Mark Bright was a part of one of the most iconic strike partnerships in Crystal Palace history, but his journey to becoming a Premier League striker wasn’t an easy one.
The former Leek Town, Port Vale, Leicester City, Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace forward was born in Stoke and was in care from a young age. He grew up in several places and was only able to see his sisters ‘two or three times a year.’
Bright said: “We had a good care family. We had some good people looking after us, we were very lucky. It wasn’t easy, it was hard at school. It was hard because you are the newcomers, people didn’t see many black people at all.”
With lots of change going on in his life, there was one thing that was a constant – his footballing ability.
“In my school report it said, ‘a budding athlete if I’ve ever seen one’ and my brother can remember the school teacher saying to another school teacher when we just finished playing football, ‘Did you see the little black kid playing for us? If he isn’t going to be a professional footballer no one will be.’ Everyone could see that I wanted to be a footballer and that was all I used to say in class.”
“I played in an F.A. Cup Final in 1990, and I got a letter off that teacher - ‘Mark, well done.’
“So, all through school I think I was trying to prepare myself for what I saw was the next move. Every footballer will tell you the same story, how they used to just sit there and dream of being whoever was there at the time at the club you wanted to play for.
“I don’t think I wanted to prove anybody wrong I just wanted to prove myself right I suppose that I know what I want to do in life. You’ve got to dream. You can’t stop kids from dreaming, that’s what it’s all about.”
Even though Bright’s talent were clear for everyone to see, when he left school he didn’t get the apprenticeship he dreamed of as he looked to progress into the professional ranks of football.
“Getting the disappointment of not getting an apprenticeship at Port Vale, was quite a shock to me and having to go get a job at an engineering factory.
“I spent one year full-time at college, I couldn’t stand it! I qualified as an engineer and played for Leek Town for two years and then got the opportunity to go back to Port Vale. So, it was a different route.
“Then from Port Vale, one good season and I was off to Leicester. And then from Leicester, I went to Palace. The rest, as they say, is history.”
When Bright was moving to SE25 he had a meeting with the manager, Steve Coppell, who could already see the potential for a successful strike partnership with a player he had already signed at the club, Ian Wright.
“Steve Coppell said, ‘I’ve got a young player here, he’s the best player I’ve worked with in football.’ ‘He’s just a bit loose, a loose cannon, he just needs reining in on the pitch, I think you can do it. Listen, if you hit it off, the press will have a field day with your names because he’s a black kid from south London called Wright and obviously, Bright.’
“I saw him play, I went to watch them play and thought, ‘oh my god there’s not much he can’t do!
“I think it’s difficult to say it just clicked because we worked at it and we had several coaches who were at the club who helped us at the time. First of all, Coppell believed in us.
“We got plenty of service as well. I think you have to look at it all, yes, we scored goals, but we had great service and the team benefitted from it by promotion, an FA Cup Final, third in the old league just before we started the Premier League. But a consecutive three great years for Palace. It put us on the map.”
Bright has now returned to Palace as a member of staff, the director of the under-23 development squad, a job he wasn’t sure he would take when he was offered it.
“I went down and had a look and I thought, I owe this club something because this club made me. It’s like being a loan manager. In the Premier League you have players who are not quite ready so they go out on loan. I’m part of that process of trying to help.
“You just take great pleasure in seeing someone from your academy playing in the first team because that’s what it’s all about. I enjoy it, I really do, but there’s nothing that beats playing. Nothing comes even close.
“I’m happy I achieved what I achieved. I would have loved to win something, of course, because that’s why you’re in the game. The game’s about glory. I have a look at my career and I wouldn’t swap it.
I was in an engineering factory before I became a footballer. So, if you ask me which one would I rather do, I know which one it would be.”
To see the full Premier League World feature with Mark Bright, you can watch it this week on SKY Sports or BT Sport.
SPORTS PL – WED: 7PM – 9PM – 11PM, THUR: 6:30PM – 8PM – 11:30PM.
BT SPORT 3 – WED: 6:30PM, THUR: 22:30PM
BT SPORT 2 – FRI: 9:30AM
BT SPORT 1 – FRI: 1PM