A pitch isn’t just a symbolic thing for me, it’s also a practical step towards something positive
April 10, 2023 2:19 pm(Updated 2:20 pm)
As I was getting ready to launch the Rocky and Wrighty Arena (open from Tuesday 11 April), a 3G football turf pitch at my old primary school Turnham Academy, I started thinking about why I love the football pitches in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I love them because they are places that remind me how simple this all is, in the end: somewhere you go as you begin to chase your dream.
It means so much to me to be able to launch these new facilities and I’m immensely grateful to EA Sports, the Football Foundation and their funding partners for their support and commitment. Especially at a time when I look around and worry about how expensive life is for young people today, and how their access to spaces like these is disappearing – either because they can’t afford to get to them, or because they no longer exist.
That’s why a football pitch isn’t just a symbolic thing for me, it’s also a practical step towards something positive.
At times I ask myself if we, as a society are doing our very best for young people. If we are totally honest with ourselves then the answer is no. I often feel like we treat young people too much like they are in the way, and not the way forward. They are going through tough times, and we really need to make more room for them wherever we can.
Everyone has their favourite part of the football pitch. For some it’s the corner flag, where you knee-slide to celebrate after you’ve scored. For others – like me – it’s maybe the edge of the penalty area, when someone’s just put you through on goal.
Nothing beats that excitement, that thrill of knowing you’re going to score. But best of all is the first time you set foot on the touchline. Even now, that never gets old.
In fact, I feel like I appreciate the pitch even more these days. Because of the pain in one of my ankles, it’s tough for me to have a decent kickabout for too long, so I make sure to enjoy every moment.
I think about all those famous trips we made to Anfield, or the great nights we had at Highbury, or the battles we had in Sunday League. All that drama, and the pitch was in the middle of it all.
Of course, not everyone will become a professional footballer, or even want to become one. But that’s why a football pitch is much more important than a place where you can see high-profile matches. It’s where people can come together to form a community like nowhere else.
I have to finish by talking about Rocky (David Rocastle), because without him none of this would have been possible – not my career, not this new venue, but most of all not our friendship, which continues to give me strength and guidance. We actually only played in the same team for a small fraction of my time as a footballer, but that short time was so happy that the whole journey to that point was worth it.
I hope the young people who will use this pitch find here something even better than the dreams Rocky and I were chasing. I hope they find friendships, like Rocky and I did, that enrich them for years to come.
Ian Wright is a sports broadcaster, and former professional football player. The Rocky and Wrighty Arena in London, which is currently under construction is named after Wright, and his friend and former Arsenal team mate David Rocastle, who died in 2001. The football pitch will host children from disadvantaged backgrounds, disabled players and LGBTQI+ teams, among others.