BILLY WRIGHT: A Hero for All Seasons
Introduction by Norman Giller
This book was originally meant to be called: Billy Wright, An Autobiography. Tragically, Billy was beaten by cancer before we could get into print. With the encouragement and blessing of his widow, Joy, I am now able to share Billy's thoughts with you on his life and footballing times.
While preparing the book, I was given privileged access to Billy's private and personal papers and photographs. This has helped me build a biography that I hope does justice to a man who truly was A Hero for All Seasons.
There is a young generation growing up who deserve to know just what loyalty and sportsmanship mean, because they get few examples of it in the modern game. Older people, lucky to have witnessed the way football used to be played, will vouch for the fact that Billy Wright was the perfect role model.
Billy was the David Beckham of his day. England captain a record 90 times and the first footballer in the world to win 100 international caps, he married singer Joy Beverley at the zenith of his career. Joy was a vivacious member of the Beverley Sisters, a singing trio who were the Spice Girls of their time. This was Posh and Becks in black and white.
Just one slight difference: David Beckham earns in just one week more than Billy Wright picked up as a player throughout his entire footballing career. That is worth repeating: one week of Beckham's wages amounts to more than Billy earned in twenty-one years with Wolves and thirteen years with England.
A Hero for All Seasons is not only the story of Billy Wright the man and the footballer, but also of an age that has disappeared from sight.
I have Billy as a companion throughout the book, filling in the gaps with quotes that I had collated for what was intended to be his own remarkable story. We had decided that the best way to tell his tale was with a flashback through the seasons that he proudly played for Wolves and England, including a record 70 international selections in succession. I have elected to stick to that route because his 105 caps, collected between 1946 and 1959, capture an era when England were considered the Old Masters of football. Billy was in a beaten side only 21 times, and went six years before he knew what it was like to come second at Wembley; and when it did happen, what an explosion! A 6-3 defeat by Hungary at Wembley in 1953 revolutionised the way England players thought about and played the game.
In my role as the argument-settling Judge of The Sun, I receive thousands of questions a year and a large percentage are centred on the 1940s and 1950s era featured in this book. To ensure that it is a complete record of those footballing decades, I include a who-won-what breakdown for every post-war season in which Billy played. Every Championship and FA Cup-winning team is listed, and I also feature the full line-up of every single England team with which he appeared. There will be a lot of dads and granddads out there who will welcome this as a treasure chest of a book, because it will take them back to a time in which football had a soul. People of a certain age will know exactly what I mean.
The New Millennium footballer would most feel the difference between the two worlds in his pocket. The maximum wage that a player could earn at the peak of Billy's career was £17 a week, regardless of how talented he might have been. Thousands flocked to watch the likes of Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney perform their wizardry, but their weekly wage was still the same £17 as paid to an average player down in the Third Division North or South.
This, then, was the stage on which Billy Wright performed with style, strength and distinction. Now it is my privilege to paint an affectionate and, hopefully, accurate word portrait of the man who from humble beginnings grew into a football folk-hero. Helping me complete the picture are the team-mates, friends, family, sportswriters and, the most important people of all in the world of Billy Wright, the supporters who were witnesses to his long-playing career.
Let me give my credentials for being trusted with this biography. During Billy's generally tortured period as manager of Arsenal in the early 1960s, I ghosted his column for him in my then position as a football writer with the Daily Express. We remained firm friends when he switched to an executive role in Midlands television, and I scripted Michael Aspel's This Is Your Life tribute to him in 1989.
There were tears in Billy's eyes as he stood on the This Is Your Life set cuddling the famous Red Book that had just been presented to him. He was surrounded by old England and Wolves team-mates, friends and colleagues from his days in television, his daughters, Victoria and Babette, and by the Beverley Sisters, led, of course, by his wife Joy. Alongside him stood the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin, Billy's rival in several intense and memorable international battles who had recently had a leg amputated.
It was the appearance of Yashin as a surprise last guest that had finally broken Billy, who was close to tears throughout an emotional show. What only he and a handful of us knew was that both he and Yashin had recently conquered drink problems that had crept up on them in middle age. This is the only dark side in the Billy Wright story, and one that his widow Joy is happy for me to mention because she wants this to be an honest portrayal of her hero. Billy confided that beating the bottle was his greatest victory. He was always a winner.
As the cameras and microphones were switched off on the This Is Your Life set he said to me: "My life has been like a fairytale. Who would have believed all this could have happened to a lad from Ironbridge?"
And that is where our journey starts, in Ironbridge. I invite you to climb into my time-machine and come back with me into another football age to meet A Hero for All Seasons ...
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