Football: The Wright key to a big future

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The Independent Online
RICHARD WRIGHT must feel as if he has been handed the key to the door only to find it already open. In 12 rather memorable days for the Ipswich Town goalkeeper, he has become a father, turned 21 and been named in the England squad who tonight meet up for Wednesday's friendly with the Czech Republic.

The Ipswich-born custodian is also adamant he will be playing Premiership football next year. Given the week's announcements that Peter Schmeichel and Mark Bosnich will next summer leave Manchester United and Aston Villa respectively, two of his reported suitors, Wright could be forgiven for hedging his bets about his future. Instead this heady fortnight has only reaffirmed his loyalties.

Seven clean sheets in Ipswich's last nine games have helped to earn his side second place in the Nationwide League First Division; three out of three for the England Under-21s have sealed his promotion to Glenn Hoddle's squad. But those have been the only unsoiled linen in the Wright household recently. Twelve-day-old Harry Edward has been testing him out rather more than most First Division forward lines.

"I'm a Nineties man. I'm getting involved: changing the nappies, getting up at night to give Kelly [his fiancee] a break," said Wright, preparing for a few nights' peace at Burnham Beeches. "I'd like to be with Harry all the time but there are other important things."

Such as serving your country. "There are a lot of good goalkeepers out there so I'm very pleased to be called into the squad," he said.

"It's always been stressed by Peter Taylor that if you perform consistently well for your club and the Under-21s, you're in with a real chance of a senior call-up. Now I intend to grab my chance with both hands."

Wright, capped at school and youth levels, has previously trained with both Terry Venables' and Hoddle's England squads. This time, though, he may not have to unload the bus or hand out the training bibs. Not that he feels he has fast-tracked his way to senior selection; he wondered whether playing in the Nationwide League would hinder his chances. Indeed, Ipswich's promotion has become a personal Holy Grail for him. "We're second at the moment which is particularly pleasing because over recent years we've started slowly and finished with a flourish. It's been well publicised that the club need to go up this season, financially, and I want to get promotion so much. The disappointment of losing twice in the play-offs has only made us all the more determined to succeed this time."

Wright, the Nationwide League player of the month for October, added: "I've got two and a half years of my contract left and my objective is to help get Ipswich into the Premiership. As long as a good young team are doing well in the First Division, there will be speculation. But I'm sure this England selection will help take any of that off my mind."

Remarkably, this tall yet agile goalkeeper has already played 130 league games, three of them, when aged 17, in the Premiership as Ipswich were relegated in 1995. Maturity was hastened by the death of his father, with cancer, later that year, and now parenthood. Family matters are very important to him.

He moved in with Kelly Hammond - they started dating at Thurleston High School - in January and was present for his son's birth hours before keeping Wolves at bay in a 2-0 victory. "I was there all day, from 5am to 5pm. I did feel tired during the day but once Harry was born, at 2.45pm, it was more a case of scraping me off the ceiling.

"My family is more important to me than anything but in my lifetime I want to achieve things for them to be proud of. In years to come, I hope Harry will be able to read and watch the things I've done in football. If my dad was alive, I know he'd be as pleased as anything. I still miss my dad loads but if he's looking down, I think he'd be proud of me right now."