Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I've never been much of a fan of Ian Wright. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I've always found him a bit of a wanker. A great footballer and someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, but as a commentator, a bit of a tosser.

My opinion of Ian Wright has radically changed though. A lot.

The reason for this change of heart towards the former Arsenal forward is his new TV programme on Sky One - Football Behind Bars.

The series airs on a Monday evenings and the third episode has just been shown this week. For those unaware of what the show is about, well it does what it says on the tin.

Before being a world renowned footballer, Ian Wright was on the wrong side of the tracks and spent some time in prison. This was a fact I didn't know about the striker. It wasn't a long spell in the young offenders institution, just days, but it shaped his future and he came out vowing to turn his life around like most do. Unlike most though, Ian Wright did just that.

Wright has a plan that he thinks might help rehabilitate some of the young offenders and keep them from becoming repeat customers and continuing their life of crime. The idea - to set up footballing academies in the UK's prisons.

He feels that by teaching the attributes needed to make it in football, such as teamwork and a hard work ethic, he can change prisoners outlooks on life and change the way they act.

It might seem far fetched but Wright hopes to roll it out across the nation. First though he needs to see it trialled and in action and this is where this series comes in as it follows Ian attempts to set up an initial prison football academy in Portland Young Offenders Institution, under his guidance and two of Chelsea's coaches.

It's been a fascinating and captivating series so far. Over half of the prison applied to be part of the programme, 48 made it to the final trials and Ian picked his final squad of 22. They are in a separate wing of the prison and eat, sleep, train and learn together. Along the way he is facing the animosity of other prisoners, his squad players getting an early release and the objection by some that prisoners are being given this chance in the first place.

I can see the viewpoints of the latter to a certain extent. Yes, we can never forget the victims of these criminals here, but if people aren't given the chance to turn their life around then what hope have they got and how are our prisons around the world ever going to get less crowded?

There are times when Wright feels that he has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew, but as he points out in the first show, what other player could you get to try such a thing? Certainly not someone like Gary Lineker!

As I said at the start of this article, Ian Wright has really gone up in my estimation by seeing him in this show. He passionately believes in what he is trying to achieve and I wish him all the best. Even if it helps just a couple of the guys then it's all been worth it.

If it can be proved to be beneficial and to actually make a difference then better still. I'm eagerly awaiting to see how the whole programme ends up.

It's a great show and worth catching on Sky. For those without Sky or living outside of the UK, then the show is available on a number of download sites.

In these days of prima donna footballers, it's great to see one remembering his roots, trying to make a difference and perhaps leaving a greater legacy than what he achieved on the football field.

More power to you Ian Wright Wright Wright.

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