Obituary: Tommy Wright, footballer

Scotland international footballer in Sunderland's famous 'Bank of England' team

Tommy Wright, footballer.

Born: 20 January, 1928, in Clackmannan.

Died: 5 May, 2011, in Sunderland, aged 83.

TOMMY Wright was one of the many Scottish footballers of the 1950s who earned international selection on only a handful of occasions, when today his talents would likely have made him an ever-present in the navy blue.

The right winger played three times for Scotland, including a supporting role in the famous "Last-minute Reilly" match at Wembley, but missed out on further opportunities by virtue of the stiffest of competition presented by legendary figures such as Willie Waddell of Rangers and Gordon Smith of Hibernian.

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Although born in neighbouring Clackmannan, Wright's footballing pedigree came from fine Fife stock. He first emerged playing for village junior team Blairhall Colliery in the west of the kingdom.

The workers at the local pit donated a penny of their salary to the club each week, and the team thrived, earning a reputation as a breeding ground for the professional game. In season 1937-38, six players from Blairhall joined Celtic, and over almost the next three decades, the club was said to have supplied the senior game with an average of four players per season. Among those who started off their careers in the village were goalkeeper George Niven, who spent 11 years with Rangers and a further seven at Partick Thistle; Scotland inside forward Charlie Fleming of East Fife and Sunderland; Scotland winger Jackie Sinclair of Dunfermline, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday; and Andy Young, who became one of Raith Rovers' greatest-ever players.

Partick Thistle were first to put their faith in the teenage Wright, small at 5ft 9in but stocky in build, offering him terms at Firhill in February 1945. In his first full season, 15 goals in 26 league games caught the eye, as Thistle took third place behind Hibernian and Rangers in Division A.

Despite limited further appearances, his goal-scoring ratio continued and in March 1949 he was sold to Sunderland for 8,000.

At Roker Park, he was part of the team then known as the "Bank of England" club because of the record transfer fees paid for Len Shackleton and Trevor Ford, who he combined with to great effect in the front line.

In Wright's first full season at the club, during which he was ever present, Sunderland finished third in the league, a point behind English champions Portsmouth and runners-up Wolves.

The title was effectively thrown away, with Sunderland losing three of their last five matches.

Nevertheless, third place is an achievement the club has not been able to match since then.

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Wright had a further four seasons at Sunderland when he was a regular fixture in the team and a frequent goalscorer, other than 1951-52 when a bad injury kept him on the sidelines.He recovered his fitness and his form the next season, and impressed the SFA enough to hand him an international debut away to Wales in October 1952, after the selectors departed from their long-standing policy of favouring home-based players to pick a side containing seven men from English clubs.

Wright replaced Lawrie Reilly of Hibernian on the right wing, who had been moved to centre forward. The Scots won 2-1 in Cardiff with goals from Allan Brown and Billy Liddell, and Wright retained his place in the team that faced Ireland at Hampden two weeks later.

A 90th minute header from Reilly salvaged a draw against the Irish, and the Hibernian centre forward repeated the feat in Scotland's final match in the Home International championship, his dramatic late second goal at giving Scotland a 2-2 draw away to England and earning the player the lifelong nickname of "last-minute Reilly". But despite not having played in a losing Scotland side, Wright's international career was over as the Scots celebrated their comeback at Wembley.

In 1955, having scored 52 goals for Sunderland in 170 games, Wright returned to Scotland in a high-profile transfer in part-exchange for East Fife inside forward Charlie Fleming, with 20,000 also going to the Bayview club for their prize asset.

Replacing the "Cannonball", the darling of the Methil club, would have been a thankless task for any player, but the 28-year-old Wright kept up an impressive goal every second game average for the Fifers in Division A, before returning to England when he joined Oldham Athletic for a handful of games in 1957 and then retiring.

Wright's football ability ran in the family. His son Tommy was a Scotland under-21 internationalist who played for eight senior clubs (Leeds United, Oldham twice, Leicester City, Middlesbrough, Bradford City, St Johnstone, Livingston and Doncaster Rovers) before becoming assistant manager of Oldham and now Chesterfield, while nephew Jackie Sinclair was also capped by Scotland.

Wright died in Sunderland earlier this month, and his funeral took place recently in Dunfermline.