Bailey Wright - Football - PlayersVoice
Bailey Wright - Football - PlayersVoice

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Google search saved my career

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Google search saved my career

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I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, a pair of Puma Kings with the long studs in. I didn’t have any skins or gloves. It was so cold I couldn’t feel my toes.

 

I was at Springfields Training Ground in Preston which, if you haven’t been there before, is between Blackburn and Blackpool in Lancashire. The ground was at the back of a housing estate. I remember the building being quite old but the pitches were beautiful.

 

It was how I’d always pictured football in England. Cold and dark. Wet pitches where the ball moves quickly and sliding tackles are easy. It was just before Christmas. I was 16 and straight off the plane.

 

I didn’t realise it at the time but the next 50 minutes would change my life forever.

 

Up until then, my experiences in football had been up and down. I had made the Joeys team, but I had missed out on a spot at the Australian Institute of Sport. There wasn’t much A-League interest so I was playing for my local club team on the Mornington Peninsula, Langwarrin, and seriously considering shelving my football plans to work with my Dad, Andy, as a pit builder.

 

Dad had contacted Terry McPhillips, whom he met years before through a family friend. Terry was at Crewe Alexandra back then but had gone on to become head of youth development at Blackburn. Dad arranged with Terry for me to trial there. My parents paid for my flights and Blackburn picked up a few nights’ accommodation.

 

Terry also mentioned Preston North End, which wasn’t far from Blackburn. Dad found the club’s email address on Google and sent them an open letter about me and my background. They gave me a trial.

 

It’s funny how things work out.

 

Blackburn, the club I had flown all that way to trial for, didn’t make an offer. They said, ‘We like what we see, but you’re not better than what we’ve got.’ That was nothing new to me. I had experienced it before. It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It hurts every time.

 

But it was a different story at Preston. I had one training session in front of Jamie Hoyland. It went for a bit under an hour. I played five-a-side games, seven-a-side games.

 

As I was walking in after training, Jamie took me aside. He said, ‘Is your Dad here?’ Dad was in the car waiting for me. Jamie said, ‘Bring him in, I’d like to have a chat.’

 

Interesting.

 

I remember fetching Dad and walking with him through a really narrow corridor that led to an office with little windows. It was a bit of a dungeon, really.

 

The manager said to Dad, ‘I really like what I see. Your lad reminds me of a young version of myself.’

 

A few days later Dean Ramsdale offered me a two-year scholarship that started in July. He said it was the first time he had ever offered someone a contract without seeing them over multiple training sessions, but Jamie had spoken very highly of me and that was good enough for him.

 

If it was any other manager than Jamie, I’m not sure they would have given me a contract. I mean, it was one training session!

 

They hadn’t seen any video of me. I’m pretty sure they didn’t know anything about me until Dad emailed them out of the blue.

 

I think he just liked my attitude. It was only a 50-minute session and during that he picked up a vibe about my character. He was the right person at the right time.

 

If there’s one lesson you learn trying to make it as a footballer, it’s that first impressions matter.

 

Sometimes you only get one opportunity. I learned that from the state team set-up in Victoria. I don’t know how they run now, but when I used to go to state trials, you would kick the ball maybe three times and at the end of it they would read out a list of players who they wanted to see again.

 

Quite often my name wasn’t on those lists. You’d be scratching your head thinking, ‘What could I have done better?’ It was the players with flair and already known to the coaches that tended to get noticed.

 

I spent a lot of time at Preston: seven-and-a-half years. That office is now a room for media interviews. Every time I was in there I used to say, ‘I signed my first contract in this room.’

 

No matter how much they changed it around, I always remembered how it was when I walked in there for the first time. I could picture where the desk was, how it was all arranged, the tiny little TV with Sky on it. Everything.

 

 

 

A LIFE CARRYING SAND BAGS

I read Ange Postecoglou’s column here the other day.

 

Right at the beginning, he told the story about the Socceroo who had struggled his whole life to make it to where he was now. It was a story he would tell us before games. Every single one of the players could relate to it. We had all taken various journeys and overcome individual obstacles in slightly different ways.

 

I started with the Langwarrin Soccer Club. You could walk to the ground from our house. Dad was my coach for many years when I was a kid. Our teams weren’t always the best – we would be in good competitions and you had to fight for every point.

 

I used to work with my old man while I was trying to carve out a football career. Being a pit builder means you’re doing a lot of concreting. When I started, he was always had me making sand bags and carrying them up and down holes. That was one of my most hated jobs, but I look at back at it now and realise that it kept me strong and grounded.

 

Dad has always worked hard and I never got any special treatment at AC Wright Pit Building. He worked me hard. That attitude of, ‘Get it done,’ is something I’ve always had with me in my life.

 

I’d always worked with Dad on weekends to earn a bit of pocket money, and whenever I had days off school, I’d go help him out.

 

I left my school Elizabeth Murdoch College – which sounds posh, but isn’t! – and started working fulltime with him at 15, 16.

 

He was always had me making sand bags and carrying them up and down holes. That was one of my most hated jobs, but I look at back at it now and realise that it kept me strong and grounded.

 

I’d spent years and years relying on Mum and Dad, friends and family to drive me more than an hour each way – longer if I was getting the train – to Melbourne and back. The commuting took up a big chunk of my life. It was a big part of why I felt I had to leave school. I had fallen a long way behind in my studies pursuing my football dream, finishing early every day so I could get to the city.

 

It got to a point where I felt couldn’t do that anymore and couldn’t expect people to keep doing it for me. It was a lot of sacrifice for a football career that, regardless of how much work I was putting in, came with zero guarantees.

 

The A-League was still relatively new and the youth league was in its first season. I had gone from the Victorian Institute of Sport, which was a completely professional set-up, and the next step was the AIS.

 

I didn’t get selected for the AIS. I was gutted. That had been the goal for so long and not to achieve it hurt. But it was nothing I hadn’t experienced before. I had faced it many times.

 

The next option was Melbourne Victory’s youth team, but there wasn’t much interest there for me. There was very little income from it. I was starting to push the age of 16. The thought of being able to make some money, save up and buy a car was pretty appealing. The amount I could earn at the Victory youth team wouldn’t have covered expenses to get to training and back.

 

I felt like my football options were running out and I was starting to think seriously about giving up on a career in football and focussing on the business with Dad. It wasn’t that I had fallen out of love with football. I just thought I needed to make an income to live off.

 

Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to give football another shot and go over to the UK on trial. If Preston hadn’t offered me that contract, I reckon I would still be working with Dad and playing for Langwarrin.

 

But life has turned out very differently.

 

👊👊 @paulgal7 @tclarke5

A post shared by Bailey Wright (@baileywright6) on

 

 

‘WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?’

Before I moved to Preston, we had a going-away party. Friends, family, anyone who had been part of my life came along. It was massive.

 

Everyone wished me the best, but the question I got asked more than any was, ‘When will you be back?’

 

I was like, ‘I’m on a two-year scholarship and hopefully it’ll be longer than that.’ People close to me understood, but heaps of others wondered why I wasn’t returning home anytime soon.

 

For years and years after, people kept asking me the question about coming back. I would answer politely, ‘Hopefully never.’ I wasn’t going over for work experience. I was going there to be a footballer. I wanted that for the rest of my life.

 

People say, ‘You were 16, you must have been homesick.’ I’m one of five kids and we’re all very close. Obviously I loved and missed my family but, honestly, there wasn’t one second that I didn’t love what I was doing over there. After all, it was their support that got me here.

 

When I arrived in Preston in July, I wasn’t allowed to play. I was worried I might have to move back to Australia, that my dream of playing in England was over before it began.

 

I played a friendly with Preston North End’s fans’ team just to get a game. It wasn’t until November that I finally got clearance from the FFA to play in England and made my debut with the youth team.

 

My second game was in the FA Youth Cup versus Manchester City. We won. City had spent millions on their youth team. It was an amazing turnaround. I had gone from thinking I might be on the verge of going home to beating Manchester City in a week. That’s how quickly football can change.

 

I was living in a house with 18 lads playing football every day. We weren’t paid a lot, but we were given accommodation. Mick and Joan cooked and looked after us – they were my English family along with all my youth teammates. If someone told me a year before that I would be getting paid to play football, I would have been absolutely amazed. To have the opportunity to do it in England at a club with so much history was pretty special.

 

For years and years after, people kept asking me the question about coming back. I would answer politely, ‘Hopefully never.’ I wasn’t going over for work experience. I was going there to be a footballer. I wanted that for the rest of my life.

 

About two months later I was involved in the first team. I was named on their bench for the last game of the season. What a crazy year! I was pushing myself hard and rewards were starting to come my way.

 

Back home, I saw the news that the Socceroos had sacked Holger Osieck after losing back-to-back games 6-0 against Brazil and France. Ange was named his replacement. He had eight months to prepare before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

 

I was informed by a Preston official that Ange was coming to watch me play away against Bradford. He had also checked out Massimo Luongo, who was playing in League One, too. It was the first time I was on the Socceroos radar.

 

Ange named a couple of squads and I remember feeling disappointed not to have been named, which is a strange thing to say when I’d never been picked before and I hadn’t always got my way with selections through the years. But that’s honestly how I felt. I was playing well for Preston.

 

I kept working away and then, out of the blue, Gary Moretti called. I was named in Australia’s 30-man World Cup squad. I remember hanging up and thinking that it didn’t feel real.

 

We had lost the play-off semis to Rotherham, which was a massive disappointment, and the next day I was flying back to Terrigal to meet up with the Socceroos.

 

I only really knew one person in the Australian squad, Mark Birighitti, when I arrived. I’d played against Massimo but hadn’t really spoken to him and I crossed paths with Curtis Good when I was a kid. And that was it. There were plenty of nerves and a lot of anxiousness. I was itching to get there and meet everyone but, at the same time, it was a bit overwhelming with all those people to meet and names to remember among the playing group and the staff.

 

The players were really welcoming. It’s one of the great features of Australia’s football culture. 

 

 

 

THE WORLD CUP CALL-UP

Four years after I almost abandoned my football dream, I was selected in Australia’s final 23-man World Cup squad. I had to pinch myself. If you’d asked me four years earlier whether I’d be a member of the Socceroos at the next World Cup, I wouldn’t have thought I was a chance.

 

The moment it all hit me was when we landed in Cuiaba on the day of the tournament opener between Brazil, the hosts, and Croatia. We were playing Chile the next day, and we all rushed back to our rooms after dinner for kick-off in the Brazil game.

 

I remember looking out across the street just before the game when the national anthems were on. It was completely empty.

 

Not a single car. Not a single person. It was usually usually crazy busy, but everyone was either inside, at home, in pubs, wherever watching the game. Hearing the Brazilian national anthem gave me goosebumps. That was the moment it all started to feel real.

 

Brazil scored and went 1-0 up. I looked out into the street again and there were people running around everywhere, fireworks going off. It was mad. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is a Brazilian World Cup. This is as good as it gets.’

 

Four years after I almost abandoned my football dream, I was selected in Australia’s final 23-man World Cup squad. I had to pinch myself.

 

That feeling continued the next day. Every time you pull on that Socceroos shirt, you look to your left, you look to your right and you see the calibre of players. I didn’t get on in that game but I still felt part of it. I wanted my teammates to do the country proud against Chile.

 

In his column, Ange wrote that qualifying for the 2018 World Cup was the end of the beginning. I agree with that. I also think the 2014 World Cup was the start of the beginning.

 

That was where Ange formed a picture in his mind of how he wanted Australian football to be played and started to put it into shape.

 

I don’t think people realise how big an impact he has made. When we look back in years to come, we’ll recognise just how much was achieved during his four years guiding the Socceroos. He didn’t just change players’ mentalities. He changed the whole country’s mentality.

 

He wanted what was best for the country and Australian football. He didn’t want us to be underdogs. He wanted us to be the team others wanted to play against, the team they feared.

 

The boss taught me that the most successful people in the world fail more than anybody. They don’t fear failure because without it there is no success. If you have never failed, it means you have never strived to be your best.

 

I said during last camp that this is the strongest our group has ever been. I don’t say that lightly. Our character, our togetherness and our football ability has come a long way.

 

I knew leading up to those games against Syria and Honduras that we were going to qualify. There was no question. We are so much better prepared for this World Cup than four years ago. We will be better than ever.

 

It all feels a bit more real now the draw is done and we know who we’re playing in our group. We’re ready to back ourselves against anyone. 

 

Russia it is! 🇦🇺 ⚽️ 💛🙌🏻💪🏻 #russia2018 #socceroos

A post shared by Bailey Wright (@baileywright6) on

 

 

NEVER, EVER GIVE UP

So much has changed over the last eight years. I’m loving Bristol City – and getting past Jackson Irvine and Hull City 3-2 last weekend! Bristol City is a wonderful club and the city itself reminds me of Melbourne, which is very special to me.

 

I’ve also spent a huge part of my life now with my fiancée Alex, who is English, and our two dogs.

 

All the setbacks, all the times I was overlooked for teams, all those days lugging sand bags for Dad and wondering whether I was ever going to make it as a footballer. They all shaped me.

 

If there are any kids out there going through similar struggles and experiencing similar doubts, I’d tell them this: don’t give up.

 

You could be 50 minutes away from your whole life turning around.

 

Bailey Wright  -  Contributor

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