Preston North End and Socceroos defender Bailey Wright has enjoyed a meteoric rise up football’s ranks in recent years. He tells Football Central about his time at Preston, scoring from centre half and his experiences with the Socceroos.
Born in Victoria to English parents, Wright spent his junior years at local clubs Langwarrin, Mornington and Dandenong before joining the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2007. In 2009, Wright made the move abroad signing for Preston.
“I was 16 when I moved, which at the time didn’t really feel that young to me, all that was in my head was coming to play football and nothing else really came in to mind,” said Wright.
“I was living in a house with 18-19 lads and we all played together, was never a boring moment!
“It didn’t take too long to settle because I loved what I was doing, at a good club, team mates were a great bunch of boys and Mick and Joan who looked after everyone in our digs made it feel like home very quickly.”
As the season edges closer to the halfway point, Wright’s Preston lie in third place on the League One table. After missing out on promotion in the playoffs last season, an automatic spot is the aim this term.
“I would always take automatic [promotion], play offs are a bit of a lottery really. It would be great to go up that way, but as we experienced last year it is a horrible feeling when you come so close but just fall short!”
There is also the chance, should Preston be promoted automatically, that Wright still gets to grace the Wembley pitch, courtesy of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (JPT), a knockout competition exclusively for League One and League Two sides.
“The JPT is a great chance to get to Wembley, always nice getting into finals and winning silverware and JPT is a great opportunity for League One & Two teams to do that.”
League One has become home to a growing number of Australians in recent seasons, with the likes of Massimo Luongo, James Meredith and Shane Lowry plying their trade in English football’s third tier. Wright is also teammates with another Australian, Neil Kilkenny.
“It’s always nice having another Aussie in your team, because there are things that we tend to both have in common with growing up in Australia. Always good to have a few playing in the same league and doing well too, always nice to see Aussies doing well!”
Players who head overseas before making an impact in the A-League are often forgotten by the wider football community, but Wright doesn’t think his early move hurt his chances of Socceroos selection.
“No, I don’t think so, everyone who wants to carve themself a career out and in any type of sport or work always has to find a pathway that suits them, no one is the same and people adapt differently to different scenarios. My [pathway] was overseas and not in Australia.
“There’s been a lot more players from the A-League getting into the national than recent years and I think that’s because the league is getting stronger and stronger each season.”
Wright was part of Australia’s World Cup squad that travelled to Brazil, although he was an unused substitute for all three matches. He reflected on the great learning experience that was also tinged with frustration.
“It’s almost indescribable; the emotion you feel is hard to explain because I’m sure everyone felt different things. You had to pinch yourself at times to remind yourself it was real!
“It’s always frustrating sitting on the bench because any footballer wants to be out there playing, but whether you’re playing or not you have a role to play in the team. Maybe it’s picking the boys up after a tough day, or keeping someone on their toes in training just to remind them that if they drop their standard then you’re there to take their place, loads of different things like that.”
Wright scored on his first start for the Socceroos in their win over Saudi Arabia, but has yet to feature since. He says selection or non-selection doesn’t change his day to day work ethic.
“You always want to play for your country, so frustration is normal when you don’t. I’m not one to get to down if I miss out on selection or to get too hyped up if selected, I like to continue to do the same thing, work hard and see what happens.”
With eight goals in 120 appearances for Preston from centre half, Wright has a decent goalscoring record for a defender which he attributes to playing further up the field in his junior years.
“[The secret is] close your eyes and shoot,” Wright says jokingly.
“I think being a midfielder and striker when I was younger maybe gives me a little bit of an advantage to score goals but I don’t score as many as I would like.”
When asked to pick his favourite goal for the Lilywhites, Wright chose a late leveller in the 2011/12 season at home to MK Dons.
“Probably my first senior goal. It was the equaliser in the 90th minute, a header against MK Dons on Sir Tom Finney’s (A legend of Preston and English football) 90th birthday, something I’ll always remember.”
After a niggling groin injury, Wright recently underwent surgery to fix the problem. It’s been a testing time for the 22 year old, but he is aiming to be back in the near future.
“Yes, to be honest I’ve been carrying the injury for a few months and it got to the point where it needed to get done, which I struggled to come to terms with but for the long term I needed it.
“No one likes being injured and it’s tough looking out the gym and see the boys running round training and your inside doing your rehab. Rehab is going well so I’m hoping to be back fairly soon but just taking each day as it goes by.”