Euro 96; but loved Glenn Hoddle and it was an injury that kept him out of the 1998 World cup squad.
Wright is very forthright at discussing his private life, starting the chapter ‘I’ve got eight Kids with four different women, two I married and two I didn’t’. He then goes on to explain a complicated family life, often of love and loss. When compared to his own home life as a child, you understand the personal trials and tribulations going on inside the man; with the lack of a father figure and a troublesome stepfather. His struggles with inner anger which he acknowledged as ‘blasting off since I was a young kid’ but had become ‘much better’. However, at times he can still lose it.
Ian is obviously an emotional man, who cares as shows in his memory of school teacher Mr Pidgen; who showed him how to play football and motivated by giving him responsibilities which the young tearaway Wright responded to. It’s so gratifying to see a successful person fully acknowledge the individuals who helped him. Few seldom do. Such honesty was reflected in the ITV4 programme ‘Nothing to Something‘ (2014) which Ian delivered directly to camera as a factual, emotional rollercoaster ride of a life and career; which again moved many and you realised there is a lot more to Wright then you initially see.
After his footballing days were over, Ian turned to television, hosting or co-hosting a number of programmes not all successful. His favourite was ‘Friday Night’s All Wright’ (1998-2000). He was now entering a different field and after a few less successful TV projects, he was advised to stick with shows based around football. He has a lot of sensible comments and thoughts on football agents; with a dedicated chapter on the subject ‘Agents of Doom’. From personal experience his observations are often correct.
His initial go at punditry on ‘Match of the Day’ (2008) was difficult as he felt he needed to play the ’court jester’ hence he was used in those roles, which he resented, and complained by outbursts through the media. This resulted in him losing his spot on what he felt was his ‘Graceland’, a programme he held in high esteem. Eventually and to an extent ‘luckily’ he was given a second chance in 2015; through impressing on other match analysis sports programmes. He is now a leading pundit on many other TV match day games and believes he has matured even further. This book shows us much more than Ian Wright the footballer and many will benefit through reading; as they will probably see an aspect of themselves.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.