Brian Wright – The Harps first Professional Player
Brian Wright goes down in the history books not only as Harps first professional player but he was also the scorer of Harps first goal in Senior football (pictured above). Brian doesn’t mind making records as he is also the youngest player ever to have played in an Irish Cup Final. Brian was just sixteen when he appeared in the 1957 decider for Derry City, his hometown club, against Glenavon, as he recalls “we were beat two nil by Glenavon, really in the last three minutes. Our captain Tommy Houston scored an own goal with three minutes to go and Glenavon got their second in injury time.”
Brian had not played senior football since 1965 when Harps got into the League and Patsy McGowan and Ritchie Kelly called to his door looking for him to sign for the fledgling club. “I was still playing away in summer cups and the Derry & District league, and I was only 29 at the time, so they must have thought I had something to offer them. I was glad to sign to get back into senior football.” Brian recalls clearly how his wages were decided “Believe it or not in the Irish League the wage for a part time player was £6.00 at the time, and Patsy wanted me to be able to say I was better paid than the Irish League players, so he made a point of giving me an extra pound and that meant I got seven quid per week.”
Looking at the first game Brian is honest “It was a nightmare. You know we had done reasonably well in the pre-season friendlies. We played Peterboro and were beaten two nil by them, played Portadown and drew 1-1 and beat Derry 3-2 and everybody said we are not doing bad here, we are looking forward to the big game with Shamrock Rovers and it all fell apart.” He continues in that vein “Everybody froze on the day especially the defence and there were guys on the team without naming no names that weren’t ready for senior football. In a way it was the kick up the backside we needed and Pasty knew he had to strengthen the team.”
Brian recalls the goal saying “You know ten-two takes the gloss away from it. I think it was five nil at the time. Jimmy Barclay got the ball on the right wing and I remember moving into the penalty area thinking he is going to cross it. He crossed it in and I am not the biggest in the world, but it landed on my head and I nodded her down past Mick Smyth, who was in the goals. It was a simple enough goal Barclay put her on my head and I had no problem scoring.”
Brian is equally forthright talking about the players who came into the Harps side and helped to make the team reach a respectable position by the season’s end. “Jimmy McGuinness came in he was a terrific full back and was playing extremely well for Crusaders, I don’t know how Patsy got him, but he persuaded him to come. James Nicholl had been in and out of the Coleraine team with a knee injury, he was an inside forward but Patsy played him as sweeper, he had two good feet, was a good passer and tackler and he really found himself at the back. Sean Coyle was signed and he was brilliant along the right, his first game was a 3-1 win over Cork Hibernians and they had a really good side then. Big Bradley started to score goals for us and the team eventually started to gel. We weren’t beaten at Finn Park until the end of the season when Waterford came up and won the League beating us four goals to two.”
Training under Bobby Toland was memorable for all the wrong reasons “Oh it was very tough, we trained three nights a week usually in the Showgrounds in the Brandywell. You know I made a very bad mistake” he laughs “When Jimmy Hill was manager in Derry he brought to Derry these shuttles and they were really hard bit of training and hard on you. Of course I made the mistake of telling Bobby about them. He nearly killed us with them!! I trained as hard with Finn Harps as I trained with anybody.”
When asked as to what his most memorable match was he say “the day we beat Dundalk 6-2 and that was some victory. The previous week they had beaten Cork Hibs 6-1 in Oriel and were leading the league, and they had a really good side including the likes of Paddy Turner and Turlough O’Connor. I remember scoring a penalty that day, Maurice Swan who later played for Harps was in nets. He came out and asked me which side I was going to hit the penalty and I said you will find out in a wee minute. That was one of the biggest games, a really terrific display.” He also refers to the Cup games against Cork Hibs the following season saying they were terrific battles and the second one had the largest crowd in Finn Park to watch a match.
Brian rates a goal against Sligo Rovers in the 70/71 season as the best he scored at Finn Park. “I remember letting on to shoot with my left foot and pulling it back, David Pugh and Big Stenson were the Sligo centre-halves and I left the two of them for dead before hammering the ball into the roof of the net. Dinny Lowry who was a veteran at that stage was in nets.”
Brian saw service with Derry City, Sligo Rovers, Distillery, Port Vale and Finn Harps in a career that spanned thirteen years, however he won surprising little. “ I got the runners up medal in the Irish Cup in 1957 and I won an amateur cap for Northern Ireland against Scotland and that game was played at Hampden Park.” Brian also reveals that he played for Harps in the Intermediate Cup against Belgrove, but was ineligible to play in the Harps junior cup side as he was classed as a senior player.
And how did it come to pass that he left Harps “Well it was the 71/2 season and I think it was the first year that money was a bit tight and I was 32 or 33 then. I think they had to tighten the belt financially and I was a casualty. The first two seasons were my best years and I was a regular. But Gerry Ollie came, Gerry Doherty, and Patsy was playing 4-2-4 with Gerry and Jim McDermott in the middle and I was on standby. Maybe nowadays with an extra man in the middle I would get in more regularly but you have to remember in those days we didn’t have a reserve side, so I was let go.”
When asked about funny stories Brian tells the story of Ray Gaston’s debut “Gerry Ollie had the ball and was going forward and Gaston had drifted out to the left into a great position, but he couldn’t remember Gerry’s name. He didn’t know what to shout and Gerry Ollie hadn’t seen him, next thing Gaston was shouting “Yoo hoo, Yoo hoo” and the crowd broke up. I was sitting in the stand that day and the fans cracked up. Gaston was a real character.”
Brian has fond memories of his time at Harps “there was so good an atmosphere you looked forward to going to training. Fran was Chairman, Patsy the manager and Bobby, the trainer and there was a real good spirit, we were on a new adventure and that is why I think we gelled so well.” He finishes on this note “You know after we has such a hammering people don’t realise how well we did. I am really glad and proud to have been a part of it. We played some great and entertaining football.” From an interview with Bartley Ramsay on 7th February 2004
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