Ian Wright emotionally remembers childhood teacher in 2020
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Ian Wright hosts the first ever episode of Moneyball on ITV tonight — a game show that can make you rich just by rolling a ball. Contestants will navigate their way through a series of questions, and with each correct answer they earn a ball which they roll onto ‘The Launcher’. After they ‘Lock The Launcher’, the ball will drop from a height and roll back and forth until it rests on an amount of cash or the dreaded ‘Danger’ sign.
Arsenal and Crystal Palace legend Ian has forged a successful media career since hanging up his boots, and regularly appears on BBC’s Match of the Day and as part of ITV’s punditry team for England matches.
On the pitch, he was a prolific goalscorer, notching 185 goals in 288 appearances for Arsenal.
As of October 2021, he is the Gunners’ second highest goalscorer of all time, a total beaten only by Thierry Henry.
However, his story might have been a completely different one had it not been for Sydney Pigden, his teacher, who he described as “the first positive male figure that I had in my life” in his 2016 autobiography ‘A Life in Football’.
Ian had a tough childhood. His father was absent from an early age, and he had a difficult relationship with his mother and stepfather.
Speaking on BBC’s Desert Island Discs last year, he recalled: “I know he loved me. I don’t know why he chose me, I’m glad that he did.
“He was the one who taught me about Jimmy Greaves and making sure ‘when you finish Ian, when you go in through with the goalkeeper, look for the space, score beautiful goals.’
“But he gave me responsibility. I used to collect the registers from the teachers, they made me a milk monitor, I really liked that.”
Mr Pigden instilled a sense of discipline in young Ian, and wouldn’t let him play football if he had heard that Ian had been naughty in class.
He admitted to his campmates on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2019 that Mr Pigden was someone he could talk to ‘all the time”, and vividly remembers a chat in the school library about the importance of behaving himself.
The pair were reunited in 2010, and a video of the reunion has since gone viral, with more than 3.5 million views on YouTube.
Ian turns around upon hearing footsteps, and his jaw drops instantly. He had incorrectly been told that Mr Pigden had passed away.
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He recalled on Desert Island Discs: “I was doing a television show and there was a bit in it where I had to go back to the ground [Highbury] and just sit in the director’s box.
“And so I was sitting there in a reflective moment, and then he just came from my right shoulder.
“And I said to him ‘oh my gosh, I thought you had died, I thought you were dead’, and he said ‘well I’m very much alive Ian’, something like that, and then he said how proud he is of me.”
Ian, by this point reduced to tears, said he hugged his old teacher and “felt like I was seven again”, with Mr Pigden standing tall a couple of steps above him.
Ian said: “I remember him saying, because you know, he was one of the youngest pilots in World War Two and when we won the war, he was one of the pilots chosen to do the flyover of Buckingham Palace.
“I remember him saying that he was more proud of the fact that I played for England than him flying over Buckingham Palace. Love that man.”
Still tearful, he said: “He changed my life just by recognising, I don’t know what it was when I was standing outside that classroom, that I needed more, and he gave it to me.”
Ian told his campmates on I’m A Celebrity the same story, and said: “When I was at Arsenal running I would always think about him and I showed him my England cap.
“If it wasn’t for him… I know I wouldn’t be where I am, I think about him every day.”
Mr Pigden passed away in late 2017, and Ian was invited to unveil his plaque at Turnham Junior School on the Honor Oak estate in Brockley, south London.
Ian said unveiling the plaque was the “greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life”.
Ian Wright presents Moneyball, which airs at 6:30pm tonight on ITV. It will also be available on ITV Player.
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