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Tommy Wright: It's time for a reality check

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Tommy Wright

Tommy Wright

Tommy Wright

In an ideal world, managers should only have to worry about what happens to their players on the pitch. But we don’t live in an ideal world and there are times when football bosses have to deal with a crisis that is not of their making.

Former Northern Ireland international Tommy Wright will never forget last season’s roller-coaster ride at Lisburn Distillery.

On several occasions, it appeared the famous club was going to disappear off the local football landscape but, rather than sinking without trace, the Whites fought like terriers on the pitch to complete one of the greatest survival missions ever performed in the Irish League.

And yet no-one could have pointed an accusing finger at Wright if he decided to walk away as the house of cards came tumbling around him.

Lesser men than the 46-year-old would have made his excuses and departed the scene, but the former Manchester City and Newcastle United goalkeeper refused to leave the trenches when it looked like the battle was lost.

Languishing at the foot of the Carling Premiership table and drowning in a sea of debt, the club appeared doomed but Tommy showed he was made of the ‘Wright stuff’.

Jimmy Brown’s successor in September last year walked into a club in crisis and he helped steer it away from a fatal crash.

A Carling Manager of the Month award for March seems an inadequate tribute to the astonishing achievement.

The Whites had netted only one point from a possible 27 and were eight points adrift at the bottom of the table when Wright took the reins. But the lack of points wasn’t the only problem. There was also a lack of wages being paid and a financial storm was on its way.

It emerged that an unpaid rates bill had led to a winding-up order being served on the club and in the wake of that, chairman Jim McGrory and some board members made a hasty exit.

The Whites’ glory days, when England legend Tom Finney guested in a 3-3 draw with Benfica, were a fading memory as the club faced up to its biggest challenge.

They were very fortunate that Wright got going when the going got tough.

“It would have been easy to walk away but since I first went to the club I was getting a nice feeling about it,” said Wright.

“Unfortunate things happened in the sense that myself and players were told one thing and another thing happened but we were very proud and satisfied at being able to drag ourselves out of the mess.

“Lisburn Distillery’s problems were not unique. Glentoran are also suffering alleged financial difficulties and I would say there isn’t one Irish League club in a healthy position.

“Just look at the number of players out of work in England and Scotland and I just feel that football needs to get a reality check with regard to the way we go about our business. It’s a collective effort on behalf of everyone, the people running clubs and the players.

“The players have to realise the money just isn’t there to pay big wages.”

Linfield legend Glenn Ferguson played his part in the Whites fairytale by netting crucial goals and while his boots aren’t hung up yet, ‘Spike’ will assist his former international team-mate from the sidelines.

“Glenn has a few games to go before he reaches 1,000 Irish League appearances and one goal to hit the 550 mark,” added Wright.

“He was the best player on the park against Coleraine in the last game of the season and we will continue to use him when the time is right for him and the club.

“The players, myself and John Cunningham put a lot of hard work in to keep us in the Premiership but that’s history now.

“We are starting a new chapter and I want a winning mentality, I want players and people around me who can bounce back in times of adversity — people who are strong.

“I’m more optimistic about the future even though we have lost a sponsor, Tommy Anderson, who put a lot of money into the club.

“Our budget has changed three times but we have a hard working board and no-one will be shouting from the roof-tops — it’s going to be another tough season for us.”

While relegated Institute adjust to life in the Championship, Glentoran are up next for the Whites at Ballyskeagh on Saturday.

Not an easy start but you get the feeling Wright can cope with anything thrown at him.

“I’m excited about getting going again as I think the football fans have seen enough of the shopping centres on a Saturday,” he added.

“Glentoran bring a big crowd and we have nothing to lose. Despite their problems, they have a strong squad and will challenge for the league title.

“Other than Andy Hunter, we have brought in players who have not done a lot in recent seasons but they have a chance to show people what they can do.

“Players like Scott Davidson, Gary Liggett and David Cushley have been brought in as we can’t splash the cash.

“Another young player Jordan Forsythe can play his part as well. Some would say we have a tough start but I’ve always wanted that — to play against the best.”

Thanks to Wright’s guidance, Lisburn Distillery can still wrestle with the best this season.

Belfast Telegraph


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