Jeanette Kwakye on Ian Wright's cultural impact

Ian Wright

This year we’re commemorating Black History Month by telling the story of the figures who have shaped or are connected with our unique history with our Black community.

Over the course of the month, we’re profiling key voices from the Arsenal family and beyond.

Our final guest writer is childhood Arsenal fan, former Great Britain Olympic sprinter and sports broadcaster, Jeanette Kwakye MBE.

By Jeanette Kwakye MBE

My Arsenal journey started when I was really young - and I owe a lot of it to my childminder. Her name was Barbara, she lived in Waltham Cross and she was a huge Arsenal supporter. Barbara was amazing. My brother, Louis, and I were often at her house - she’d always make us watch the games. She loved Arsenal so much she even called her dog Merson! That started off our obsession with the club. She introduced us to what was happening on the pitch but that wasn’t all. Barbara also taught us what the club meant for the community, which was really important. 

I was still young when I went to my first match - but in general, it was only really when I was in my mid-20s that I started going regularly. Back then, we didn’t really have much access to tickets, so it was difficult for us to go to games.

Nowadays I’m lucky enough to have that opportunity. I love the diversity you see in the crowd at Emirates Stadium. It’s absolutely huge for me and, to be honest, it’s a big part of why I’m such a big Arsenal supporter. I see myself represented in the fanbase – that gives me a good feeling. I see what some of the players on the pitch have been through and what they’ve gone on to achieve.

The connection started from me watching Wrighty as a little girl and goes right through to now - I look at Bukayo Saka and think that could be my son or my little nephew in the future. As a Black woman, I get such a level of pride at supporting a team like Arsenal, knowing that the players on the pitch are representative of who we, the wider Arsenal community, are. It’s not just about race, either - it’s also down to things like socio-economic background and sexuality too.

Watching Arsenal is a vibe. When you go to Emirates Stadium, you know that you’re in a safe space. That’s so important for me - bringing my kids up in an area knowing they’re in that safe space at The Arsenal.

Arsenal supporters celebrate Martinelli's goal against Manchester City

I mentioned Wrighty above - I just have so much love for this man. And it goes right back to when I was a little girl getting into football. He just had so much flair on the pitch. He was a real character and I used to love the fact that he’d be mentioned in hip hop and rap songs I listened to when I was growing up.

He was always the cool footballer to get behind. I felt really seen looking at someone like Wrighty. That’s powerful.

People say ‘never meet your heroes’, but I’m so glad I met Wrighty. I remember the first time I saw him - I just couldn’t believe I was there in front of him. I’ve met people like Usain Bolt and Mike Tyson in the past but, when I met Ian, I was just like ‘wow’.

Our relationship started out working on projects together, like Wrighty’s House podcast. But it quickly went from a working relationship into a friendship.

The last four or five years have been a riot - he’s just a joker. And you know what, there are still some moments where I think ‘wow, I’m in a group chat with Ian Wright’.

How can I best describe Wrighty? He’s just like everyone’s uncle. I cannot emphasise how important he is in the wider Black community. He’s one of the most respected Black people in this country and that will always remain so. It’s important we give him his flowers now because he’s integral to what a lot of people have grown up watching and understanding. He’s just everybody’s hero, especially those who love football.

Ian Wright celebrates with the Arsenal Women squad after we won the 2023 Continental Tyres League Cup

Wrighty is such a huge supporter of Arsenal Women - and having allies like him is key. His love and support is all completely organic. None of it is forced. You look at his involvement with the women’s team. He’s such a massive supporter of the women’s game. He’ll sit down and really analyse the game. He just says it as it is - and I think that’s a really important part of women’s football’s journey.

You look at his little granddaughter - she’s seven and she can already play the game. She’s got the spirit of her grandad. Whatever that is, it’s clearly risen from the nurturing he’s been able to give his family. He’s had a generational legacy in so many ways and I just think that’s amazing. He’s a pioneer.

Ian’s not the only Arsenal legend making waves in broadcasting right now. What Alex Scott has done since retiring is massively inspiring. I was actually with her when she announced she was going to stop playing football. I’m so proud to see what she’s done. She’s allowed the light to be shone on how important it is to have representation in all areas of football and sports broadcasting. 

Check out the rest of our Black History Month series:

See Full List

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