Wednesday, 28 December 2016




THE Professional Footballers’ Association should work harder to help members who are going through troubled times.

So says Ian Wright in his hard-hitting autobiography, A Life in Football.

He states : “A lot of players or former players don’t know what help is available to them or aren’t capable of finding out for themselves.

“This is where the PFA should come in. I don’t think they do nearly enough to ensure the wellbeing of footballers  after they have  finished playing

“We pay enough to them in our careers, and they get a cut of TV  money, but they don’t instigate the sort of help so many players need.”

“The PFA just seems to sit there.

Gordon Taylor  has been chief executive since before I  was playing, and I don’t know what he does apart from turn up at functions every now and again, show his  face and do his spiel.

 “The PFA doesn’t  seem to offer help unless you phone up and chase them.”

Originally from Brockley in South London, the author  (52), is a hero to many fans - especially those of the two clubs with whom he enjoyed his longest periods in the game, Crystal Palace and Arsenal.

But unlike most footballers’ autobiographies, his book is less a catalogue of  colourful and light-hearted  experiences and more  a serious narrative about how his life and career have developed - the downs as well as the ups.

Along the way, he provides insights about various aspects of football, including the role of agents for whom, by and large, he seems to have little time.

“There are more bad ones than good,”he says. “On the purely practical side, nobody needs an agent - they do nothing that a solicitor or accountant can’t do.

“When a player gets an agent,  all he is  doing is giving that person the opportunity  to be a middleman to make money for himself which, in the majority of cases, is all he does.

“Agents are like glorified hotel concierges. They answer the phone and fix up little things, but they do not necessarily advance a player’s career or make sure he still has one.”

Elsewhere in the book, the author is warm about many past playing colleagues, including Tony Finnigan and Mark Bright - with both of whom he was close  at Palace - but he is red-hot in his admiration for former Arsenal team- and room-mate Dennis Bergkamp, both in the way he played and in the manner he conducted himself off the field.

This fascinating book also includes many tributes - including a whole chapter of dedication - to another Arsenal player of yesteryear, the later  David Rocastle (who also happened to be a Palace fan).

Managers who earn plaudits include Steve Coppell, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, but he was much less keen on Bruce Rioch whose rigorously disciplinarian approach tended not to bring out the best in players. 

There is very little in the way of score-settling, but Wrighty  reveals that when he first joined Palace on a three-month contract in 1985, he had a bad time at the hands of a clique of older players led by goalkeeper George Wood, Micky Droy and Jim Cannon.

“Jim Cannon was the worst,”he maintains. “The big Scottish centre half had been at the club forever and behaved like the playground bully, always ready with a little dig or snide remark.

“It seemed like every time I thought I was making progress, he was there to knock me down.”

Friction between the pair boiled over one morning in a training ground spat which involved punches being thrown.

Another episode came after a match at Grimsby Town where visiting players always used to receive a parting gift of a large fresh fish to take home.

In the hope that it would placate Cannon, Wright acceded to a request to hand his fish over even though he knew the gift would have delighted his mum

To no avail. “Jim Cannon  took the fish, then on Monday was back to his regular, miserable bullying self.”

Memories of another player, Liverpool’s Steve McMahon, are also less than happy because of the poor welcome given to him on his first day training with the England squad following his call-up.

“He was really horrible - he went out of his way to be nasty.”

Later on duty for their respective clubs, there was an unpleasant clash between the duo resulted in the midfielder requiring stitches for a studs injury to his groin

 For a while, near the end of his playing career (when he was on the books of West Ham), the author  xsimultaneously enjoyed a spell as chat show host on ITV’s Friday Night’s All Wright which introduced him to such entertainments stars as singer Lionel Richie and actors Will Smith and Denzel Washington (but brought criticism from another chat show host, Michael Parkinson).

Other programmes included Surviving The Kalahari in 2002 which was “just frightening” - not least because it put him in peril from lions, hyenas  and elephants.

“Me a boy from Brockley - camping close to a water hole that wild animals were going to head for,”he recalls.“It was terrifying, but I loved that sort of thing because it was a test.”

But this line of stardom of proved to be a cul-de-sac, and the author much prefers doing what he does now - providing football analysis for various TV and radio companies.

When he started, he was encouraged by producers to be something of a studio jester, but this brought criticism from viewers so his style now is much more measured and serious.

“In the world of punditry, being on Match of The Day is the equivalent of playing in the Champions League,”he says.

“There is a Caribbean saying that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation

“I’ll work as hard as it takes to stay on top of being the best pundit out there.”
* Ian Wright: My Life in Football is published by Littlebrown at £18.99.

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