Such are the finances of modern football that Preston North End may never again touch the heights they reached in the era of the late Sir Tom Finney but one current player at Deepdale is aiming to emulate the great man in one way at least.
It was in 1950 that Finney played for England at the World Cup in Brazil and 64 years on Bailey Wright – North End's young Australian defender – hopes to make the same journey this summer.
The 21-year-old centre-back's impressively consistent performances in League One drew Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou to last month's fixture against Bradford City where he took a check on Wright and his compatriot and team-mate Neil Kilkenny. The wish now for the uncapped Wright is that when Postecoglou names his squad next week for the friendly against Ecuador at Millwall, he will be included. "I have had contact in the last few months about what is happening," he tells The Independent. "For the game in London in March, it is my aim to get involved and hopefully get a chance to show what I can do." Walking in Finney's footsteps in Brazil, he adds, "would be an unbelievable experience".
It would also underline the progress made since Wright, then 16, flew halfway around the world for trials at Preston and Blackburn Rovers. For a boy from Melbourne, Lancashire was "a big mystery" but it was a gamble he was glad to take.
After a spell at the Victorian Institute of Sport and involvement with Australia's Under-17 team, he was overlooked for the step-up to the prestigious Australian Institute of Sport and ended up leaving school to work for his father. "He is in drainage and construction, so there was quite a lot of concreting and digging, real hands-on work. I never got offered any opportunity to play for the AIS or for the A League clubs, so I gave it my last shot in coming over here and seeing how it would go. Fortunately enough I was offered something."
He has not looked back. Last term Wright – who models himself on Nemanja Vidic – made more league appearances than any other Preston player, earning the club's Young Player of the Year prize, and in his own words, he has "progressed again this year". So too his team, whose fortunes have been transformed since Simon Grayson replaced the unpopular Graham Westley as manager 12 months ago, with Preston sitting in fourth, handily placed for the play-offs at least. "It is a different style of management," Wright says of Grayson. "He has had a lot of success out of this league [promotions with Blackpool and Leeds United] and has given the lads confidence. He gives you a lot of trust and responsibility which seems to work if you've got the right squad of players.
"The club deserve to be in a higher league and hopefully a big occasion like the club had on Saturday will help push us on in the right direction," he continues, referring to the moving tributes paid to Finney before and during last weekend's 1-1 draw with Leyton Orient. "It really sunk in on Saturday when you got to the ground and you realised how much appreciation had been shown and what sort of send-off he got. As players we knew how big the occasion was."
Wright has another connection with those "proud Preston" days. When Finney's team reached the 1954 FA Cup final, the side included an Australian centre-half in Joe Marston. The first Aussie to play in a Wembley Cup final, Marston remains an iconic figure Down Under. "By all accounts he is a legend here as well," says Wright. At Deepdale you cannot ignore the past, but for Wright the future looks bright, too.Reuse content