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29 October 2014

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"The Ironbridge Rocket"
Billy Wright is chaired off the pitch by his England team mates after winning his 100th cap
Billy Wright is 'chaired' off the Wembley turf

He was the England football captain who married a pop singer and became a legend while still a player.

If you think we're talking about a certain Mr Beckham here, you're wrong!

audio Giant of the Gorge BBC Radio Shropshire's Jon King on the Billy Wright legend(28k)
Great Salopians: From Thomas Telford to Frank Bough
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Billy Wright made 541 appearances for Wolves (all competitions), scoring 19 goals.

Midlands Today viewers have voted him the fourth greatest midlander ever, in a poll that attracted more than 30,000 votes.

This footballing hero is Billy Wright, a name guaranteed to moisten the eye of any Wolves fan.

Billy wasn't just a legend at Wolves. He was the first player to notch up more than 100 England caps - and he was born and brought up in Ironbridge.

This Shropshire lad broke record after record in a truly remarkable career. The Football League's website describes him as 'arguably the greatest club and country servant in the history of the game' - praise indeed for a man with a reputation as a gent both on and off the pitch.

Billy led Wolves to three league titles and an FA Cup victory. He won 105 caps, more than 70 as captain, and had a name as a skilled winger(later central defender) who always seemed to make time on the ball for himself.

And as you can hear in the audio on this page, he was an inspiration to many footballers - not least Kevin Keegan.

Billy with his wife Joy
Posh & Becks? Billy and his wife Joy show off his CBE after a trip to the Palace

After hanging up his boots, he managed Arsenal, and of course his marriage to one of the famous Beverley Sisters (the Spice Girls of the 1950s), brought him further attention.

Yet the young William Ambrose Wright had to fight hard to become a professional footballer - and prove a few people wrong along the way.

Born in Ironbridge on 6th February 1924, Billy was the son of a talented local footballer who was well-known for terrorising defences. He'd spend hours as a boy kicking a ball up against a door, getting his first football boots at the age of eight as a Christmas present.

It was as a pupil of Madeley Wood Modern School that his skills first began to catch the eye - not least when he, playing as a centre forward, he scored 10 goals for the school against Bewdley.

Eventually his sports master, Norman Simpson, tipped off Wolverhampton Wanderers and young Billy was given a job on the ground staff. But despite his talent, the then manager, a Major Frank Buckley, didn't think the boy would make the grade.

Fortunately for Billy, Mr Simpson urged Wolves to reconsider, and the Major listened. Billy stayed at Wolves at 'boot boy' - and finally got his chance.

His first team debut came just before the outbreak of World War II, and he signed as a professional when he turned 17.

The war interrupted Billy's career, and he joined the Army as a physical training instructor in 1943, although he still got to play the odd game for Wolves.

With the war over, Billy's rise to fame began. Soon he was captain, and within a few years Wolves had won the league title.

Two more titles followed as Billy became an ever-present in the side right the way through the 1950s - at least until 1959, when he announced his retirement from football and was awarded the CBE.

This came in an age when footballers were often ignored in the Honours List, and given today's vogue for handing out knighthoods to the likes of Alex Ferguson, Elton John and Paul McCartney, it's likely that Billy would have been 'Sir Billy' had he been around today.

Billy went on to manager Arsenal, his boyhood heroes, for four years, and then in 1966 moved into TV, retiring in 1989.

But the following year he was back at Wolves, as a director for the Molineux men.

Sadly he died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 70, and his adopted home town of Wolverhampton came to a standstill for his funeral as fans paid their respects.

Today his statue stands outside their stadium. And a blue plaque marks the tiny cottage in Ironbridge where he was born.

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