| 19.1°C Belfast


Billy Weir

No bones about it, Tommy is the Wright man for Northern Ireland

Billy Weir


 

Close

A quick chat: Tommy Wright and Paul Kirk exchange pleasantries back in 2008 as things kick off after the final whistle

A quick chat: Tommy Wright and Paul Kirk exchange pleasantries back in 2008 as things kick off after the final whistle

Presseye

Things kick off after the final whistle of an infamous game between Distillery and Wright's Ballymena United

Things kick off after the final whistle of an infamous game between Distillery and Wright's Ballymena United

Presseye

'And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game.'

'And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game.'

A quick chat: Tommy Wright and Paul Kirk exchange pleasantries back in 2008 as things kick off after the final whistle

Picture the scene. Thomas James Wright is sitting in his freshly-pressed suit, buffed brogues and neatly-combed hair at Irish FA HQ awaiting his interview.

 

He has a hugely impressive CV in his inside pocket. He was an international of some repute, picking up 31 caps for his country - including that night in Nuremberg - played at the top level in England and has an impressive managerial and coaching pedigree.

He cut those latter teeth at Limavady United, turning the Roesiders from little Limavady to a team that regularly bloodied the noses of the bigger boys.

Later spells followed at Ballymena United, where he was the width of a crossbar away from ending the clean sweep dreams of Linfield, the club where he rose to prominence between the sticks and earned his move across the water.

Then came a brief coaching stint at Shamrock Rovers with Michael O'Neill - that might be a handy name to drop in during the interview - before returning to the Irish League to incredibly guide Lisburn Distillery to glory in the CIS Insurance Cup.

Then former NI team-mate Steve Lomas came calling from St Johnstone, and when he left to manage Millwall, Wright became the main man in Perth and remained so until he quit the club last week.

He left as a legend, after he guided one of Scotland's footballing dwarves to Scottish Cup glory in 2014 and regularly steered them to top-six finishes in the SPL.

Meanwhile, back at the IFA...

"Yes, Tommy, you make a strong case, there's no doubt about that, but what about the leg of lamb?" It was the question he had been dreading.

Close

Things kick off after the final whistle of an infamous game between Distillery and Wright's Ballymena United

Things kick off after the final whistle of an infamous game between Distillery and Wright's Ballymena United

Presseye

Things kick off after the final whistle of an infamous game between Distillery and Wright's Ballymena United

 

He was in the middle of what was undoubtedly the strangest incident I have ever reported on, and indeed so good that it makes Wikipedia's list of violent on-field altercations, which starts in 1879 with the Sydney Riot when up to 2,000 fans invaded the pitch and disrupted play after an umpiring dispute broke out between members of the visiting English cricket team and the New South Wales Cricket Association.

It ends in 2016 in Greece when in the Greek Football Cup semi-final, PAOK midfielder Robert Mak was taken down in the penalty area and after there was no call on the play late in the second half with Olympiakos leading 2-1, crowds in the stands went buck daft and flares were thrown onto the field, unlike in Ballymena where they were worn by many fans.

But in neither instance, as far as I can deduce, was a leg of lamb involved.

To those not in the know, on Saturday, March 22, 2008, Nathan McConnell's equaliser in the TENTH minute of injury-time gave Paul Kirk's Distillery a share of the spoils in a 2-2 draw against Wright's nine-man Ballymena and when referee Mark Courtney finally blew his whistle, all hell broke loose.

Insults, attempted punches and a chair were all thrown in the mass melee at the tunnel, while Messrs Wright and Kirk sought to discuss the matter in a somewhat forthright and, some would argue, brusque manner.

And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game. You can only imagine the scene later when the poor soul who had been tasked with the mission of bringing the aforementioned bone home for the broth had to explain himself.

Close

'And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game.'

'And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game.'

'And then it landed. A leg of lamb, or, more technically, what my mother would call a soup bone, that someone, somehow, had brought to the game.'

 

As did Wright and Kirk, both initially handed six-match stadium bans, with both clubs fined and the story making local, national and international news.

Indeed, I found a gem from the Sydney Morning Herald where it says "the real battle began after the full-time siren when fans threw missiles at players including an uncooked animal bone", thus showing the Aussies know XXXX all about football or making soup.

Bizarrely, the USPCA threw in their tuppence worth as everyone decided they needed a say, with a spokesman commenting that it "demonstrated general disregard for animal welfare". I am not a vet, but the kiss of life was not going to get Larry back gambolling across the pastures of Warden Street. Not on just the one leg...

The penalty for Wright was later reduced to a four-match touchline ban and suffice to say future clashes between the clubs were less controversial affairs, but it's nice to have the clubs in footballing animal-based folklore with the likes of Pickles the dog, the pig's head thrown at Luis Figo in El Clasico and a more sprightly porker and a cockerel dandering about Windsor in the 1985 Irish Cup final.

Personally, I'd love to see Tommy as the new Northern Ireland boss.

For me he is the outstanding candidate of those being mentioned and if, as he said when leaving St Johnstone, he needed a break from the daily grind of club management, then the timing, unlike the eejit who hurled the bone, is perfect.

Tommy is the Wright man for the job, his name tells you so, but when he's in for the interview, if you offer him a cup of something, don't make it soup.

Belfast Telegraph