Ian Wright reveals emotional reason he’s leaving Match of the Day and secret tattoo dedicated to love of fellow pundits
FOOTIE legend Ian Wright has revealed how he will be spending his Saturdays now he’s quit Match Of The Day.
And, perhaps surprisingly, it involves watching a whole load more of the beautiful game.
The England, Arsenal and Crystal Palace star will end his 26 years as a pundit at the end of the season, confessing his decision was “fast tracked” by turning 60 last month.
Now he’s opened up on calling time on the career-defining TV role for the first time, revealing just how much it has meant to him, the secret tattoo he designed to honour the show and how he will while away those empty weekends.
Ian said with his trademark laugh: “I’m going to actually watch more football.
“I’m going to watch my granddaughter.
“I’m going to watch a lot more womens’ games.
“I’m going to watch a lot more Arsenal games just to be there, just to be there with fans.
“Go with my son and his missus, just go and be with them and be amongst it, just to celebrate when we win or when we lose.
“It’s been a bit of a realisation that I want to give quality time to them.
“So that’s what I want to do.
“I want to go and do stuff where I watch games, spend time with people.”
When Ian first appeared on the programme in 1997 during his playing days, he told then presenter Des Lynham that the show was his “Graceland”.
He became a regular in 2002, two years after retiring from football, before leaving in 2008 and returning in 2015. And that feeling of wonder never left him.
‘We bonded tightly’
Chatting on his Wrighty’s House podcast hours after news of his departure was announced, Ian said: “I’m stepping down from my punditry chair on Match Of The Day, the time has come for it
“I don’t want to go too deep in what it means to me, but the music . . . every time I hear the music it takes me back to an unbelievable place when I first remember what Match Of The Day meant to me, when I was allowed to actually be on it.
“When I was actually good enough to be on it as a regular it was more than I ever thought it would be.
“When I first went on, I was winging it.
“I remember Des Lynham when he welcomed me on, I said to him ‘this is my Graceland,’ you know like when people visit Elvis, Match of the Day was my Graceland.
“It’s an institution.”
Ian, a regular alongside Alan Shearer and host Gary Lineker, revealed his decision “had been coming for a while”.
Sharing the news on Sunday morning, the prolific goalscorer said: “I feel very privileged to have had such an incredible run on the most iconic football show in the world.
“I’m stepping back having made great friends and many great memories.
“This decision has been coming for a while, maybe my birthday earlier this year fast-tracked it a little, but ultimately it’s time to do a few more different things with my Saturdays.”
As part of the job, Wrighty would spend hours each week watching Premier League games.
Now he will be taking in Arsenal ladies’ fixture, who play at Borehamwood, Herts, and those of his own brood.
His granddaughter Raphaella Wright-Phillips, whose father is former Manchester City ace Shaun Wright-Phillips, 42, is a talented young footballer known to fans as her skills went viral in a recent video.
And his grandson D’Margio Wright-Phillips, 22, has played at under 17 level for England and appeared 17 times for Stoke before going on loan to Northampton.
Dad-of-eight Ian has two younger daughters, Lola and Roxanne, with wife Nancy Hallam, who he married in 2011.
Ian said: “I’m going to watch my granddaughter.
“I want to see if I can watch my grandson play as well, he needs a bit more support now.
“It’s kind of fallen off a little bit for him.
“So hopefully I can watch him some more, spend a bit more time.
“I want to take Nance as well to more games because she really makes me laugh when she’s watching the game.
“She has to do so much on a weekend with the two girls who are getting to a certain age where they have to be up and down all over the place.
“So I want to be a bit more present on that.”
Wrighty’s love affair with Match Of The Day began when he was a boy, then deepened when he was a player.
A tough regime at home saw he and his brother Maurice banned from watching the show by their step-father.
Ian said: “When we was younger, my step dad would make me and my brother turn around and face the wall.
“So we could hear the music but we weren’t allowed to watch.
“My brother would hold my ears as I was crying, not being able to watch it.”
He continued: “Then all the players, you all watch it.
“It’s not that you analyse yourself.
“I remember my best goal I ever scored was against Everton at Highbury and I couldn’t wait to watch Match of the Day.
“Alan Hansen was doing the punditry and he said it was bad defending.
“I said ‘for f***s sake Al, you’re taking that off of me?’ I said, ‘jesus that came out of nowhere, that goal it was just pure fluidity’ and he said ‘terrible defending’.”
Even now Ian gets a thrill from appearing on the live TV programme, which first aired in August 1964 with Kenneth Wolstenholme in the hot seat.
Ian said: “When I first got the call for Match of the Day it does hit hard, you are nervous.
“Because what people don’t realise is it is live.
“You don’t get much time, you’ve got them in your ear saying like ‘ten seconds’, so at the start that would stress me out.
“When you first sit there and the music kicks in… that’s why I didn’t take offence when someone said I couldn’t string words together.
“I was trying to find words! But in the end it gets better and better.”
Ian also gave an insight into the rituals between the main presenting team.
He added: “Gary Lineker had an accident once where they were still talking and didn’t realise it had gone live, so as soon as the music kicks in he says ‘is this for real?’ Every single time. So those are the two things, the music would start and Gary would say ‘is this for real?’ and then we get into it.”
It’s not all been clean sheets and trophies though, with Ian falling out with BBC bosses with comments in 2008 when he quit over concerns they were using him as a “court jester”.
He worked away from the Beeb for nine years after the row before returning in 2017 — and never looked back.
Continuing on the podcast, Ian said: “They gave me one game – it was Chelsea v Brentford – and after that people were writing in saying ‘where has he been’ and it turned on its head.
“You get some really nice messages, obviously there are some f***ing idiots out there, but in the main, you do get people who send you genuine thanks for that bit of insight.
“They say ‘I really like how you guys do it, I love the camaraderie between you guys’.”
The relationship between Ian, Gary and Alan has ushered in a golden era for the highlights show.
And Ian revealed he has a tattoo tribute to the two men, sharing: “I got my 8 9 10 tattoo because it’s my (old football shirt) number, it’s Shearer’s number and it’s Gary Lineker’s number.
“Especially after we’d done Covid, we bonded really tightly in and around that time. We spoke to each other a lot.
“The other day Gary was vexed because there was some poll, Lineker or Shearer? And I said Shearer.
“And he said ‘you said that too quickly for me’
“I call him G-Force, and I said ‘G-force, you know what you mean to me, bro’
“When we played against him, Alan Shearer was living rent free in my head.
“Now he is a friend now, to be able to say we are tight, the family are tight, is incredible.
“I have to say he’s better than me at golf – which gets on my nerves – but I’m going to miss the guys.”
In 2020, Wright was named TV/Radio Pundit of the Year by the Football Supporters’ Association.
In June, he was made an OBE for services to football and charity, and last month received the Freedom of the City of London.
Away from football, Wrighty’s TV career has spanned everything from hosting entertainment shows including Friends Like These and Gladiators through to appearances on Celebrity Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and even his own talk show.
His ITV gameshow Moneyball has just been cancelled after two series.
But it sounds like his new packed schedule as a football supporter will keep him busy.
Ian added with a laugh: “I feel like I might have to retire from that after a year!”
MY BEST MOMENT 1
IAN and his son, ex-Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, in May became the first father-and-son punditry team to feature.
Ian said: “Being on with Shaun, my little baby, my big little baby.
“If that was my last show, I could have easily finished with that, nothing can top that.
“It’s the Holy Grail for me.
“When he was younger we used to watch it together and now being on together, he’s on there and he’s earned the right to be on there.
“It’s incredible. You can’t really top that.”
MY BEST MOMENT 2
IAN was there to see Gary Lineker’s emotional reaction to Leicester City, the team he has supported since he was a boy, winning the Premier League for the first time in 2016.
Ian said: “It was a really beautiful moment.
“Gary got his tissue out of his pocket and dried his eyes. We just left him.
“Anyone that knows Gary Lineker, you’re not used to seeing emotion.
“So seeing that was a beautiful moment, to see him disarmed of everything other than his pure love for his team.”
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