Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Loving story of a dad, who happened to be Billy Wright
Vicky Wright has spent the last two years of her life immersed in a project that is sure to interest Wolves supporters.
As one of two daughters to Wolves’ greatest captain Billy Wright and Joy Beverley, one third of the 1950s girl band The Beverley Sisters, Vicky had a particularly colourful childhood.
Her project, The Billy Wright Story, delves into her memories of Wright the person as well as his football career. He was a humble man and devoted father. She has spent countless hours unearthing film reel, photographs and artefacts from her father’s playing days which, with the help of Wolves fans, she is hoping to bring to life with a tour.
“For me this is a legacy project. My daughter will have it, and my sister’s children. It’s there forever now,” Vicky says. “We’ve made it with all his favourite music and there’s so many quotes from people like Sir Bobby Charlton. It’s beautiful. When you’ve got the likes of Sir Tom Finney and Sir Stanley Matthews saying things like ‘He was a giant of the game, we all respected Billy’. All of these words, I thought, ‘Hey, Dad, you kept that quiet’.”
In 1949 Wright lifted his first major honour, the FA Cup, as Wolves beat Leicester City 3-1 in the Wembley final.
“There’s a lovely piece of footage of him when they returned to Wolverhampton with the cup,” Vicky reveals. “On top of this beautiful old-fashioned bus, everyone is waving. Stan Cullis comes out and says, ‘Ladies and gentleman, thank you very much for coming’ I’d like to introduce to you the most popular man in all of Wolverhampton’.
“Everyone starts cheering, and Dad comes out to speak, looking so young. He puts on this posh voice as he says, ‘Ladies and gentleman’. It made me laugh, he never spoke like that. He must have been trying to make a good impression. These are all magical things to look back on.”
The Fifties was a trailblazing decade for Wright and Wolves. The club won three league titles and took part in the prestigious televised floodlit friendlies against top opposition from Europe and beyond. The matches were a forerunner to the European Cup. Wright led the team out at Molineux in special gold shirts designed to shine under the lights. Television audiences were huge, and Wright was by now a household name. He had already won 64 caps by the time Hungarian giants Honved were beaten in the game that earned Wolves the tag of Champions of Europe.
With his celebrity marriage to one of the Beverley Sisters, Wright has been described as the David Beckham of his day, but that does him a disservice. He was a reluctant superstar who never courted the sort of publicity witnessed in the Posh and Becks era. He was happy to leave the showbiz lifestyle to his wife and her sisters.
“He was shy. He never had girlfriends, he had been to a couple of dances but he didn’t really have anyone before he met Mum,” Vicky explains. “We lived in North London. They found a place in the country in Barnet. Back then it was genuinely in the country, and that’s where we grew up.
“At one stage there were the three Bevs and their mother, me, my sister and Dad growing up. The Bevs were a force to be reckoned with, so Dad used to sit there and it would just be the women talking. Every now and then something would happen, and he’d drop a little comment in.
“I remember once Argentina was on the television, and he just said, ‘When I was there and I met Peron…’. We all just turned to him and shouted, ‘What?! You met Peron??’. He just wasn’t someone who boasted, he was a wonderful man.
“He used to have all these England caps and he would just give them away. Someone like the milkman would knock on the door with his little boy to meet him, and he’d invite him in for a chat and when they left he’d say, ‘Here, have a cap.’
“Mum would tell him off, but he used to reply, ‘Don’t be daft, I’ve got loads of them’.
“He would talk to anyone the same way. One day he would be suited and booted at Buckingham Palace meeting the Queen and the next day he would be down at the supermarket wearing a tracksuit chatting with the man pushing the trolleys in exactly the same way.”
It is moments such as this that Vicky wants to share with a wider audience when she debuts her presentation at the Sir Jack Hayward Suite at Molineux on the evening of Thursday September 20.
Wright retired at the end of the 1958/59 season with 105 caps. To add to three league titles and an FA Cup, he also won the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award in 1952. As well as the personal stories from a happy home, this project has helped Vicky connect with that significant chapter of his life. Even today, she stumbles across reminders of her father’s significance in the football world.
“For this presentation I had to have a lot of old photographs scanned, and I went to the local printer where I live in Surrey and handed them over to the woman behind the counter. She looked at them and said, ‘I think I recognise him, it’s Billy Wright isn’t it? My brother is a huge Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter’.”
It was not all a fairytale, though. There were struggles as a manager at Arsenal for four years in the 1960s. During his time as head of sport at Central Television, Wright overcame a period of alcohol dependency that he counted as one his greatest struggles and conquests. Vicky wants to show that, within the hero, there were human failings and fears too.
Tickets for the opening night of The Billy Wright Story can be purchased at Eventbrite.co.uk and if you would like to support Vicky’s hopes of taking the show to a wider audience, you can be part of her campaign at www.kickstarter.com/profile/thebillywrightstory