On the occasion of Ian Wright’s 60th birthday, we caught up with his former teammate, roommate and best mate, Kevin Campbell. They both grew up in the south of London and then became heroes in the north. Today, we chronicle Wrighty’s rise from lower league striker to an Arsenal icon with OBE status.
On call with the former Arsenal man and always Arsenal fan, Kevin Campbell.
Ian Wright – the player
In the summer of 1985, Crystal Palace took a chance, giving Wright his first professional contract three months before his 22nd birthday. That sounds relatively late in today’s era, but he went on to repay the club’s faith in full. He scored 117 goals in his six years at Selhurst Park and was named Palace’s ‘Player of the Century.’
And that was just the beginning.
Ian Wright scoring for Crystal Palace at the 1990 FA Cup final
“He was the man, he was the man!” Campbell says. “With all the quality that was in that Arsenal side, you could see him breaking Cliff Bastin’s [goalscoring] record. Finishing – left foot, right foot, headers, he could do it all.”
And sure enough, Arsenal’s £2.5m man (a club record fee in 1991) broke the record to become the club’s leading goal-scorer in September 1997. He celebrated the landmark a tad pre-maturely when, after scoring against Bolton, he revealed a t-shirt that read, “179 – Just done it”, only to realise he was still level with the record at 178. But, almost by design, the striker scored his 179th five minutes later. His 180th followed in the same game to complete a historic hattrick. Classic Wrighty!
The hattrick that sealed Wright’s name in Arsenal folklore. However, his goalscoring record has since been broken by Thierry Henry.
Ian Wright OBE – the personality
“The way you see him on TV is exactly how he is in the dressing room,” Kevin says. “He loved a laugh, he loved a joke, he was very serious about his football, and he celebrated scoring in a 5-a-side like he would score on a matchday! That is what he is, his personality is infectious.”
Kevin and Wrighty at the 1993 FA Cup final.
The effervescent Ian will be celebrating his 60th with as much fervour as he did his 20th. But make no mistake, Wright knows when to put his foot down and take a stand. He’s been one of the boldest voices in football’s fight against racism and sexism.
“If it’s an energetic topic, he can be energetic. But even when it is not that topic, and you’ve got to be serious, he still gets his personality across, even in an answer that is measured. I think that’s very important, and not many people can do that.” Kevin said.
“And he’s been a big advocate for the women’s game, which I think has been brilliant. No wonder he’s doing so well covering football because there ain’t many people like Wrighty.”
Earlier this year, he was awarded an OBE for his services to football and charity work. This week, he received the Freedom of the city of London for his services to sport and the city. Wright is indeed one of a kind.
Ian Wright receives the Freedom of The City of London at Guildhall.
Wrighty – the person
The competition between teammates playing in the same position to break into the starting XI has always existed. Nowadays, the debates around it on social media have almost gotten tedious. Just ask Aaron Ramsdale.
Thirty-two years ago, things were a tad different.
“In the 1991-92 season, Ian Wright was brought in (to Arsenal). I was dropped out of the team because Wrighty came. But one thing I didn’t do – no moaning, no knocking on the manager’s door; I had to get better, I had to improve.” Kevin explains.
“And Wrighty was always there. I asked questions to see what his mentality was like, and he was always there as a brother to help a younger player. I was still young, I was 21-22.
“This is what made our relationship even stronger.”
Ian Wright improved his teammates on the field and boosted morale off it.
“I think now, a lot of the players go singular; they’re in their own room. Whereas back in the day, when we got to the room, we used to leave the door on the latch,” Kevin said.
“He was hardly ever in the room, he was always in somebody else’s room. There was always some havoc being caused by Wrighty, or he was having a laugh with somebody.”
Before we concluded, we had to show Kevin a picture that has stood the test of time. He and Wright were as sharp with their sense of style as their finishing.
Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell. pic.twitter.com/NHhs676RGk
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) April 12, 2023
“It caused a bit of a stir, you can imagine,” Kevin said about the image. “But that is quite an iconic picture. Look, I’ve got the old headphones around my neck as well. Still setting trends we were, even back then. Setting trends.”
Ageless, indeed! A team-mate, a legend, an ally, an inspiration. However you say it, it’s right. It’s Wright. Happy sixty, Wrighty!