By Jamie Holt
BAILEY WRIGHT spent this summer in Brazil as part of Australia’s 23-man World Cup squad, basking in the glory of becoming the first Preston player since Sir Tom Finney to make it to the finals.
Yet had it not been for a chance trial with Preston five-and-a-half years ago, the burly defender reveals he could still have been slaving away at his dad’s pit construction company Down Under.
Wright’s route to the top began in Langwarrin – an hour’s drive south from Melbourne –known more for its Aussie rules football than the European equivalent.
Indeed, a career in AFL had been mooted for the talented Wright. But soccer was Wright’s first love and he spent his formative years playing for local sides before earning selection for the Victorian Institute of Sport.
Then, over the festive period in 2008, Wright visited England with the Australia U17s and the centre-back got his first big chance – a day’s training with Preston.
One session was all it took for then youth boss Jamie Hoyland to gift the teenager a route out of the daily grind back home.
“Everyone who has gone on to become a pro footballer has had a tough journey,” said Wright. “I was born in Langwarrin, which is big on Aussie rules, and my soccer involved a lot of travelling, mainly for my family it has to be said.
“Without them I wouldn’t have made it, and there were times when I almost stopped and packed it in. I was going to work for my old man and his pit construction company.
“Then around Christmas 2008 I went over to England with Australia U17s and I got a trial with Blackburn Rovers, but before that I went to Preston.
“Jamie Hoyland offered me a deal after one training session and the rest is history.
“Sometimes when I go home in the summer I help my dad, shifting sandbags up and down hills and stuff like that, and he says ‘If you stop working hard this is what you’ll, be back doing’. It’s certainly motivation!”
The 22-year-old’s impressive performances in League One were quickly noted by Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou, who gave Wright his debut on Monday against Saudi Arabia.
It was a goalscoring bow at that, as Australia triumphed 3-2 at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, and Wright is desperate to make up for lost time after failing to get off the bench in Brazil.
“When I was first told I was in the squad I was shocked and although I didn’t play out there, being in and around the tournament was the next best thing,” added Wright, who became the first Preston player since Finney in 1958 to go to a World Cup.
“It was a great experience that I learned a lot from. It really didn’t hit me at first. I was buzzing but it didn’t sink in until the World Cup began and Brazil played their first game.
“It’s still something I’ll be bragging to the grandchildren about. It’s an indescribable experience that I’ll never forget.
“I was just happy to finally make my debut. You’re always pleased to get a chance to play because sitting on the bench is frustrating. To score was an added bonus.”