Smiling before he’s even left the house, the gifted Stefan Wright has lit up The Enclosed Ground with his intrinsic versatility on the pitch, and indeed off it with a grin and laugh so infectious it’s impossible not to cackle with him. At non-league there are stories that are never told, always sitting beneath the soil waiting to be unearthed. For Wright this is a story about passion, about proving himself, and about making other people happy. For the selfless smiler zooming up and down the blades, this one’s for you:
So Stef, now into December and you’ve started to play more frequently. How are you finding things at Whitehawk?
“Yeah, really good! Obviously coming into a new team where I didn’t know anyone, I think everybody just clicked straight away from pre-season to now. I think it shows now as well how good it’s been, the unity we have as a group with the management, with the fans – I think it brings everybody together, like a real family club no matter what happens, we always stick by each other. Results are good, (could be better!), but yeah, I’ve enjoyed it so far. Good minutes from a personal point of view, and yeah, building good relationships so it’s really enjoyable!”
You can see when you score how much it means to you…is there any reason why seem to express so much euphoria when you find the net compared to some others?
“I think you’ve got two angles to it. When I score a goal, you’re buzzing from a personal point of view because when you play for certain managers or played in certain teams, it’s the relief of being able to deliver for other people, and that’s what Whitehawk’s about. When you go to other teams and score a goal it doesn’t mean as much because I might be playing for myself more than playing for the team but, since I’ve joined Whitehawk, scoring a goal it’s the relief of one: effecting the game in a way, and two: seeing the joy from fans, committee members, the management, the players – everybody’s buzzing when the ball hits the back of the net.
But every time I score a goal here it just means a little bit more, and I think it’s because of our aspirations as a team as well. It makes me want to make sure I’m on the scoresheet or providing an assist in a way that is going to affect the team in a positive way. And I just love football! I love scoring goals – I never used to be a goalscorer, ever! To be playing in the game, I think it’s two or three goals in ten starts which is one every three games in terms of starts so it’s a pleasurable moment. It makes me feel good, and it makes everyone else feel good; I just feel the buzz on everyone’s faces when the ball hits the back of the net.”
Where would you say you are most comfortable on the pitch?
“I think I’ve played in every position, barring centre-back and centre-mid (and goalkeeper!), but in all honesty I enjoy playing anywhere. If I have to say where do I enjoy it the most? It’s definitely along the wings, because you’re very much involved in doing both sides of the job: the hard work to get back, and then the hard work to get forward – supplying assists for the strikers in the team. I don’t know if you remember the assist against Faversham when Charlie Harris scored but the thrill of that cross meant more to me than scoring a goal in that moment.
You go to training and we might put in five, six, seven, ten crosses in training and only one or two of them come off but in a game, when you see that ball come off you know you’ve practiced that in training so yeah, I think it’s definitely got to be down the flanks for sure.”
You’re an Arsenal fan, aren’t you? Who was your inspiration growing up?
“Oooh, good question. I think it had to be Thierry Henry. Reason being is his story is quite similar to mine, not in terms of being a professional, but the way he started out: he was in the French League, a left-winger, he wasn’t a striker…but he was a born winner. And I believe I’m a born winner so I kind of idolised him. The demeanour that he portrays was what I was always interested in. Seeing the quality he has, able to move into different positions, the skill he had, the way he got on with all kinds of players and he was just a natural talent so he’s up there by far – Patrick Vieira is also up there but Henry is definitely the one I looked at and said ‘yeah, I should’ve been a striker!”
You’ve played for a few clubs around London and Kent at this level already…Do you feel like you’ve found a home at Whitehawk?
“In terms of the clubs I’ve been with I think I’ve got on with near enough every manager, and the squads and the fans especially. The fans are so important – fans and committee members – those are the ones that I play football for. I touched upon it earlier about the fans and everyone who does all the work and don’t get paid for it, they’re the people that we play football for. Whitehawk demonstrates that the most out of any club I’ve ever been at, and that’s why, going back to your question, absolutely!
When I come to Whitehawk I travel maybe an hour and half to get here, and I never feel like that time feels long, it feels short because it feels like you’re going home. It feels like you’re going to see the boys, you’re going to see fans that adore you when we lose or draw regardless, they’re always supportive; the fans welcome you with open arms, singing your name, saying ‘well done’ even if you played bad! I don’t see myself looking to change because it feels like I’ve found a home to be fair. It feels a bit like love at first sight! I love it here, it’s probably one of the best football clubs I’ve properly ever played for.“
That’s love, right there. A player who has the potential to achieve so much, all he needs is a run of games to truly let the county fear his name. Yet not the person, for his energetic buzz that passes from room to room will forever engrave his name onto its walls. In life there are few certainties, but one – the indubitable truth – is that you will always see Wright playing his heart out, and lifting all those around him. It’s what a dressing room needs and, mercifully, we have just the man: Stefan Wright.