Bailey Wright dreamt of being a professional athlete. And by the age of 15, that dream appeared closer to becoming reality when he was accepted into the highly regarded Victorian Institute of Sport.
After completing his education a year later Wright wasn’t accepted into the next level, the Australian Institute of Sport and was thinking that his dream to play as a professional footballer may be over before it even began.
Wright returned to playing football at Langwarrin, the Victorian team he had played for since he was six, whilst also working with his Dad. In Wright’s mind, his dream was fading.
“I was coming to the age where I wanted to make a career and it was either going to be in football, or working for my Dad,” Wright said.
Luckily for Wright, he was offered trials at two of England’s most historically prestigious football clubs. The trials worked out for Wright and he was offered a two-year scholarship to play for Preston North End, who at the time was competing in England’s second division, the Championship.
“I went over to England and I had trials with Blackburn Rovers and Preston, and Preston offered me a contract, and Blackburn didn’t offer me anything,” he said. “So I was grateful that Preston saw something and offered me the chance to come over.”
“I went over to England and I had trials with Blackburn Rovers and Preston,” he said.
“I was grateful that Preston saw something and offered me the chance to come over.”
The centre back impressed the coaches in Preston’s youth setup and was eventually given a professional appearance, playing a full 90 minutes in Preston’s 5-0 win against Stockport in the League Cup. On the back of the performance he was offered a two and a half year contract and went on to make his league debut in 2011 against Norwich.
“For me as a kid my dream was always to play in England,” Wright said. “I loved English football and when I had the chance to get over here (England), there was no second guessing.”
The Australian went on to make thirteen league appearances for Preston and towards the end of the season became a regular in the team, carrying that form through the 2012-13 campaign, playing in 38 games.
His continued form and no-nonsense defending impressed Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou enough to give the defender a place in his 23 man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, despite Wright having never played a game for Australia.
Wright was unlucky to not play at the World Cup, but just being there was an experience he will never forget.
“The World Cup was a great experience,” he said. “I am grateful and I am definitely stronger and a better player for it because it adds to the experience you get.“
The tall Melbourne-born player went on to make his Socceroos debut when he was 22 in a friendly against Saudi Arabia in London 2014 and scored what turned out to be the winning goal in a 3-2 win.
“It’s always a dream to put on the green and gold, I am very fortunate I had the chance to do that,” Wright said. “Obviously as a defender I always base myself on clean sheets, not necessarily scoring, so to score on my debut was a great feeling.”
Despite 2014 being a good year for Wright, it wasn’t without its low points, especially when he was caught up in a spot fixing scandal with five of his Preston teammates.
“It wasn’t a nice period, and it wasn’t a nice thing to be linked with, and I can’t believe even to this day that it happened,” he said. “But when things like that come along it just makes you stronger.
“If only people knew what a shambles that really was. I mean, people see it in the papers and that’s all they read.
“There has never been an apology or anything put in the papers because if we came out and said how bad it was, people would probably laugh about it.”
The defender, who is currently the longest serving player on Preston’s books, put all of that behind him as he helped Preston through the League One play offs and back into the Championship.
Wright was key to Preston’s 2014/15 play-off campaign, helping keep three clean sheets as they went on to win their first play-offs in 10 attempts.
“It was great to give something back to the fans because it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “And it was nice to get out of the division and into the Championship where we should at least be.”
Wright could have been playing football in the A-league had the youth setup that is in place today been in place 10 years ago.
“You look at Australian football now, to how it was 10 years ago,” Wright said. “It’s come a long way and obviously with the national team, with us winning the Asian Cup, it helps football around the whole of Australia.”
Wright has featured in Australia’s last three matches, in which the team has conceded only two goals. He believes the young Socceroos are getting great experience from seasoned campaigners like Tim Cahill.
“The new boss (Postecoglou) has definitely given youth a chance,” he said “but also mixed with a bit of experience, which I think is important so the young lads like myself have someone to learn off.
“They always say football has to look to the youth and the future, but there has to be a good backing too.”
Wright is optimistic about his playing future, especially in his adopted home of Preston where he is hoping to see the team thrive in the Championship.
“It was a great achievement last year to get in the Championship and now our aim is to make sure we are a good Championship side.” He said. “We want to be a team that’s pushing the top half of the table.”
Wright is also hoping to help Australia continue to play winning football in their World Cup Qualifiers.
“I want to continue to be part of the qualification campaign,” he said “and be part of a successful team that plays good football and wins games.”
There is no arguing that Wright has succeeded in his pursuit of a professional football career, and the defender is now looking to the future as he looks to lock down a permanent spot in the Socceroos setup, something he was only dreaming of seven years ago.
“I have been part of things for a while now, and I know how it works here and what expectations there are around the place,” he said. “So for me the next best thing is to get myself out on that pitch and be pushing for that position, and I will always continue to work hard and push for that and see what happens.”
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