Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Billy Wright (21)

We continue our countdown of the 50 greatest English players with the first man to win 100 caps for the Three Lions...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt
No.33 - Phil Neal
No.32 - Johnny Haynes
No.31 - Peter Beardsley
No.30 - Ray Clemence
No.29 - Ted Drake
No.28 - Michael Owen
No.27 - Raich Carter
No.26 - Colin Bell
No.25 – Frank Swift
No.24 - Paul Scholes
No.23 - Tony Adams
No.22 - Martin Peters


William Ambrose 'Billy' WRIGHT


Ironbridge, Shropshire


105 caps, 3 goals


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Among the many remarkable aspects of Billy Wright's career, a few facts stand out like floodlight pylons on a city skyline. The Black Country legend was the first player in the world to make 100 appearances for his country. He captained England a record number of times. He led Wolverhampton Wanderers to three First Division championships in the 1950s, missing only 31 Leagues games throughout that decade. And in 21 years and 646 matches for club and country, he was never once booked or sent off - despite playing in a position where winning the ball was the fundamental requirement.

William Ambrose Wright was born at Ironbridge in the Midlands in 1924, and played centre-forward at school, once hitting ten goals in a game. Another hat-trick as a schoolboy earned him the bonus of three bars of chocolate, but it was strictly as an amateur that he joined his local First Division club, Wolves. Apart from guest appearances for Leicester City during wartime, he never played for any other club.

However, for the Shropshire lad destined to become one of England's finest, the first steps on the stairway to football heaven were decidedly wobbly. Wolves boss Major Frank Buckley told the 13-year-old Billy that he was too small to be a footballer. Only Wright's unflagging determination persuaded the Major to give him a second chance, and Wright joined the Molineux groundstaff in 1938 on £2 a week.


"the amount of caps for england and the figure of 90 times that his captained our country just shows how much he means to us, and the fact that he was never once booked in his entire career just shows his good sportmanship." - gibbert | england

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Promptly nicknamed Snowy, blond Billy made his first-team debut at 15 against Notts County in November 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war. A broken ankle then threatened to end his career before it had really begun, but Wright recovered, turning professional in February 1941. He joined the army in 1943 as a PT instructor, still managing to make more than 100 wartime appearances for Wolves. His career really got into its stride when regular League football resumed in 1946, being made captain by hard-as-nails manager Stan Cullis.

Over the next 13 years Billy lifted the FA Cup, the League Championship three times, and collected the Footballer of the Year award (in 1952) while making 541 appearances in the famous old gold shirt.

But if his record for Wolves was outstanding, Wright's international career was phenomenal. Of England's first 108 matches after the war, he played in 105, including 70 on the trot. Ninety of his appearances were as captain. He played in three consecutive World Cups (1950, 1954 and 1958), and to date only Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, David Beckham and Peter Shilton have won more England caps.

Considering that in Wright's era the national team was still picked, often seemingly on pure whim, by a fickle and fractious committee, his achievement looks startling in retrospect, though at the time, his automatic selection seemed entirely natural.

Yet his odyssey into the record books was not without its embarrassments.  Captain Billy was centre-stage when English football went horizontal in Belo Horizonte, felled by the USA in the 1950 World Cup. And Wright was as bemused as anyone else when the Hungarians stunned England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953. But he was honest in his appraisal of those footballing earthquakes, acknowledging he was unprepared for what Puskas and Co. served up, and insisting that the Magyars were the best team he ever played against.

Winning his 100th cap

It was therefore apt that soon afterwards Wright led Wolves to stirring pre-European Cup victories over mighty Honved - containing many of Hungary's national team - at Molineux. Such successes were far more typical of his playing career.

The schoolboy striker had by then long-since found his niche as a shortish but commanding centre-half. He compensated for his relative lack of inches as a stopper (5ft 8in) by prodigious jumping ability. And on the ground, Wright's hard but clean tackling and accurate passing made him the complete defender.

Inevitably, this archetypal hero attracted hero worship. In every sense, Wright was the golden boy of English football in the 'Fifties. So when he started romancing Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters, Britain's favourite female pop group, it was big news. When their relationship led them up the aisle in 1958, it was even bigger. They were the Posh & Becks of an altogether more innocent, pre-WAGs age.    

Yet within a year of his wedding, Wright called it a day as a player. His timing was typically immaculate: he was still on top (having just collected League championship number three and England cap number 105); but he knew he couldn't stay there forever. He was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his playing achievements, then became coach of the England Under-23 side.

Next came what hindsight says was Wright's wrong move. Arsenal, anxious to bring back the good times, appointed him as manager in 1962. It was a decision ominously without precedent for either party. Although an Arsenal fan as a boy, Wright had never played or worked for the club, unlike most of their managerial appointments; and he had no club management experience. After a promising start things began to unravel: his four seasons in charge saw the Gunners slip from a moderate seventh to a mediocre 13th, and when the fans' mood turned ugly, Wright was sacked. He simply lacked the ruthlessness and authority to be a manager - ironic considering his leadership qualities as a player.

He moved smoothly into television where he carved out a successful career as controller of sport in the ITV's Midlands region. Having retired on his 65th birthday in 1989, he joined the board at Wolves in 1990, but died of stomach cancer in September 1994, aged 70.


League Championship winner - 1954, 1958, 1959
FA Cup winner - 1949
Footballer of the Year - 1952
First English player to be capped 100 times - 1947-1959
Awarded the CBE for services to football - 1959
Inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame - 2002
Named the Midlands' greatest footballer by BBC Midlands Today after a public vote - 2007.

DID YOU KNOW... Billy Wright lived to see a stand named after him at Molineux, but had died before a statue of him was erected outside the ground?

Graham Lister, Goal.com

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