Socceroo Bailey Wright, plays against Denmark in the World Cup, Sunderland

Bailey Wright experienced his biggest win and heartbreaking loss on World Cup night. He tells ADAM PEACOCK about his journey to this moment and what happened.

Almost 75 minutes had passed against Denmark and everyone who had nothing to do with the Socceroos was outraged.

Australia led 1-0. A place in the World Cup round of 16 was so close.

Graham Arnold paced the sidelines with his collar disheveled and his mind racing. Seconds felt like hours for the Socceroos coach.

While the Danes bombed in search of an equaliser, Arnold searched for a solution. A man he could trust.

He called Bailey Wright.

“Please just watch the game,” Arnold said to Wright on the sidelines. “Please, please just do your job.”

At this point, Wright had never played a minute of World Cup football. But it wasn’t a risk.

He had left Australia as a teenager. Gone through lonely early days. Lived 14 years English minor league mania.

It was made for this moment.

“I would run through 20 walls to get out of this,” Wright tells CODE Sports.

Wright helped maintain a wall. Denmark repelled, reached the round of 16, glory won.

“To be a World Cup player and to do it with the group that we made and to represent Australia…” Wright smiles and pauses. “You’ll never beat that.”

But minutes after his greatest moment as a footballer, the man with the mind of granite was reduced to rubble.


Wright kept a secret during the World Cup campaign that only Arnold and a handful of others knew.

His mother-in-law Tammy was terminally ill and near the end.

Wright actually missed the final games before last September’s World Cup against New Zealand as wife Ria had given birth to their second child and their mother Tammy took a turn for the worse.

He thought it would hurt his World Championship chances until Arnold reassured him.

“Every single player wanted that jersey,” recalls Wright, “and every opportunity is an opportunity to make a name for yourself. But Arnie made it easy for me. Family first.”

Come to the World Cup, Tammy was down. Wright went to Qatar with Ria’s blessing and it all came to a head that night against Denmark.

Wright returned to the rooms and turned on his phone.

Tammy didn’t respond. She was alive when the game was on, but passed away peacefully hours later.

“She knew, deep down, that I would come and play,” says Wright. “That was something special.”

Wright considered going home, but Ria encouraged him to stay for the Argentina game.

“You have your family at home and your family here,” says Wright.

“When you feel like you’re coming into camp, people you can count on, that’s very special.”


Wright always wanted to be a Socceroo and went his own way to become one.

After missing out on an AIS scholarship when he was 16, he left Australia in 2009 after his parents sent some emails to English clubs asking for a trial session.

Preston North End, the club where Australian superstar Joe Marston made his name in the 1950s, presented Wright with his golden ticket: a youth contract. But he had to wait for that.

It took four months for his international transfer to be completed. He was banned from playing but found an ingenious way to get some playing time.

In some English clubs, a team of fans play against each other before the actual game every weekend. Wright accepted the offer from Preston’s main fan, Steve Cowell.

“I really wanted to get a game,” says Wright. “Steve came to the dig to pick me up. He worked as a drinks wholesaler in the area, so I hopped in this van and sat between cases of sodas and beer. He was worth something.

“Go to the game and the referee comes in, we have to do a round of whipping to pay him. A tenner a man; At that time I had 50 pounds a week, had to pay this tenner! Thought Steve you asshole!”

Lighter in the pocket, Wright soon became an instant fan favorite, both scoring and assisting in the game. although he stresses, “The standard wasn’t great. A few pros and a few pounds!”

But it got Wright on his way. Clearance came through to play professional football.

Fourteen years later he is still going strong, amassing over 350 games at Championship and League 1 level for Preston, Bristol City, Sunderland and Rotherham. No country for weak men.

In these leagues, every game has an advantage. Cities at the wrong end of economic trends, whose industry has gone haywire, have one constant to fall back on: their soccer team.

“If you give your all, you get full commitment from the fans. You can feel it,” says Wright.

Last month, Wright made his debut for current club Rotherham.

“If you’re ever given a trivia question about what’s the shortest debut in football history, I’m probably the answer,” laughs Wright.

It was a typical thoroughbred Yorkshire derby between Sheffield United and Rotherham. Wright came on as a substitute in the 69th minute. A throw-in was executed. Wright went up for a header and knocked his way into the next universe.

“The opponent’s head caught me in the chin as I was going for a header and I was cold,” says Wright. “One to forget, literally!”

He adds: “I guess the label warrior follows me a bit. I don’t know if that’s stupid or just the type of player I am. Thoroughbred, body on the line. Don’t think, just do it.”

However, do not confuse him with someone who belongs in an octagon. Wright can read a game, a commodity next to nerves.

But it’s off the pitch where Wright really sets the standard, with a shining example from his former club Sunderland.

Desperate to become sustainable after nearly going bust, Sunderland are now a club looking to develop and sell younger players. That strategy meant Wright, 30, fell down the pecking order and barely played earlier this season.

His character, however, shone through.

“He’s a diamond of a boy,” said Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray last October.

“Bailey is the kind of guy who walks around every morning and shakes everyone’s hand and says hello, he’s such a happy and sharp-witted guy. It’s so nice to have someone calling the shots.”

That respect helped Wright land on loan from Sunderland last month. Mowbray didn’t want to lose the character but understood that Wright wanted playing time.

The main concern?

A lack of playing time could cost him a Socceroos call-up. The shirt means so much to Wright and those minutes on the pitch against Denmark left him wanting more.

“You look back and you’re like, ‘Holy shit,'” says Wright.

“The emotions, the contentment, the sense of accomplishment of pride, honor. That was pretty special.”


As the new World Cup cycle begins, Wright is back to be there for whatever the Socceroos need from him.

On Tuesday night he will hope to progress against Ecuador in Melbourne, the city he left as a 16-year-old for a career he could only dream of.

Wright has not played on Australian soil since 2019 but playing in front of family and friends could become the norm going forward.

“Somewhere I see myself playing in the A-League again,” he says.

“It would be great to play here and share that with my family back home.”

Adam Peacock

Starting out as a cadet, Adam spent almost a decade with the Seven Network before spending 15 years at Fox Sports covering football, tennis, cricket, the Olympics and tournaments. Favorite teams are the Socceroos, Matildas, Newcastle Utd, Manly while hobbies are watching sports, eating, sleeping and waking up to do the same. Socceroo Bailey Wright, plays against Denmark in the World Cup, Sunderland

Chris Estrada

Chris Estrada is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Chris Estrada joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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