Although never too far from controversy and however unpopular a person Mark Wright has become in the years since his departure from Haig Avenue, the facts show that Wright produced one of the best footballing sides the club had ever produced.
A shock appointment, Wrights first job in management turned out to be an on-field unbridled success. With little time wasted following the departure of Futcher, rumours flooded the town that Chairman Charles Clapham was about to unveil a big footballing name. With a press conference announced for a cold December evening in 1999, the vast array of local press assembled in the Grandstand bar at Haig Avenue weren’t left disappointed. As the digital era was ushered in, it was the club’s own official website that was first to break the story to the world.
Mixing the talent discovered by Paul Futcher with seasoned professionals such as the incredibly talented midfielder Mike Marsh and the returning Shaun Teale, within one and a half seasons Wright had turned a bottom of the table side, into a top four side challenging at the top of the Conference. The second half of the 1999/2000 season was more revolution than evolution as Wright dragged his young an inexperienced side kicking and screaming away from the relation zone, finishing an incredible 9th place.
His first and only full season in charge was just as impressive, only once since October dropping out of the top four, Climbing as high as second during December and remaining third until the end of March.
Behind the scenes however Wright’s spell in charge turned out to be one of the most expensive in the clubs history. Despite the Wembley appearance two years previously the club had been began haemorrhaging money at an alarming and unsustainable rate. In the summer Wright left for the vacant managers position at the club where had had started his playing career, Oxford United, who had dropped into the bottom tier of the Football League for the first time in 30 years. Wrights failure to tie some of Southport’s most talented and promising players to long contracts meant that he was able to take many of them with him into the football league upon his departure.
As a player Mark Wright was a household name. After progressing through the ranks at Oxford United, he signed professional forms for the club at the start of the 1980-81 season. He spent two years as a professional at Oxford, making 11 appearances before he was transferred to Southampton in a player plus cash deal that saw Trevor Hebberd travel in the opposite direction.
It was at Southampton where Wright really started to make his name. Voted player of the year in his first full season at the south coast club (1982-83), Wright stayed with Southampton as they embarked upon one of their most successful campaigns, eventually finishing runners up to champions Liverpool, where Wright himself was to spend much of the 1990s. Whilst at Southampton, Wright earned himself a call-up to Bobby Robson’s England squad and the first of 45 England international caps.
After five years and over 200 appearances, Southampton accepted a £760,000 bid from newly promoted Derby County to secure the central defender’s services.
Soon awarded the captaincy at Derby things were going well for Wright at Derby, but after four years in the top flight Chairman Robert Maxwell decided to step down, taking with him any chance of Derby continuing to fund the wages of the players that they had become accustomed to signing.
Derby soon found themselves in amongst the relegation dog-fight at the foot of the table and following relegation to Division Two in 1991, Wright was looking for a new club.
Wrights impressive England performances at World Cup 1990, persuaded Graeme Souness to sign him for Liverpool for £2.5 million that summer. As part of the Scotsman’s mass rebuilding exercise, Wright soon found himself as an established first team player replacing the formidable outgoing Southport resident Alan Hansen. Often likened to his predecessor in playing style, Wright remained at Anfield until injury forced his playing retirement at the age of 35 in 1998. Highlights of his time with the Reds saw him captaining Liverpool to the 1992 FA Cup Final against Sunderland, a final in which two future Southport managers were to play.
As manager of Oxford in 2001 Wright was less successful leaving the role by the December of his first season. He had begun to make a name for himself for his off the field antics. Fined £1750 by the Football Association for making a race related remark to a black match official during a game against Scunthorpe, Wright resigned just hours before an internal club hearing into the incident. Denying the charge and insisting that his comments had been taken out of context, Wright had won just five of their opening twenty matches and sat in 18th position.
Wright returned to management in the Conference with Chester City within months of his acrimonious departure from Oxford, at a time when they too were struggling. Narrowly avoiding relegation to the Northern Premier League in the remaining months of the season and with the backing of chairman Stephen Vaughan Wright transformed Chester into title contenders for the 2001-2002 season, narrowly missing out on promotion back to the football league by losing to Doncaster Rovers in the newly introduced play-offs. The following year and Wright claimed his first silverware as a Manager holding off the challenge from Hereford United to take the Conference championship. Wrights sudden resignation just 48 hours prior to the start of the League Two campaign was amidst further controversy. Initially refusing to comment on the shock departure, Ray Mathias was put in charge of Chester, but following comments made in the national press by then Weymouth manager Steve Claridge, Chester were forced to make a statement.
“Mr Wright refused to sign a contract offered by CCFC to protect his own interests. At the commencement of the 2004-05 season Wright was again offered an improved three-year contract. This contract remained unsigned as at the time of his departure. The club insisted it be signed before the season commenced.
Mr Wright’s conduct was a significant factor in the departure of two players. Both refused to sign the much-improved offers made to them,
During April 2004 Mr Wright was warned by the chairman as to his conduct and not to speak to other clubs regarding managerial positions, having previously been interviewed by Tranmere.
Wright persistently flouted his managerial position with regard to the size and budget of the first-team squad. Having already over- committed the budget for the 2004-05 season, he continued to pursue additional signings, promising players contracts without board permission.
Shortly before 10am on 6 August Mr Wright resigned and walked out of the club, taking his backroom staff with him. When he departed Mr Wright failed even to have the decency to enter the dressing room and address his players, choosing instead to simply drive away.
The club has consistently maintained from the time of Mr Wright’s departure that this is a non-football related matter and we still hold that view.
(The Independent, August 19th 1994)
Wright remained jobless until Peterborough offered him the chance to take over from Barry Fry in 2005, with Fry moving “upstairs”. Within six months however, Wright found himself once again at the centre of controversy. On Monday 23rd January 2006 Peterborough Director of Football Barry Fry suspended Wright pending the results of an internal investigation. On 31st January it was confirmed that Wright had been dismissed for Gross Misconduct after failing to attend the hearing.
A statement on the Peterborough website simply confirmed
“It is with regret that the club announce the dismissal of Mr Mark Wright on the grounds of gross misconduct. A disciplinary hearing was held today when all matters were considered and the full evidence was investigated.
Mr Wright failed to attend this hearing. The Board thereafter felt there was no alternative but to take this course of action. The club feel badly let down, particularly after giving Mark a chance to re-establish himself within the football community.
Local newspaper “Peterborough Today” subsequently cited allegations of racial abuse directed towards young central defender Sean St. Ledger as the reason for the suspension, although Fry later told the same publication that the misconduct extended far deeper.
Wright had taken former Southport reserve team manager Steve Bleasdale with him into the football league, and Bleasdale saw Wright’s departure from Peterborough as the ideal opportunity to take on the manager’s role himself.
A month after leaving Peterborough, Wright was back at Chester City where he stayed until the end of the following season. Under fire from a section of the City supporters for playing negative football, and after just 3 wins in his final 20 games, Chairman Stephen Vaughan dismissed Wright with one game remaining of the 2006/2007 season.