Former Player Remembers: Tommy Wright
Tommy, who was born in Kirby Muxloe, grew up supporting Leicester City, and comes from a family of Leicester City supporters.
He made his debut for the Club as a 17-year-old substitute against Leeds United in 2002 and played for England’s Under-19s and Under-20s sides. Among other things, he is fondly remembered for scoring a vital goal in a crucial match against Nottingham Forest in 2003.
“When I was young, I had a Season Ticket,” Tommy recalled. “I sat in the Kop, on the top tier of the Double Decker. I liked the fact that my great granddad, my granddad and my dad were all Leicester City fans.
“When I was 10, I started training at Leicester. I was also chosen as a mascot for a home game against Manchester United. When I was 16, I was offered a three-year scholarship. Scoring a 25-minute hat-trick at that time in a massive trial game before the decision was made probably helped! It can be brutal for those lads who were released at 16.
“When I was aged about 12 to 16, my dad, who had a printing firm, had one of those boxes above the goal at the Filbert Street end. I felt that was probably the closest you could get to the pitch at that point. Whenever anyone missed a shot, the ball would smash against the glass.
“One of my first coaches was Nicky Platnauer, who I’d watched from the stands. There was also Nev Hamilton, probably one of my favourite coaches growing up. When I was about 14 or 15, I had David Nish as coach and then Chris Tucker. I’ve always had a good relationship with him.
“Jon Rudkin (now LCFC’s Director of Football) was my Under-17s coach, who then went on to be my Academy manager. Then there was Steve Beaglehole. I probably owe the most to Beags and Jon because they really, really pushed me. I’ll be forever indebted to them for that.”
In action at Filbert Street during his senior debut against Leeds United.
Tommy scored frequently for the Under-17s and, on 23 March, 2002, before he had signed professional forms, he made his first-team debut at the age of 17. He came on as a substitute in a Premier League match at home against Leeds United.
“It was a very good Leeds team,” he explained. “They had players like Mark Viduka, Jonathan Woodgate, David Batty, Matt Mills and Alan Smith. Two weeks before my debut, I was told on the day before a Premier League game against Charlton that I’d be in the squad. I did my initiation. Robbie Savage was the ringleader. I had to sing in front of the lads and then chat up Robbie Savage, which was so daunting it was unbelievable.
“The next game, I went with the squad to Southampton and then, on the third occasion, I went with the first team, I actually got on as a sub against Leeds. Because I grew up on the terraces at Filbert Street it was nice to make my debut there.
“Once I’d made my Premier League debut at 17, all of a sudden agents started circling, promising me the world. Jon Rudkin and the manager, Micky Adams, kept me grounded, telling me to be patient and to keep working hard. It was good man management.”
Six weeks after his debut against Leeds, City were relegated to the Championship in May 2002.
As Tommy recalled: “At the end of the season, we were relegated and then we went into administration, but that next season as a 17-18-year-old, I was classed as a first-team squad player, I was getting game time and we were promoted.
“My first goal that season was in a Championship match at Gillingham (in January 2003). Brian Deane got sent off quite early on. Micky Adams went to a 4-4-1 formation. He put me on the left wing and I managed to get the equaliser.
Celebrating that famous goal against Nottingham Forest.
“When the Club went into administration that season (between October 2002 and February 2003), I was still in the Academy on a £110 apprenticeship wage. They were never not going to pay me because clubs got money for running the academies.
“We had a very together and experienced dressing room and we were doing well on the pitch. Injury-wise, we went through the season pretty much unscathed. With players like Muzzy Izzet, you were always going to have a chance in the Championship because he was that good. He was the best player I ever played with.”
Tommy will always be remembered by fans for his first start for the team in April 2003 when he scored a crucial winning goal in a vital promotion fixture at home to Nottingham Forest in front of a capacity crowd on a Tuesday evening under the floodlights.
“I arrived at the ground not having a clue I was playing,” Tommy remembered. “I found out an hour and 10 minutes before kick-off. Micky Adams didn’t pull me aside. He just read out the teamsheet.
“I texted my dad. Home and away, he was always there which was great. To find out that way that I was starting probably helped me. I’d been around the boys all season and I was chomping at the bit. I was thinking: ‘Right. Okay. I’m starting.’ I always felt that I’d run my heart out for the Club whether or not I played for one minute for 90 minutes. It meant a lot to me. I was ready for that chance.
“To start a game was such a big thing for me growing up as a Leicester lad. To score against Forest in a big local derby was a dream. Their goalie spilled Jordan Stewart’s cross, I’d got a bit of a run on their full-back, my eyes lit up and, thank you very much, I scored!”
Tommy made 13 appearances in that promotion season at the end of which he signed as a professional, aged 18. During the season, he also gained international recognition.
Making his mark during the Premier League promotion-winning campaign of 2002/03.
“I played 10 times for the England Under-19s team in the European Championships in Liechtenstein,” Tommy said. “I scored five goals. I played in a dream forward line. David Bentley played behind me as a no.10.
“Wayne Routledge played on the right wing and Stewart Downing was on the left wing. That’s quite a supply line for me! We flew first-class, stayed in amazing hotels and trained in superb complexes. Stuart Baxter was the Under-19s coach.”
During the promotion season, Tommy won some personal accolades: “I was the Leicester Mercury’s Young Sportsman of the Year and I was the City Supporters’ Young Player of the year as well. Being a local lad, to get that award from the supporters meant a lot. I’ve still got those trophies at home. I’ve also got my England caps framed too.”
In September 2004, with City back in the Premier League, Tommy went on loan to Brentford.
“Basically, when we went up, I realised that with the players we had at Leicester I would be fourth, maybe fifth choice,” he explained. “The Under-20s World Cup in the United Arab Emirates was coming up in the winter and I needed to play, so I was quite happy to go to Brentford on loan for a month, although it turned out to be three months. At Brentford I got injured. I rolled my ankle and only just made the England squad in time.
“Nigel Pearson and Les Reed were the Under-20s coaches. Nigel was such a presence. He had such standing with a death stare which made it clear he wanted to win. He was a hard man and I always just loved those characters.
“It was the same with Micky Adams. He wasn’t as imposing in stature but my God, you’d know when he walked into a dressing room. I thought he was brilliant. He was by far the best manager I ever played for.
International recognition would follow at youth level.
“After the World Cup, I came back to Brentford but got injured in the first training session, rolling the same ankle. I came back to Leicester. When I recovered, Brentford wanted me back on loan. Their manager Wally Downes had played at Wimbledon with Micky Adams’ assistant Alan Cork and it might have been part of them doing each other favours.
“I was a young lad who did as he was told. I always had trust in managers, thinking that they knew best. In hindsight, I probably should have said no to the move, because I probably would have got more opportunities in the Premier League. I would have been in and around the first team.
“I’d been captain of the reserves and I’d scored a lot of goals for them, so there was always the opportunity to get in the first team. However, everything happens for a reason. I’ve always had that mindset. I don’t have any regrets.”
Leicester were relegated at the end of the 2003/04 season and, the following season, Tommy made four substitute appearances before Adams resigned in October 2004.
“Craig Levein came in as manager,” Tommy continued. “We had a chat and he advised me to drop a level and score some goals. That was disappointing for me, but I went on loan to Blackpool (in August 2005). I scored eight goals in 13 games and I came back to Leicester on cloud nine. I was chomping at the bit and desperate for a chance.
“I was a young local lad who the fans liked. There was one time at home, the fans were chanting my name as I was warming up as a substitute, but the manager put Nathan Blake on and the fans booed. It made me feel 10ft tall. After that, the manager’s attitude changed towards me. It was as if he shut the door on me.
Wright's time at Leicester came to an end in 2006.
“Then I was told that the Club had accepted two offers for me. That was the biggest kick in the teeth I could ever have had. The offers were from Blackpool and Barnsley. If I knew then what I know now, I would have dug my heels in and said no to a move.
“Then Coventry came in for me. Micky Adams was their manager and I got on well with him. Aidy Boothroyd at Watford, who I knew from the England Under-20s, was also interested, but Leicester wouldn’t sell me to a Championship club.
“So, in January of 2006, I went to Barnsley and managed to get a League 1 Play-Off winners medal at Millennium Stadium!”
In subsequent years, Tommy played at Walsall on loan and signed for Aberdeen and Grimsby Town, before returning to Darlington, where he played at Wembley to win the FA Trophy.
He then had spells at Kidderminster Harriers, Luton Town, Forest Green Rovers, Tamworth and Harrogate Town before becoming player-manager at Corby Town and Nuneaton Town and manager at Darlington, Stratford Town and Corby Town again before coaching at Mansfield Town.
Tommy is now a police officer in Leicester: “I’d done my 20 years in football and wanted to try something different. I genuinely love being in the police. I recently did a film for the Home Office at King Power Stadium about being in the police. Whenever I go to the training ground or the Club, I’m always made to feel welcome. I feel like part of the family. It’s so nice.”
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