Arsenal History: Ian Wright Breaks Goalscoring Record, Sept 1997

People claim that the media is all biased against Arsenal. Well, some paranoid Arsenal fans do, anyway; personally I don’t tar everyone with the same brush. There are good journalists and bad ones, biased ones and ones with common sense to spare. Either way, they do sometimes like to recognise Arsenal’s achievements, such as the 15 years ago this month when Ian Wright became Arsenal’s record goalscorer just six years after joining the club.

One paper even devoted a four page pullout to the achievement, which I reproduce here in all its glory, complete with appalling punned headline.

Wrighty was thus picked by a ‘panel including England coach Glenn Hoddle’ to receive a ‘Carling No 1 award’ (?). This honour gave him a place alongside previous select winners like Alan Shearer, Peter Shilton and Stanley Matthews! How long had they been presenting this award, I wonder? Why is the ceremony not televised weekly on all channels?

Leaving that sideshow, er, aside, the second page lists every one of the 180 goals Wrighty had then scored for Arsenal, including a colour picture of his first goal against Leicester, which was more than the club programme had managed. The facing page has the match report from the record-breaking game against Bolton, played in bright sunshine at Highbury. Well, I say match report – it’s more of a player report as everyone else hardly gets a mention. Wright describes the work he put in to become a great goalscorer and says that the team winning a trophy at the end of the season was a far more important aim than the record. Fortunately the Double was won. Wrighty also lists his top 10 favourite goals, with the one against Everton where he tied Matt Jackson in knots before lobbing Neville Southall being the top memory.

On to the final page and there is a historical dispute between Ron Noades, Crystal Palace Chairman during Wright’s time there, and Billy Smith, manager of Dulwich Hamlet who had spotted Wright and recommended him to Palace. Smith’s recollection was that Noades had paid him with £200 of gym gear, but Noades reckons there was no fee of any kind. Noades recalls that Wright spent an entire afternoon begging to be allowed to sign for Arsenal.

Palace scout Peter Prentice remembers how Wright scored three goals in quick succession in his first trial match for the club, the first after only 20 seconds with ‘an amazing solo effort’.

The sadder note comes in the final column, where Arsene Wenger is described as preparing himself for ‘his most brutal decision as Arsenal manager’ – telling Wright his career is over. Said Wenger: “The most difficult part of a manager’s job is to take decisions like that. I just do not know when that time will be. In the past I have called things wrong with older players. I have stayed with them for too long. When you are at such a big club as Arsenal you cannot take the risk of playing on with them.”

Some would say that Arsene went a bit too far the other way in the following years, but in fairness he probably got it about right with Wright.

Wenger also praises Bergkamp, who had given Wright a new lease of life with his creativity since joining Arsenal. There is a small amount of looking to the future with hope for Wright, who Wenger thought might go on to 200 or more goals, but in fact his chances were limited for the rest of the season and he only added another six to his tally.

The pictures show the celebrations with Wright’s Arsenal team mates after scoring the record-breaking goal. Those of us who were there will always remember Wrighty removing his shirt after his first and record-equalling goal of the game to reveal his ‘Just Done It’ vest message, and breaking off from our own celebrations to look at each other in the crowd and say, “Err, he hasn’t done it yet has he?” I think it was Lee Dixon who pointed this out to Wright, who fortunately was just too good to let this affect his game, and the real record came shortly afterwards. A glorious day all round.

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