Charity work confirms that Socceroo Bailey is made of the Wright stuff

Sunderland defender’s leadership qualities have him in line for a start against Tunisia at the World Cup, and all his clubs know what he does behind the scenes, writes Tom Smithies

It’s a Saturday afternoon at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland earlier this season, and Bailey Wright isn’t in the starting line-up. 

As the warm-up intensifies, it’s Wright demanding maximum effort. Once the game kicks off it’s Wright who is vocal from the bench, encouraging and exhorting his teammates.

If character is truly defined by our behaviour when the world isn’t watching, the ballboys and ballgirls sitting near the Sunderland bench can testify to the sort of person Bailey Wright is. Twelve-year-olds can be acute judges of character, and they’re impressed by the commitment to the Sunderland cause of a player struggling for game time.

The Socceroos defender isn’t given to grandiose statements; he just gets on with it. In the community around the clubs where he has played since moving to England 13 years ago, they see what Bailey Wright’s character is.

A series of awards that have little to do with football give you an indication; at Preston North End, Bristol City and Sunderland he has won awards for the role he plays with club charities and in the community.

This is the sense of responsibility and leadership that Socceroos boss Graham Arnold so values, and which has inevitably led to Wright becoming captain or senior player at every team he has played in. It’s the quality that means Wright is in line to play for the Socceroos against Tunisia at the World Cup.

“Sunderland is quite a unique place as it’s a one-club city full of very passionate football people,” says Jamie Wright (no relation) who is managing director of the Foundation of Life, the charitable body set up by a former Sunderland chairman and closely affiliated with the club.

“The result and performance at the weekend can make or break their week, so the one thing they demand is 100% effort, and that you put a shift in. Bailey absolutely represents that, and it’s why Sunderland fans will be supporting Australia at the World Cup I’m sure.

“When he first joined on loan we were in the middle of a pandemic so we couldn’t get as much access to our programmes and the people on them.

Bailey Wright with schoolchildren in Sunderland on World Book Day.

“Then he asked to look round our new facility, and he’s become more and more involved, whether that’s getting boots and kit from his teammates for us to auction or meeting participants on out programmes.

“The other players listen to him and he’s got more involved. My son has been a ballboy and they sit near where the players warm up; I can tell you he was very impressed with the way Bailey was with the other players even when he wasn’t in the team. Kids really pick up on that stuff.”

The fact that Wright has been undertaking these extra-curricular activities for years says a lot,  and his motivation is straightforward.

“As a footballer, you always have a responsibility, regardless of what you do, to leave the place or world in a better place, if you can,” he says. 

“And for me, when I go to any football club, if I can have an impact on the pitch and off the pitch, I see those as just as important as each other. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with three clubs now in England, Preston North End, Bristol City and Sunderland, who all have incredible community programs.

“Sunderland’s really is top notch with the foundation that they’ve got there. I don’t know if you have seen it, but what it offers to the community and the opportunities that it gives to so many young kids and adults is incredible, it really is incredible. 

“Straightaway I wanted to play my part and help in any way I could. But it really is the people there, the work they do and the programs they run and what they’ve set up is just incredible. 

“So to just be part of that and sort of tag along is always great fun and you know, being a Sunderland player, it’s always an easy way to put smiles on faces and do my bit. I’ve enjoyed it.”