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The amazing adventures of Kiwi striker Kris Bright

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Paul Fletcher | 00:01 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009

This is a story of perseverance against the odds, of one man's desire to succeed and the lengths that a burning ambition will carry an individual.

In an era when many footballers are regarded as pampered and luxuriated individuals, nobody could accuse New Zealand striker Kris Bright of an easy ride.

He has played in Holland, Norway and Greece, had trials at Kilmarnock and Norwich and spent several months as a 16-year-old at Gillingham.

Still only 22, the Kiwi international finally fulfilled his long-held ambition to play in England after signing a two-year deal with League Two Shrewsbury in the summer.

Kris Bright in action for the New Zealand Knights in December 2005Bright (black and grey shirt) in action for the New Zealand Knights

As Bright told me: "If there was a Champions League team on the moon that wanted to sign me, I would go there."

Bright's father Dave was born in England but moved to New Zealand and represented his adopted country in the 1982 World Cup

Son Kris played the game from an early age but in rugby-obsessed NZ the standard back home was poor and the young striker played a few years above his own age group.

"It is difficult coming out of New Zealand because we are so far away from everything but it was my aim from a young age to come to England," said Bright.

"To do this I had to look at any opportunities that came my way."

Bright's first attempt came when he was barely out of school and took him 12,000 miles to Gillingham. Darren Hare, a friend of a friend of the youngster's father, was head of youth development at the Priestfield Stadium.

Several DVDs of the striker in action persuaded the Gills to take a closer look and Bright spent a few months playing for the youth team. Financial problems ended his first foray into European football - and it proved a foretaste of what lay ahead.

Bright joined the New Zealand Knights as an apprentice but an injury to a player in the senior squad presented him with an opportunity. The Knights were the Kiwi representative in the Australian A-League and the young forward was soon spotted by Scottish side Kilmarnock.

He flew to Scotland twice but eventually lost out on a pro contract to Queen of the South's Willie Gibson, who had also been on trial.

No matter, his performances for the now defunct Knights had been noticed elsewhere, with Belgium side Racing Genk and Dutch outfit Fortuna Sittard expressing an interest. Bright opted to move to the Netherlands, signing for the 2006-07 season.

"It was the first time I had played abroad - I was well excited," said Bright, who describes himself as a target man who likes to bring others into play as well as scoring goals himself.

The striker signed a one-year deal and speaks with genuine enthusiasm about how professionally the club looked after him. They provided an apartment, a car and all the basic necessities that allowed him to concentrate on football. He took lessons in the language and now rates his Dutch as pretty good.

The training was very technical and he participated in regular extra sessions to try to accelerate his development. Bright played quite a few games but unfortunately a relatively minor knee injury was misdiagnosed. When he eventually returned the season was almost over and Bright was effectively offered a trial over the summer if he wanted to earn a new contract.

While Bright was trying to earn a new deal Norwegian side Kristiansund BK approached him.

"While Fortuna were weighing up their decision I got on the next flight to Norway," he told me.

After signing an initial short-term contract, Bright scored at more than a goal a game and quickly earned himself a longer deal. You can see compilations of his goals on YouTube. The Norwegian second division is clearly of a modest standard; the crowds are small and most games are played on Astroturf.

Yet the fishing village of Kristiansund is the birthplace of Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who played for Clausenengen in the same town. Bright's impressive goals-to-games ratio invited comparisons that the modest young Kiwi was keen to avoid.

"People were saying stupid things, comparing us," said a clearly embarrassed Bright. "The boys at the club gave me a bit of stick about it so I wanted it toned down a little bit."

In Norway as in Sittard, Bright did not know any other Kiwis but he made friends with a Canadian who lived close by. On the pitch the football was going well, with the striker an increasingly essential part of the team. The style of football was more robust than in Holland and the training more physical but it was good for his development.

A lengthy contract with top-flight side Stabaek seemed on the cards and the young striker thought a major breakthrough was imminent. The only break that followed was to his leg, ironically in a friendly against the team that planned to sign him.

The striker lost a year of his career but soon after returning came to the attention of a Greek scout. Bright had also attracted the interest of other Norwegian clubs but the recession had started to have an impact on the Scandinavian country. Combine that with the high tax rate in Norway and the Kiwi received what he felt were derisory offers.

Instead he signed an 18-month deal in January with Greek Super League club Panserraikos. He was marked by former Newcastle defender Nikos Dabizas in his first game. Next up was AEK Athens defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who was signed by Liverpool during the summer. One week he was charged with marking Brazil World Cup winner Gilberto Silva at corners. It should have been amazing - but it wasn't.

"It was a nightmare," said Bright. "Nobody could speak English and there were several players there that I had no communication with at all.

"Everything was difficult, lots of things that should have been done weren't, they didn't always pay on time and the communication from the club was awful."

The team were relegated at the end of the season and Bright, deeply disillusioned, had had enough.

"The learning curve in Greece was more of a mental thing - it made me a lot stronger," he said. "There were things I had to sort out for myself."

Bright returned for pre-season training but his agent had heard Norwich were looking for a striker. Bright paid what he described to me as a sizeable amount to buy himself out of his contract and head over to Carrow Road - this despite the fact there were no guarantees of a contract.

"That is how desperate I was to get to England," said the striker.

Bright played in a couple of reserve games, one of them against a Manchester United team managed by Solskjaer. They chatted afterwards about life in Kristiansund and the Norwegian wished the Kiwi all the best for the future.

Bright tangles with Carles Puyol at the Confederations CupBright tangles with Spain defender Carles Puyol at the Confederations Cup

Norwich stalled over a deal and word reached Shrews boss Paul Simpson. Bright impressed in a couple of training games for the League Two club and was selected for a friendly at Tranmere.

After 70 minutes he was substituted and told to wait in the changing room. Afterwards Simpson told him that he was going to drive him to Shrewsbury's ground and would not allow him to leave until he had signed a deal.

And so the story of how Bright finally made it to England is almost at an end. However, nothing in this tale is straightforward.

Bright thought he was set to start the opening game of the season at home to Burton on 8 August. Except that it transpired on the morning of the game that the Greek football authorities had faxed the details confirming Bright's international clearance to the incorrect number.

Shrews striker Dave Hibbert played instead and went on to score in the opening three games. Bright has been waiting for his chance ever since - and it means his last competitive appearance in football came as a substitute for New Zealand against Spain in this summer's Confederations Cup.

If nothing else, however, Bright's career has taught him the value of resilience.

"In some ways I have had already had what seems like a full career," he said. "There have been some great times and some terrible times.

"I definitely miss home but my family understand this is what I want to do. I feel guilty at times being away but once I have finished I plan to spend as much time with them as I can and hopefully I can make a better life for all of us.

"My aim is to play in the Premier League and it is all about stepping stones. I am feeling good and waiting for my chance."

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What an individual, clearly in love with the game and determind to be a success. Quite a dirrent character fromt he Ipswich keeper who retired after falling out of love with the game. Good luck to him.

  • Comment number 2.

    I hope he has a bright future ahead!

  • Comment number 3.

    As a transplanted Pommie football nut who emigrated to New Zealand in 1959, I fully understand the difference in playing ability between the two countries and how difficult it is for Kiwi-borns to attain the skill most British kids get from the time they can walk. Having a Pommie father obviously helps, but imagine a school playground where everyone but you wants to play rugby.
    I went from the Sutton and District League to playing in the same team as New Zealand internationals. One of my team mates asked me if I'd played in the same league as Nottingham Forest, who won the F.A. Cup that year.
    But football is much more popular with small boys (and their parents) now
    as rugby has been taken over by Polynesian (Samoan especially) hard men, who are man-sized at an early age.

  • Comment number 4.

    i was half expecting him to play in the premier league this season when i first saw him in the confederations cup. he might not be big four quality but could see him playing in one of the lower clubs.

    http://wdkf.co.uk/

  • Comment number 5.

    I knew his Dad as a player many years ago back in NZ and am not surprised to hear him being as determined as his old man was. A great story of a young man taking his knocks and opportunities from a country with so much to offer and very little recognition.

  • Comment number 6.

    great piece, love to see coverage of the New Zealand game anywhere, the level is slowly rising down here and I expect there to be more players making an impact abroad in the future. Hopefully we can make the world cup for the first time since 82 with games coming up in november, this guy could emulate his father if he continues to work hard, which from the look of things seems to be a given, I hope we see him in south africa next year, funny to see the reference to man sized polynesians above as my junior team came up against a group of maori and pacific island players who not only dominated my team through sheer size but also in terms of sheer athletic ability as well, this is promising for the game here as I have long thought maori players would have a natural flair for the game and have seen it demonstrated over the years by several players and i myself am maori and have some talented relatives who have opted for other games, rugby in particular, its been a slow process but football is really growing again finally in this country for the first time since the heady days of spain '82

  • Comment number 7.

    Just goes to show that not all football players have over inflated egos and just in it for the money.

    He clearly loves the game.

    And good luck to him.

    Football needs more of these guys.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great story, im sure Hollywood will turn this into a blockbuster !
    Also good to see its not always about the bling & egotesticle overpaid supposed stars.
    Im a Kiwi living here for 8 years now & before I arrived football was certainly not on our radars so much. As soon as I watched it I was hooked, now I cant get enough. I believe we have enough talent back home, and with rugby being forced down our throats 24/7 we are starting to get sick of it, especially our top players depart to Europe & our game is being diluted. The tide will turn & football will get stronger. I cant wait, just imagine,Kiwi names like Rangi Horomia or Manu Vatuvie feeding Rooney or Crouch who shoots & scores !! Lovely Jubbly. Bring it on !

  • Comment number 9.

    Always makes a great read when the story is about a football player who took the long, winding road to success. Good luck to Kris in his career.

    On a side note, I wonder if Panserraikos is named after Panathinaikos, as pronounced by Sylvester the Cat (of Tweety and Sylvester fame) :)

  • Comment number 10.

    Quality, a great story.....still hope for us all maybe!!!?

    http://sportales.com/soccer/125-years-of-leicester-city-football-club/

  • Comment number 11.

    Refreshing to read about the 'sporting' nature of football. No multi-million transfers, no hypocrite managers or "divers", none of it was the ref's fault, just a hard-working bloke trying to attain his dream.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Nice story. As a Shrewsbury fan good to hear how committed he is to playing.

    We all thought he'd probably be playing against Burton in the first game until that problem with the greek fa. Then Hibbert got the opportunity instead and has started the season very well. Bright looked lively in the brief substitute appearance I've seen so fairly hopefull that he can seize his chance when he gets it.

  • Comment number 14.

    Truly inspirational. It's a fantastic story, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Mr. Bright this season. I wish Kris the very best of luck; hopefully he can stay clear of injury and make the most of this chance which he's so thoroughly earned.

    Thanks to Paul for a really interesting blog, but do make sure to revisit this one later in the year!

  • Comment number 15.

    Here in Kristiansund Norway we loved Kris Brights commitment to the game. He fought like a viking and I'm sure we all wish him the best of luck with his ambitions to play in the premier league.
    Sunny Solskjær played unfortunatly for the wrong club in England so I hope he dos'nt end up there.

    The best of luck from Kristiansund

  • Comment number 16.

    Saw him play a few times for the knights back in Australia. Some good talent in NZ, especially their other young striker, Shane Smeltz. Massive congrats to the lad, he seems to fully deserve it.

    You will find thousands of other lads like him back in Australia and NZ, with enough talent to walk into most leagues in England. The problem being so many find it so difficult to get visa's to play over in the UK.

    You look at the stars that have made it in England from Oceania countries, the likes of Cahill, Kewell, Viduka etc. Its not because they were the best, its simply because they had European parents, so could walk into the country without any restrictions.

    Players that cant, end up in places like Greece, Norway, Holland, Belguim etc, playing 4 years of football well below there standard just to gain citizenship to the European Union so they can take the step into England. By then they are already 25-26 years old and premiership football is seemingly beyond them. So much waste of god given talent.

  • Comment number 17.

    Fantastic story, made even better by the fact he is still a young lad with a bright future ahead of him (no pun intended).
    Good luck to him and it just goes to show there is still players out there in love with the game, who in my believe would give more to the beautiful game than some of the players we see today who are purely in it for financial and personal gain.

  • Comment number 18.

    SteinerWS - what do you mean he played for the wrong club in England? Is there any bigger team in England to play for? He won titles, FA Cups and the Champs League - a great choice of club I would have thought!

    That aside, a great story - I hope he achieves his goal of playing in the Prem. There arent enough footballers who ply their trade at lower levels for years and then get their break - examples being Williamson (who just signed for Pompey), Jon Stead maybe?

  • Comment number 19.

    Post 8: 'egotesticle'?

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't comment much on the blogs, but I must say this one moved me out of silence. Kris's story is one of perseverance and dedication that any young man like myself can learn from. I wish him the very best and I hope one day to watch him play in the Premier League. Nice blog Paul, and good luck Kris.

  • Comment number 21.

    A really insightful article! As Shrewsbury fan I really hope he does well!

  • Comment number 22.

    We are starting to make an impression when Chris Woods at West Brom and Ryan Neilsen at Blackburn among otehrs. I have always been a huge supporter of NZ football although a frustrated one. We have produced a few good ones the best of whom was Wyton Ruffer but generally we have struggled mainly because skills development is poor. However, soccer as a participant sport is now more popular than rugby in NZ and with better coaching we a starting to improve. Long may his success continue.

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks for the comments,

    Kris struck me as being a very decent bloke and if effort and endeavour are rewarded on the pitch then I'm sure he'll do well.

    That said, like most people over here I've never actually seen him play (unless you count shot after YouTube shot of him scoring goals in Norway) and therefore I have no real idea of whether or not he has the potential to make it as a Premier League player.

    One thing I can say for sure is that he won't be going to Grecce for his holidays anytime soon.

  • Comment number 24.

    'Soccer as a participant sport is now more popular than rugby in NZ and with better coaching we a starting to improve. Long may his success continue.'

    I think the move of Australia to be part of the Asian confederation is a genuine opportunity for New Zealand football (I will not call it soccer). Qualifying from Oceania may be easy and provide no decent opposition but NZ will be able to have a genuine crack at whoever they meet in the world cup qualifying play-offs instead of being overshadowed by the Aussies. It will give the game a huge boost in NZ and interest a new generation.

  • Comment number 25.

    This is great story and a welcome counter-balance to the usual tabloid fodder. Fingers crossed for November - I remember all the games in 1981-2 when soccer was king back in Godzone.

    I think Kiwis are generally pretty good travellers and a bit adventurous with the great OE so this may have helped Kris where others may have headed off home. He seems like a pretty determined individual even at this early age.

    Basic skill levels in the UK in soccer are that much higher at school, in the same way that my English born son will eclipse his peers being able to spin pass off both hands at six because of what I have been trying to drum into him over here. The Aussies may well drag up our standard of play but realistically I think NZ ( as always ) must try and export as many of its talented youngsters as it can. It is hard for the sport to grow in the shadow of the All Blacks.

    It would be good to see a few more brown faces in the All Whites - my old school had a high Polynesian content, some of whom played soccer and showed a great flair for it. The lure of rugby was too great in the end -hopefully that can change. I would love to see Lionel Messi's reaction to the haka.

  • Comment number 26.

    Make it into a movie. That is an epic story. It'd be a damn sight better than Goal! was.

  • Comment number 27.

    Thoroughly impressed that in this day and age there are still people who want to play football for the love of the game! very touching tale and I wish him the best of luck. Have to say I will now follow Shrewsbury's results and track his progress

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm sure he's not the first Kiwi to play outside of his own country, get over it.

  • Comment number 29.

    mmm usually we export rugby players rather than Soccer...but good on yer Chris Good luck and God Bless
    you had a dream and you pursued it...thats awesome and thats wat lifes all about..if you believe you can you are right and if you believe you cant you are also right...you are one of the can do people !!
    Cheers
    Allan
    Manawatu New Zealand

  • Comment number 30.

    Great to see him fighting hard and doing steadily better. I think with that determination he has to succeed, at least to League One and hopefully bottom half Premiership. You never know, he may kick on even further.

  • Comment number 31.

    Great story and he deserves some success.
    Will not be the first kiwi to show his talent in the Premiership, remember Danny Hay at Leeds not so long ago, solid central defender.

  • Comment number 32.

    Kris Bright deserves to be successful. If only some of these talented prima-donnas had a similar attitude to football. Good article, particularly as it isn't EPL-orientated

  • Comment number 33.

    Good news from rugby mad New Zealand. I coach junior football , which ive done for about 10 years and am happy to report that there are more people registered playing football in NZ than there are playing rugby and this has been the case for a number of years now. Nothing pleases me more than to have a Grandad come up to me on the sideline who 30 years ago abused "soccer sissies" but because his grandson is out there playing he now wants the offside rule explained to him in detail. Brilliant.

  • Comment number 34.

    anyone who has watched new zealand football at all knows this guy is mediocre at best.He will never play above division two.There are far better players in new zealand the difference is they do not have a british/european passport.....

  • Comment number 35.

    Shrewsbury fan here.
    Kris came on as sub for us yesterday and showed some very promising touches. He looked quick and strong with good awareness.If Dave Hibbert wasn't scoring for fun for us I'm sure Kris would be getting more chances.
    This is a great story about a real person playing real football and not the usual Disneyland Premiership crap we are constantly fed by the national press.

 

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