Ian Wright turns 60 on Friday, November 3.
To celebrate our club legend’s milestone birthday, we’ve reached out to members of our Arsenal community with long-standing connections to Ian.
Next up is fellow Arsenal legend, Kelly Smith, who first met Ian when she signed for us in 1996.
By Kelly Smith
I was an Arsenal fan growing up. My dad’s best friend took me to my first match at Highbury and I just fell in love with the club. Going to Highbury just gave me goosebumps - watching the team, seeing how close the fans were to the pitch, the atmosphere, all of it.
I especially enjoyed watching Wrighty. He was my absolute idol growing up. I just loved his energy, his enthusiasm, his goalscoring ability and how he connected to the fans. On the pitch he was just that cheeky character - always smiling, amazing celebrations. I’d never seen anything like it before.
I can still remember the first time I met Ian - I’d just signed for Arsenal and I was really, really shy. Vic Akers took me around the marble halls on a tour of Highbury. I met Arsène Wenger too - I was still a kid at the time and I remember I couldn’t believe what was happening. I remember signing my contract before watching the team train.
Then, all of a sudden after training, Ian was standing in front of me. It was a pinch-yourself moment at the time. I went out onto the pitch wearing a big and baggy tracksuit - at that time, the women’s team had to wear men’s fit tracksuits - so I didn’t feel too comfortable. I was trying to play it cool meeting my superhero!
Anyway, I was probably a bit overawed and I don’t think I said too much. Meeting someone you look up to is really terrifying. I remember I was given the No 8 shirt when I joined the club and we had a picture together. I just wanted to be like Ian, so having the same number was special - even if it did make me quite nervous.
I always keenly followed Ian’s career and, once we’d both retired, we ended up working on a lot of jobs promoting the women’s game together. That was where our friendship really began - going out to football schools and different events to showcase the game.
Having someone like Ian as an ambassador for women’s football is just so important. And what I really love is that his support is completely authentic. Ian used to watch the likes of Hope Powell, Brenda Sempare and Marieanne Spacey, so his interest in the women’s game goes back a long way. He’s got a lot of credibility across the board. For him to believe in women’s football and speak so highly of it when not many others did speaks volumes on his characters, intelligence and understanding of the women’s game. Having someone like Ian as an advocate has helped women’s football to grow because of the status of who he is. Having him as a pundit on TV, seeing that passion is really important.
Everyone in the football community just seems to adore Ian, because he’s so down to earth and authentic. You need characters like that in football.
What I love about Wrighty is he’s just so genuine, loving and funny. His personality is infectious - you just want to spend as much time as possible around him. You love spending time in his company because he just makes you laugh. He’s the only person in my life that calls me ‘Kels’ - because it’s Ian Wright, I just let him go. It always makes me smile when I get a text from him or when I speak to him.
What you see is what you get. He loves having a laugh and a joke but he also speaks seriously about what needs to be done in the women’s game to help it grow and develop. He’s not afraid to speak up and be that powerful voice for women’s football.
Ian, have a wonderful 60th birthday. Never forget how loved you are across the football community, on both the men’s and the women’s sides. You’re so highly regarded and you deserve everything that comes your way. I hope you have a great day with your family and that they spoil you - because you deserve it!
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