Like many outstanding players before and after, Billy Wright was unable to translate a successful playing career to the manager’s office. Having been in charge of the England youth team for two years, Wright was appointed Arsenal manager in 1962 following the departure of George Swindin.
The former England captain found the rebuilding job as daunting as his predecessor and was unable to progress matters on the pitch during his reign. His first season offered promise, a creditable 7th place finish compared to 10th the campaign previous. Gradual decline then set in with 8th, 13th and 14th achieved subsequently.
He found little joy in knockout competitions with the best FA Cup run ending in a fifth round defeat at home to Liverpool in 1962-63. A fourth round defeat to Peterborough two years was the nadir in cups. Wright was however, in charge for Arsenal’s first foray into European club competition in 1963-64, at the helm as Staevnet were dispatched comfortably before falling to Leigeois in the second round of the Fairs Cup.
His final campaign in 1965-66 was dismal. A 0 – 3 home defeat to Leeds in the penultimate game was played in front of a record low crowd of 4,554 left Arsenal in 16th place with the visit of Leicester City to Highbury remaining. It was a crucial game, Arsenal were just two points above the final relegation place before kick-off and the wrong set of results might have seen the club’s stay in the top flight ended. As it was, they survived thanks to a single goal victory.
Despite failure on the pitch, Wright’s legacy was to oversee an improvement in the quality of the youth system at the club, with a number of the players who would bring success to the club less than a decade later joining during his tenure. The foundations were set and for that some recognition is due to a man whose reign is all too often easily dismissed.