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Arsenal legend Ian Wright: “I was close to throwing it all away”

The iconic striker says he would regularly smoke marijuana in his younger days as a player and that it almost cost him his career before it really got started.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright: “I was close to throwing it all away”
RUSSELL BOYCE REUTERS

Arsenal legend and former England international Ian Wright has revealed how smoking marijuana almost cost him his footballing career.

Wright almost threw it all away

Wright, who broke Arsenal’s scoring record in 1998 and went on to score 185 goals in 288 games the Gunners, says that random drug testing forced him to reflect on his habits and to quit smoking altogether: “I was close to throwing it all away.”

A relatively late bloomer as footballers go, Wright signed for Crystal Palace in 1985 at the age of 21 by which time, he says, he was a regular smoker. “As a kid I preferred smoking to drinking when I went out. I’d been around weed smokers from a very early age, and it sort of became something of weekend ritual. It didn’t even dawn on me that I was doing anything wrong,” he said.

Wright got his big break at Crystal Palace, joining at the age of 21

The career that might never have been

“We beat West Bromwich Albion 4-1 that Saturday. The whole team came into the dressing room still excited and then the drug testers arrived,” he recalled. “It’s the first time I’d ever seen them and I panicked inside. I’ve been smoking cannabis, less than 24 hours earlier, and if that test comes back positive that’s it. It is literally all over for me.

I’m practically paralyzed while trying to act unconcerned. The guy says: ‘Drug test, number nine.’ Mark Bright. I’m sure he’s going to call my number next, number ten. He calls, ‘Drug test, number 11.’ Phil Barber. I sit down – well, more or less collapse – and think, ‘Somebody’s looking out for me, now I know it!’”

Wright says he never smoked again following a lucky escape from a random drugs test

'I never smoked again,' says Wright

Wright says that the desire to make his community proud drove him to rethink his life. “What hit me the most is how much I would have been letting people from my area down,” he said. “If I had got caught on that drugs test it would have been beyond them. They just wouldn’t have understood it: ‘What? You got to Crystal Palace and you didn’t stop smoking weed?’”

I never smoked a spliff again,” he added. He went on to win 33 caps for England and become a club legend at Arsenal after signing in 1991.