Skip navigation
Crystal palace

      Wright & Bright: Palace's prolific partnership


      It seems an old-fashioned ideal in the modern day and age. In the era of false 9s, lone centre-forwards and deep-lying playmakers, the traditional strike partnership seems to have fallen by the wayside. But, on Mark Bright's birthday, we ask: had we ever had it so good?

      There were all the combinations. The little and large: Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch spring to mind. The nippy runner and the powerful finisher. The fast and the furious: step up Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney.

      But at Crystal Palace, we were privileged to watch one of the very best at work. Their names even rhymed, for goodness sake; it was just meant to be. Ian Wright, Mark Bright and an absolute shedload of goals.

      Goals of all types too. Long-range screamers to perfectly timed tap-ins; wonderfully crafted openers to scrambled home equalisers; powerful headers to intricate lobs. Palace’s two No 9s could do it all.

      Their stories could not be more different – geographically at least. Bright, born in Stoke-on-Trent, played his early football for non-league side Leek Town before joining Port Vale and Leicester City.

      Gary Lineker had just left the latter, allowing a young Bright to establish himself in the first-team and earn a £75,000 move to Crystal Palace. Talk about a bargain.

      Wright’s early years were spent in south London – Woolwich to be specific. His path was a tumultuous one, and despite trials with Southend and Brighton & Hove Albion (gulp) he failed to earn a professional contract. A spell in Chelmsford Prison followed, and while reprimanded he vowed to turn his life around.

      An inspiring story like that can only be inspirational if the protagonist succeeds, and boy did Wright succeed. After signing for semi-professional Greenwich Borough, he was spotted by Crystal Palace after a tip-off from Dulwich Hamlet manager Billy Smith, and came to a trial at Selhurst Park. Steve Coppell took one look at the plucky centre-forward and signed the 21-year-old there and then.

      Wright impressed in his first season, scoring nine times, and was joined by Bright a year later.

      “I went there [Palace] in November [1986] and from then until the end of the season I scored seven and Wrighty scored eight – and we said: ‘That’s not good enough. If we think we’re elite players and we think we can play in the First Division, we have to work hard and try to get our partnership together working’,” Bright later explained.

      In 1987/88, Wright scored 23 times – Bright scored 26. You can see where this is going: there was now a real competition to be Palace’s top scorer.

      In 1988/89 Bright scored 25 – but this time Wright netted 33. Palace had a strike force to be reckoned with, and it had fired them to the play-off places.

      Quote Icons

      If we think we’re elite players and we think we can play in the First Division, we have to work hard and try to get our partnership together working

      Mark Bright

      More fantastic memories were to follow. Wright scored 118 for Palace, while Bright netted 114 of his own. Their remarkably comparable records only further emphasises their synchronicity. They remain two of just eight men to reach three figures for the club, and the two highest scorers of the post-war period.

      The duo deserved a major trophy, and came so close in the 1990 FA Cup final. Wright scored twice and Bright was a constant presence as Palace drew 3-3 with Manchester United before narrowly losing the replay.

      There was success at Wembley a year later, however, as Wright once again netted a brace to see off Everton 4-1 in the Full Members Cup final. Zenith Data Systems Cup champions, you’ll never sing that.

      Wright and Bright’s 232 goals for Palace marked a remarkable period for the club, one that many fans see – along with today’s sustained Premier League success – as a golden era for the club. Steve Coppell, Alan Smith, Geoff Thomas, Eric Young, John Salako, John Pemberton, Nigel Martyn. Heady days.

      “Everybody added a little bit to what we had and you have to perfect it. When we got on the pitch, there was just certain things he knew I was going to do and I knew he was going to do. He would sit it up to the far post and I would slide it into the six-yard box for him to slide on and tap in.

      “A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes, but on the big stage and on the pitch on the Saturday, that’s where it all came out. Everybody was like ‘wow, that’s telepathic’ but there’s just a lot of hard work went into it.

      “You have to remember he scored over 100 goals and I scored over 100 goals in five seasons and I was six. There were only a few goals between us and we averaged 19 goals a season each for five seasons, which is incredible.”

      Football is a team sport, and Wright and Bright were among the greatest teams of them all.