Billy Wright (footballer, born 1924)
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Billy Wright in 1961
|Full name||William Ambrose Wright|
|Date of birth||6 February 1924|
|Place of birth||Ironbridge, Shropshire, England|
|Date of death||3 September 1994(aged 70)|
|Place of death||London, England|
|Playing position||Centre half|
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
William Ambrose "Billy" Wright, CBE (6 February 1924 – 3 September 1994) was an English footballer, who spent his whole career at Wolverhampton Wanderers. The first footballer in the world to earn 100 international caps, Wright also holds the record for longest unbroken run in competitive international football; he made a total of 105 appearances for England, captaining them a record 90 times, including during their campaigns at the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cup finals.
Born at 33 Belmont Road, Ironbridge, Shropshire, his association with Wolves began in 1938 when, after being encouraged by his school teacher to respond to a newspaper advertisement inviting boys for trials he was taken on as a member of their ground staff. He was only 14 years old when he made his debut for Wolves in a B team game against Walsall Wood in the Walsall Minor League after being accepted on an eight-month trial by Major Frank Buckley, who initially told Wright he was "too small" but changed his mind. He made his first team debut for the club aged just 15 in a 2–1 win at Notts County in 1939. This game was played shortly after the start of World War II, so it is not counted as the official debut. His official debut came in the 1945–46 FA Cup in a two legged tie against Lovells Athletic.
He signed as a professional at 17, but the deepening effects of World War II soon forced Wolves to suspend competitive football. Wright turned out as a guest for Leicester City, playing as both a forward and a defender before he returned to Molineux in 1942. A bad ankle break put his sporting career in doubt but he recovered, joined the army in 1943 as a Physical Training Instructor, and played for Wolves whenever possible, making over 100 appearances in wartime football.
He became club captain soon after the end of the conflict, with the playing retirement of Stan Cullis. With Wright leading the team, they won the First Division title three times (1954, 1958 and 1959) as well as the FA Cup in 1949. He was a virtual ever-present, missing only 31 games for Wolves during the 1950s. He retired from playing in 1959, a year before Wolves won another FA Cup.
His performances for club saw him earn a call-up to the England team. He made his international debut on 19 January 1946 in a 2–0 win over Belgium in a (post-war) 'Victory International'. His full debut came on 28 September 1946 in a thumping 7–2 win against Ireland. He was made captain in 1948, a role he held for 90 games until his retirement (an all time record shared subsequently with Bobby Moore). In 1952, with his 42nd cap, he surpassed Bob Crompton's appearance record for England, which had stood since 1914. In total, he made 105 full international appearances (70 consecutive), scoring three times. He was also the first football player in the world to earn 100 caps, and it was more than a decade before his record was broken by another player, Bobby Charlton. As of September 2014 Wright remains the eighth most capped player ever to have played for England, after Peter Shilton (125), David Beckham (115), Steven Gerrard (114), Bobby Moore (108), Ashley Cole (107), and Bobby Charlton and Frank Lampard (both 106).
He retired as a player in August 1959. During his total of 541 appearances for Wolves and his 105 games for England, his disciplinary record was excellent – he was never cautioned or sent off.
The football he was given at the end of his 100th international match, between England and Scotland on 11 April 1959 at Wembley Stadium, was due to be auctioned in May 2015 after being held by an Arsenal player who after an injury was unable to play professionally. The player had been given the ball by Wright's widow after being trialled by the club.
He became manager of England's youth team in 1960, before being appointed manager of Arsenal in 1962, replacing George Swindin. Initially Arsenal started strongly under Wright, finishing seventh in 1962–63 and qualifying for Europe for the first time in their history, but failed to build on this. Wright enjoyed mixed success with his signings, who included successes such as Bob Wilson, Joe Baker and Frank McLintock, but also less successful players such as Ian Ure.
Arsenal were unable to improve on their seventh in Wright's first season in charge, and their form gradually declined. Wright won only 38.46% of his matches in charge, the lowest rate for any post-war Arsenal manager (caretaker managers excepted). After a poor 1965–66 season – where Arsenal finished 14th and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers (who finished bottom of the First Division) — Wright was dismissed by the Arsenal board in the summer of 1966.
Life after football
Wright was a minor media personality, and his marriage to Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters (at a time long before the era of footballers being known for having celebrity girlfriends) in July 1958, by which time Wright was 34, was one of the most successful showbiz marriages.
After leaving management, he became a television pundit and Head of Sport for ATV and Central Television, before retiring in 1989. However, the following year, he joined the board of directors at Wolverhampton Wanderers as part of the takeover by Sir Jack Hayward.
On 7 August 1993, he presented Manchester United with the FA Charity Shield, which they won on penalties against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium. On 7 December that year, he was present for the friendly game against Honved of Hungary which commemorated the re-opening of Molineux as a rebuilt 28,525-seat stadium. The redevelopment saw three new stands built at the stadium in the space of two years, with the one replacing the Waterloo Road Stand being designated the Billy Wright Stand.
Wright was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions: in May 1961 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews, and in January 1990, when Michael Aspel surprised him at Thames Television's Teddington Studios.
Illness and death
In 2009, English football agent Bryan Yeubrey began a public campaign to obtain a posthumous knighthood for Wright. The campaign received support from several thousand fans and many former professional players.
- 1952 FWA Footballer of the Year
- 1957 Ballon d'Or 1957 Runner-up
- 1959 Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Civil)
- 1998 Football League 100 Legends
- 2002 Member of English Football Hall of Fame
- Giller, Norman (2003) Billy Wright: A Hero for All Seasons, ISBN 1-86105-528-5
- "Redknapp will face fury in Portsmouth return". The Japan Times Online. 17 October 2009. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Billy's historic ball put up for auction". Shropshire Star. 12 May 2015. p. 15.Report by Andrew Owen. Main subject of report being pending auction of the football he played with at his century appearance for England.
- "Obituary: Billy Wright". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
- Brian Glanville (2003). "Billy Wright or wrong?". tssonnet.com. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Soukom (22 August 2009). FA Cup Semi Final 1994 Manchester United vs Oldham. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Molineux Stadium history and facts". Oleole.com. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Billy Wright". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Battle kick-started for 'Sir' Billy Wright". Express and Star. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Midland Metro fleet list". British Trams Online. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- Official Wolves site profile
- Unofficial Wolves website — a tribute to Billy Wright
- The National Football Museum: Hall of Fame — Billy Wright
- BBC Tribute to Billy Wright
- Billy Wright's appearance on This Is Your Life