Tommy Wright: Attacking footballer who shone alongside Len Shackleton at Sunderland, 'the Bank of England club'
Saturday 21 May 2011
When Sunderland's extravagant spending in the decade after the Second World War earned them a slightly raffish reputation as "the Bank of England club", their headlines tended to be generated by the likes of Len Shackleton, Trevor Ford and Billy Bingham.
Yet few men did more to further the Wearsiders' cause during that colourful but ultimately unfulfilling phase of their history than the stellar trio's dashingly direct fellow attacker, Tommy Wright.
The Scottish international right- winger, who contributed punch and penetration, ceaseless industry and not a few goals, was ever-present as the Roker Park side finished third in the top flight in 1949-50, the only time they have scaled such rarefied heights since they were champions in 1936 during the early heyday of the revered Raich Carter. Wright, who could also perform with distinction in any other forward position, was consistent, too, his goal tally reaching double figures in four out of his five full seasons in the North-east, the fifth being sabotaged by injury.
After being spotted playing for one of his local clubs, Blairhall Colliery in Clackmannanshire, Wright was taken to Glasgow by Partick Thistle in 1945. He made his senior debut in 1947-48, his skill and brio contributing impressively to the Jags' third-place finish in the élite division behind Hibernian and Rangers, and when he commenced the following season in similarly effective form, it became obvious that his tenure at Firhill would be short-lived.
Accordingly, in March 1949 an £8,000 bid from Sunderland was accepted and Wright inherited the Rokerites' No 7 shirt from Len Duns, a veteran of the title win 13 yearsearlier. After bedding into the side that spring, the newcomer shone throughout the following campaign, in which Sunderland finished only a point adrift of the champions, Portsmouth, and runners-up Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Forming a productive right-flank combination with Ivor Broadis, and also linking smoothly with the other inside-forward, the dazzling but eccentric Shackleton, Wright became a stalwart of Bill Murray's entertaining team, his personal highlight a hat-trick in a 4-2 home victory over Everton in the penultimate game of the season when the big prize was still at stake. During 1950-51 the fearsome physical presence of spearhead Trevor Ford was added to the mix, and Wright became one of the abrasive Welshman's chief providers, his crosses and through-balls resulting in countless goalscoring opportunities.
Fitness problems cost him most of the subsequent season, but he was back in both peak condition and form for 1952-53, during which he earned his three Scotland caps, helping to beat Wales 2-1 at Ninian Park and featuring in draws with Northern Ireland at Hampden Park and England at Wembley. His settling-in at the higher level could not have been helped by being paired with a different inside partner each time – first Allan Brown, then Jimmy Logie and finally Bobby Johnstone – but he gave an acceptable account of himself and some observers reckoned he was unfortunate to be discarded thereafter.
Wright was edged off the international stage by a succession of rivals, including Rangers' powerful Willie Waddell, big John McKenzie of Partick Thistle and Hibernian's elegant Gordon Smith – but he continued to thrive at club level, enjoying his most prolific season in the 1953-54 season when his 18 goals in 38 appearances were hugely influential in Sunderland escaping relegation to the Second Division.
However, having reached his mid-30s, and with the excellent Bingham laying unarguable claim to the right- wing slot, in January 1955 Wright returned to his homeland to join East Fife as makeweight in the deal which took the prolific marksman Charlie "Cannonball" Fleming to Roker Park. Back in the Scottish League's top tier he looked comfortable, one of the more stylish members of the Bayview staff, and his 18 goals in 36 games were an admirable addition to the 55 in 180 outings achieved in more demanding circumstances on Wearside.
Wright surprised many observers by re-crossing the border to join Oldham Athletic of the Third Division North in March 1957 – the fee was £700 – but he sojourned only briefly at Boundary Park, leaving the Football League that summer to join North Shields. Thus he completed a commendable career , setting the example for several family members to follow a similar path. His son, also Tommy Wright, played for five English clubs – most notably Leeds United, Oldham and Leicester City – in the 1980s and '90s, and was a Scotland under-21 international; one nephew, Jackie Sinclair, who died last year, excelled for Dunfermline Athletic, Leicester City and others, and was capped once by Scotland; and another, Willie Sinclair, played for Falkirk, Huddersfield Town and several more.
Thomas Wright, footballer: born Blandhill, Clackmannanshire 28 January 1928; played for Partick Thistle 1945-49, Sunderland 1949-55, East Fife 1955-57, Oldham Athletic 1957; three Scotland caps; died Sunderland 5 May 2011.
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