Ian Wright: The Games That Changed My Life

The former Crystal Palace, Arsenal and England striker selects his five most significant matches...

October 12, 1985: Crystal Palace 3-2 Oldham

I’d just broken into Palace’s first team and had been threatening to do well coming off the bench. Steve Coppell brought me on with 15 minutes to go with the score at 2-2. Alan Irvine crossed from the right and I headed it in at the far post to score my first professional goal. It was easily one of the greatest moments of my life. To come on and score the winner in the last couple of minutes and hear the Palace fans sing my name for the first time was the most unbelievable feeling ever.

August 22, 1989: Crystal Palace 1-1 Man United

After winning promotion, we played Manchester United at home in the old First Division. They had the likes of Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince playing for them. We were losing 1-0 after Robbo had given them the lead, but I equalised in the last few minutes. People had been saying: “You scored in the Second Division, but can you do it in the top league?” When I did it in the first home game of the season against Man United I realised: “I’m in the big league.”

Wright celebrates the first of many goals in the top flight

May 12, 1990: Crystal Palace 3-3 Man United

After breaking my leg twice it was touch and go whether I’d be able to play in the FA Cup final, but I was named as a sub. We were losing 2-1 and I came on and scored the equaliser, before giving us the lead in extra-time. I was thinking: “Oh my God, this is a fairy tale – I’m going to be a hero for the club that gave me my chance in football.” Then Mark Hughes scored the equaliser. When I woke up the next day the whole world knew me. My life had changed.

September 28, 1991: Southampton 0-4 Arsenal

Steve Coppell told me in training that Palace had accepted a bid from Arsenal and I had to go and see George Graham. The first thing I said was: “I can’t: I’ve got to buy my mum a telly.” I made my league debut at Southampton and scored a hat-trick. My friend Rocky Rocastle, who passed away, scored the other goal. It was emotional because we grew up on the Brockley estate together.

May 29, 1993: Poland 1-1 England

I was getting a lot of stick and the press were saying I’d never score for England. We were losing 1-0 and Graham Taylor brought me on and I scored the equaliser with six minutes to play. Everyone could see how much it meant by how I celebrated. To score for my country meant the world. It changed my life again, because people were saying I wasn’t good enough.  

Wright silenced the critics with his strike against Poland

May 3, 1998: Arsenal 4-0 Everton

I wouldn’t want people to say I scored goals but didn’t win anything; that’s why 
I jumped on Tony Adams’ back when he scored against Everton – we’d won the Premier League. Roy Keane used to tease me: “Wrighty, you’ve only got loser's medals,” so I shouted to the camera: “Keano, I’ve got a winner’s medal!”

Interview: Ben Welch. This feature first appeared in the July 2012 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!

More features every day on FFT.com • More Arsenal