Ian Wright: 'We Had to Run a Lot When I Was Young, to Avoid the Skinheads'

We spoke to the footballing legend about growing up in south-east London.
ian wright fifa 20
Photo courtesy of PR.

You'll know who Ian Wright is, even if you have zero interest in football.

A legendary player at Crystal Palace, Arsenal and England. An outspoken campaigner who found success relatively late, after jail time, with little help beyond his own self-determination. A football pundit known for his frankness, elation and, quite often, his very watchable frustration.

I caught up with Wrighty at the FIFA 20 world premiere, a game he was recently revealed to have a place in. Here's what he had to say about growing up in south-east London.


VICE: Ian, where did you have your first snog?
Ian Wright: I grew up in a block of flats on a council estate, and there was a girl called Denise. I had my first kiss with her. The first time they put their tongue in my mouth, I should say, was on the stairs of Elford Close – I must have been 11? We both lived in the same block of flats. It's funny – there were two girls around my age there at the time, and it just so happened that it was me and Denise that snogged.

How was it?
It was amazing, man. Amazing!

Which pubs did you go to when you were young?
When I first started going to the pubs it would've been The Brockley Jack, which was near Crofton Park in south-east London, just across the bridge from our estate – that's kinda where everybody went. Then there's The Breakspeare Arms, down in Brockley Cross.

Sometimes we went all over London, especially when I found out about the Wag Club on Oxford Street, and Crazy Larry's. What happens in there is that you find cool guys and sound-systems, and you'd just follow where the sound-system went, and you ended anywhere.

It was a different time – this was around the late-70s. I got into my soul music around then, too. At the end you'd get the night bus home. Loved the night bus – nobody knew you, and you had your mates, so it'd be cool and not dangerous.

ian wright arsenal 1995

Wright celebrating during an Arsenal v Manchester City match in 1995. Photo: Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

What was your first drink?
Man… lager. And. Lime.

What was your go-to date spot when you were growing up?
You know something, when I found out about St James' Park – which is if you go over Westminster Bridge and turn right [from Brockley] – I used to take my girlfriends for a walk all the way around that. Especially in the night, when the city lights were shining and it was lovely. I'd always take them there and then to the cinema at Elephant & Castle, The Coronet.


Where did you live when you left home for the first time?
When I moved out of mum's we lived in a place called Warlingham, which is way south of Croydon. I lived there with my girlfriend at the time. It was a friendly place – a really green and nice area.

Say a mate of yours visited where you grew up but had done all the touristy stuff already – where would you take them?
Well, I grew up in Brockley… look, south-east London wasn't a really great place at the time, in that respect, in terms of places to go. There are a few nice West Indian restaurants and little places, but it's only when I ended up in northwest London that you had anywhere, so I'll take them there, and I'll probably say pubs. I love pubs, old pubs – many of them are turning into gastropubs and stuff like that. But let's say The Cow on Westbourne Park Villas, or Garden Bar. I'd take people there because you get real people there. Real Londoners doing their stuff, real people who have been going to these places 30, 40 years. Those are the places you wanna go.

What's the worst night you had out in the UK?
I didn't have too many bad nights out in the UK – although when we were younger sometimes, you ended up with people fighting, or running. We had to do a lot of running because there were a lot of skinheads around the place when we were younger trying to fight us. We had to run. So they weren't good nights out, y'know what I mean, when you had to hide under cars and stuff like that. Those happened quite frequently.


Where was that?
Bellingham and Downham mainly. There used to be a club called Jaspers that we used to go. That was a rough place – there was a lot of angst and that kind of black and white violence.

What's the first thing you were given for free, having made it big?
A car. The first one was when I went to Crystal Palace – I got given a Mini Metro. After that I also got given a Peugeot 209, and a Mercedes 190E.

Why were you given them?
I asked for them. Then I suddenly started to get free clothes and stuff because they knew I liked my clothes. But the cars were the thing of real value.

What's the first time you got into a place for free?
There used to be clubs like China Whites and Oasis – places I used to go when I was at Palace. Most clubs would let me in for free at that point.


What was the best bit about growing up where you did?
What was really good about it was that, because everybody played football our age, and we had mates near us and went to youth clubs, there was a real camaraderie. Like, we'd go to the park and play football for hours; or we'd walk around the estate and challenge another block of flats to a football match. I used to love all that sort of stuff. I was always upfront and wanting to score goals – I don't remember passing to anyone.

Are you bitter you only have 70 for passing as an Icon on FIFA 20? I guess you didn't really pass much…
Ah, I'm not fussed! Given how I played I was only meant to be doing little passes, not like Dennis Bergkamp or Gerrard, or whatever.

How does it feel to finally be able to play as you on FIFA?
It isn't an ego thing, but I'm happy in the game. I want to see how I play in the game. My son's gonna play, my grandson probably. Hopefully it'll do me justice.

Have you played FIFA against any other footballers?
Ryan Sessegnon gave me a really good beating but was cool about it. My sons both beat me. They all kinda beat me – I get anxious every time I'm in the box, which is really cool to feel.

Ian Wright was speaking at the FIFA 20 World Premiere. EA SPORTS FIFA 20, featuring VOLTA FOOTBALL, is out now on all platforms.