It’s every schoolboy’s dream to play football in a stadium packed with fans singing your name, an instant hero with the world at your feet. Former England striker and motorcycle fanatic Ian Wright lived that emotion-charged fairytale.
The Triumph rider may have bid farewell to the beautiful game 15 years ago and readily concedes nothing will ever compare to the crackle of the crowd when ball hits net.
But the World Cup pundit, currently analysing matches for the BBC in Russia, doesn’t mind admitting motorcyles and riding “come pretty damn close” and have helped him keep those fleeting moments of desperately missing the game at bay.
His personality has helped too. Even after a glittering club and international career, his sparkling smile and charisma have ensured he is very much still ‘one of us’ and in touch with his roots.
The London lad, who came late to the game, is refreshingly prone to the kind of outbursts normally reserved for mere mortal supporters and is unafraid to say what he thinks.
And that ‘heart on sleeve’ charm is why he’s so well liked, not just by fans of Crystal Palace and Arsenal – where he played a total of 446 games, scoring every other game – but by football fans around the world.
“It’s been a fantastic adventure, but because I got into football late, I had to work extra hard to make it. That gave me a proper sense of perspective, which has helped me appreciate my riding,” said the effervescent striker.
A difficult upbringing in Brockley, south London, meant he never had it easy – a factor that helped shape him as a man and played a major part in his love of motorcycles.
“When I was 10, I remember playing in the front yard one day and hearing this incredible noise. We stopped kicking the ball and went to the gate to see what it was,” he said. “I saw this amazing beige and blue Harley bike that was roaring like thunder.
Then the bloke got off it and he was built like a tank with a big beard. He just looked like a movie star and from then on I was hooked.”
But after signing for Palace at 22 and announcing himself to the world with FA Cup Final goals against Manchester United, his life changed forever and his quest for cool, to emulate the bearded man and Steve McQueen, had to be put on ice.
But ever the rebel and with his stock rising after a move to Arsenal, he chanced his arm. “When you play football, you are basically owned by the club, who tell you what you can and can’t do, but I desperately wanted to ride,” he said.
“So I asked the Arsenal chairman, David Dein, whether the club would insure me for a bike. Without hesitating he said ‘definitely no motorcycles’. I’d already been riding for two years!”
The freedom a bike gives you is indescribable. That, the sights, the smells and the sound of the engine are a hypnotic mix.Ian Wright.
Career’s end for the England striker, who infamously collided with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger while roller-blading through Highbury’s marble halls, meant he was free to explore his other passion in life… riding his Triple R.
He said: “Since that day in my yard I’d always loved bikes, so when I stopped playing, it was like an unbelievable new chapter opening up for me. The freedom a bike gives you is indescribable. That, the sights, the smells and the sound of the engine are a hypnotic mix.”
So what would he choose? Hitting the perfect goal or experiencing the ride of a lifetime.
“I’m an emotional guy, so both touch me in different ways, but nothing can compare to those Wembley goals or winning a game in the last minute. It’s like a pure concentrated adrenaline rush, whereas on a bike it’s just as magical, only much more spread out,” he said.
“I love the roar of the engine and always have to gun the throttle several times before I go.
That’s why I love my Scrambler… man, there’s nothing quite like that noise on open pipes.”
Ian was at Triumph HQ to pick up a customised Scrambler, complete with full Tiger 800 XC front end and twin discs in khaki metallic matte paint… and his trademark Number 8 on the front board.
I appreciate what I have and still get excited by the same things I did when I was 10 and saw that bearded bloke get off his bike.Ian Wright.
The bike, which he rode to the London derby between his two clubs the following day, featured a cut-down front guard, custom wheel rims with colour-matched spoke nipples and Tiger Sport bars as well as:
- Triumph sport levers
- Motogadget micro speedo
- Bespoke chocolate leather single saddle and rack conversion
- Motogadget micro tail indicators
- Motogadget bar end indicators
- British Customs sprocket, front sprocket cover and chain guard
- K-Tech Razor custom rear shocks
- Spirit of the Seventies custom exhaust
“I ride around London a lot and I’ve been around Europe on lots of different bikes, but apart from the Harley, it’s always Triumph because their bikes are well-balanced, English and so cool,” he said.
“I’ve been on my bike with a couple of bike chapters through Arizona and Texas in the States, just one of 100 other riders, and the feeling of pack camaraderie and being in the moment is like being part of a winning football team. Everyone looks out for each other.”
And when he’s not flying around England as a television pundit, Wright loves to escape the public glare on his bike: “I’ve been all over the world watching football, but when my wife and I rode to Portugal for a holiday, it was just the best time ever.
“We saw things we’d never have seen in a car, we experienced much more and just had a wicked time getting right back to the stuff that really matters.” That, he sheepishly admits, is why everyone loves Wrighty.
He said: “Perhaps it’s because they can see that football and all that comes with it hasn’t changed me.”