Saturday, 2 June 2018

Billy Wright, footballer extraordinary

Billy Wright 

This article was written for the Dribbling Game website and appears at:-

One of English football's greatest defenders and the first footballer ever to make a century of appearances for his country. 

Wright, who made 541 official - and 122 regional WWII - appearances for Wolves, signed as a professional footballer at aged 17 before joining the army in 1943 as a physical training instructor. His official debut for Wolves came in the 1945-46 FA Cup two legged tie against Welsh side Lovells Athletic. Three seasons later, Wright captained the Black Country side in the FA Cup final as Leicester were beaten 3-1 at Wembley. It was Wolves first major trophy since winning the same competition in 1908. 

By 1949, Wright was a regular in the England side. He became captain of his country in 1948, a role he held until he retired with a then record 105 caps in 1959. The Shropshire lad led his country at three World Cups but England failed to impress in 1950, where they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against the USA, 1954 or 1958. Wright was a member of the England side that performed brilliantly in Turin in 1948 when the reigning World Champions Italy were thrashed 4-0. 

Under the managerial leadership of Stan Cullis, Wolves became one of the giants of English football in the 1950s and narrowly missed out - to Portsmouth - on winning the Division One (now Premier League) title in 1949-50. The season saw Wolves record their highest average gate of 46,295.

Wolves finished third in 1952-53 and then won the title for the first time the following season, finishing four points ahead of local rivals WBA. In 1954-55, Wolves became the unofficial Champions of the World when they beat Hungarian maestros Honved 3-2 in a prestigious friendly at Molineux in December. A poor end to the season left Cullis’s side in second place. 

In 1957-58, Wolves raced to the top of the table and at one point between September and December 1957 won 13 matches and drew four. It was during this period that Wolves faced Anderlecht away in another prestigious friendly. They were beaten 2-0 before a sell-out crowd of 38,000. 

In 1958-59, Wolves again won the League but in a fierce battle they exited the European Cup 4-3 on aggregate to German Champions Schalke 04. Wright retired at the end of the season.

Wright was the master of the perfectly timed tackle and despite being only 5ft 8in he won many an aerial duel thanks to his extraordinary leaping ability. What marked him out as a player of outstanding ability was a football brain that enabled him to ‘read’ the game. He was generally one step in front of the men around him and he would break up numerous attacks through his intelligent interceptions. As a captain he preferred to quietly motivate those around him rather than shoot and scream. 

“If Spurs Danny Blanchflower had the ball and was going to put it down the inside track Billy Wright could see him trying to do that and would get across to cut it out. He was the best reader of a game I ever saw.”  Wolves goalkeeper Malcolm Finlayson. 

Wright , who became one of the first footballers to have a showbiz marriage when he married Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters, later became manager at Arsenal in 1962 but was sacked in the summer of 1966. Wright then became a TV pundit and Head of Sport for ATV and Central TV. In 1990 he joined the board of directors at Wolves. 

Wight died of cancer on 3 September 1994. Today there is a statue standing outside the main stand at Molineux - recognition of the great service he gave to the club over many years. 

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