Book of the week: Striker fired by fierce sense of persecution

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The Independent Online
Mr Wright

by Ian Wright

(Harper Collins, pounds 14.99)

Whatever it was that Peter Schmeichel did or did not say to Ian Wright at Old Trafford, the Arsenal striker makes it abundantly clear in his autobiography that when it comes to verbal abuse he is in the international class himself.

"I'll try to wind myself up, to get myself going," he writes. "But even then I'll go too far."

By way of example, Wright cites a game against Hartlepool a few years ago, when he was involved in a running war of words with his marker. It culminated in Wright turning on his man and saying, "Piss off, I don't talk to Third Division players."

In relaying this incident Wright displays the same ambivalent candour that characterises the book. Much is recalled that is unflattering to its subject, and by the standards of ghosted football autobiography there is an above average dose of self-criticism. Yet the overriding theme is one of justification. "Sometimes I just can't help myself," he says to conclude the Third Division player episode. "I just hope people don't always think too badly of me."

From it Wright emerges as likeable, loyal and honest, if blessed with a somewhat egocentric view of right and wrong. He has been in trouble ever since he played for Gordon Brock Junior School as an eight-year-old, and has used a continuing, jaunty sense of persecution as his motivating force ever since.

Few subjects are ducked, certainly not the five days he spent in prison in his teens, the tangled private life (though this book was written before his latest encounter with the tabloids), or the bust-ups with Bruce Rioch last season.

George Graham emerges as a mentor and valued friend, with Wright reluctant to judge his former boss. How many of us would turn down 200 grand in pounds 50 notes, Wright asks, before typically declaring his admiration for those who would.

Perhaps most revealing is the description of Wright's early days at Crystal Palace, when he, Andy Gray and Tony Finnigan were trying to break into a first team peopled by seasoned pros like Jim Cannon and George Wood. Wright paints a vivid picture of a club divided down the middle, ostensibly by age but also by race - most of the aspiring youngsters were black. "Cannon opened my eyes to the fact that, even within a team, the only time you're truly together is on a Saturday for 90 minutes."

The chapter on racism suggests though progress has been made, abuse is far from a thing of the past. Wright confesses to racism himself, by once regarding Viv Anderson as a "coconut" - brown on the outside, white on the inside - because he did not appear to do enough to champion the cause of black players. The two have long since been reconciled and are friends. It would be nice if the same can one day be said of Wright and Schmeichel.