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IN CONVERSATION WITH IAN WRIGHT

“Give them something back”: Ian Wright on the Euro 2024, the importance of fan culture, and the adidas Stadium in Berlin

It’s a breathtaking backdrop that adidas has set up in front of the Bundestag – a specially constructed stadium for public viewing, a building with an exhibition on the history of the European Championship, a recreated fan corner pub, and much more – all for Euro Cup 2024. The best part? It’s open to everyone, without entry fee. In the midst of it: Ian Wright. The British football star has come to Berlin specifically to visit the adidas stadium.

Ian Wright, he’s a legend. Growing up in South London as the son of Jamaican parents, football was for him – like for so many others – a game, a passion, and a chance for a new life all at once. But it took time. Until he was 22 years old, Ian Wright, who had a criminal record and two young children to support, had to make his way through gritty Sunday League appearances, as he puts it, before being signed by Crystal Palace and later transferring to Arsenal. A breakthrough he himself says he never expected. And the turning point in his destiny. 

Nowadays, after years of a career in football, Ian Wright’s impact goes beyond goal-scoring. He remains a beloved figure, admired for his talent, resilience, and contributions to the sport and community alike. Wright transitioned into television, becoming a respected football pundit and commentator. His charismatic presence and insightful analysis have made him a household name in football broadcasting. Who else but him should we ask for his opinion on the European Championship?

Ann-Kathrin Riedl: Apart from winning – what brought and still brings you the greatest joy as football player?

Ian Wright: That’s a good question. It probably comes back down to being with your teammates. That’s what you miss most when you stop playing: the camaraderie, the togetherness. In the moments when you win, but especially when you loose. Sometimes people think that football players don’t have normal lives. That they don’t have sorrows or problems like anybody else. But of course that’s not true. The only difference is that you always have people around you to share them with. 

Is the connection between teammates one that lasts forever, even after you’ve stopped playing?

Yes! The connection you build up while going through so many ups and downs, lasts for a lifetime. With some players I’ve been together every day over seven or eight years. It’s difficult when you stop being an active player and have to spend your days on your own again. Quite a challenge!

Speaking about going through a lot – what is the best way to deal with defeats?

When I was younger, I was a terrible loser. I would cry on the football field and I wouldn’t speak to anybody for days. But luckily I got a coach who teached me that losing is just part of the game. When you are asked about football, you wouldn’t tell at first: „Oh, I remember when I lost the Final. Oh, I remember I didn’t score a goal!“. Instead, you think of the great things you did. But what gives you joy with the great things is what you learn from losing. 

You lose way more often than you win. Not many people can win the World Cup, The Premier League, The Champions League. It’s only gonna be one team that can do it. And the other teams have to loose. The earlier you can accept that as a player, the happier you will be. 

“The connection you build up while going through so many ups and downs, lasts for a lifetime”
Ideally, losing makes you stronger with each defeat.

Absolutely! What I often explain to young people, is that you have to embrace losing. Ask yourself: „What could I have done more so that I don’t have to have this feeling again?“. This is not only about football. It is also about playing the big game, life. Learn from every defeat! You must not simply be angry, then nothing will change.

How would you describe your biggest passion right now? It’s known that you advocate for women’s football.

Football is a gift and it’s for everybody. I’m in a position now where I’m able to advocate for it. This is now my passion. I want to speak up about things that are not yet working well and I want to improve them. It’s also important to me because my granddaughter plays football and wants to become a professional.

And what do you wish for her?

I wish for her to stay free from injuries. She shows great potential, and I hope she can make the most of it. When she was a little child, she used to sleep with the ball in her hands. Now she’s 10 and when you start playing so young, many things can happen on the way to becoming a professional footballer, whether you are a boy or a girl. So all I want for her is to be able to continue to enjoy playing without injuries. 

“Football is a gift and it’s for everybody. I’m in a position now where I’m able to advocate for it. This is now my passion. I want to speak up about things that are not yet working well and I want to improve them”
In Europe, social climate is tense right now. Many people no longer feel connected to each other. What positive impact can football and the European Championship in particular have at this moment?

Football brings people together. It is about the unity, the togetherness. When you walk around Berlin right now, you can see all nations – Scottish fans, Hungarian fans, Albanian fans and so many more. And look at this place, the Home of adidas Football – what a brilliant idea to make it accessible for everyone. To provide a space to people to celebrate for free. 

The fans are so important, they are the only thing pure that’s left in a game that is so much about money. More money for the payers, more money for coaches, more money for everyone. But when it comes to the fans, it’s about „take, take, take“. Give them something back! Without them, it is not the same. Look at the atmosphere here at the stadium. Look at the Dutch fans dancing in the streets – that’s what it is about.

How do you feel about the atmosphere of this European Championship in general?

It’s been amazing so far! If the teams were able to play to the level of what the fans give, this would be even better. Because the fans are fantastic!

“Football brings people together. It is about the unity, the togetherness”

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