Mark Bright is the striker who went from foster care to stardom in the Premier League and Wembley cup finals.
He forged one of English football’s deadliest double acts with Ian Wright at Crystal Palace , where Bright is now academy coach and owner Steve Parish’s trusted lieutenant.
Bright’s professional career began at Port Vale and also included spells at Leicester , Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton.
In his moving and forthright autobiography My Story, Bright traces his journey from loving foster homes to the big time, Palace, Sheffield Wednesday and close encounters with Andy Linighan.
Here are his views on how the game has changed, Crystal Palace, Wilfried Zaha, the title race and the battle for top four….
How has the game changed?
“We were worked harder, we were robust. I started every game of a season once in my career, at Palace, I was knackered.
“It was tough. Especially as a forward. People say: ‘do you think you could play now?’ Yes, I think I could. But I would say that they couldn’t in our day. It was too physical.
“Our Palace team had pace, power, we were tough, we were a team and we’d fight for each other.
“It was a great three years, the best of my career – promotion, FA Cup final, Zenith Data final and finishing third in the old First Division. If Palace finished third now, Steve (Parish) would retire, statues for everybody. That’s the equivalent of what it would be.”
Best years of your career?
“The 1992/93 season at Sheffield Wednesday takes some beating, finished seventh and reached two cup finals.
“We just met Arsenal at the wrong time because if we’d met Arsene Wenger’s team rather than George Graham because, with him, it was up, hold, offside.
“Keown, Adams, Bould, Linighan. If two didn’t play, the other two would. Hard to play against. Tough. Hard to beat. Seaman – big, powerful and brave.”
Breaking Andy Linighan’s nose in the 1993 FA Cup final
“I phoned Wrighty and said: ‘Give me Andy Linighan’s number.’ I phoned him apologised, said: ‘sorry for breaking your nose.’ He said: ‘Brighty, I’m still ahead, way ahead.’
“Tackling from behind – that’s what defenders did.Straight through the back of you.
“But it was poetic justice that he scored the winner. It was karma. I broke his nose and he scored the winner in the last minute of extra time. I should have had a red card, I was out of order. I did him. I’m not proud of it.
“But a while after that, I went to a game at Arsenal , dropped Michelle off, parked the car and I went back and a guy stood in my way and said: ‘You broke Andy Linighan’s nose.’
“I tried to walk past him, he stood in front of me and said: ‘You think you’re hard, don’t you?’ I thought he was going to chin me!’
“Then this guy came across and said: ‘get out of the way – he’s Wrighty’s mate.’ Generally, I’ve been okay – people have realised that I tried hard, gave my best and worked hard for my team.'”
Why write a book?
“Life can be fragile, very fragile and I wanted, with my son, to put down what I’ve been through, where I came from and hopefully show what you can do even after a tough start in life and you come through some challenges.
“I found it cathartic. I’ve got some great memories – the good outweigh the bad. But you have to be tough and if you’re not then you just roll over.”
The 1990 FA Cup final
“People were crying after we lost the replay. Andy Gray lost Lee Martin. Andy was gutted afterwards and said: ‘I’ll make it up to you.’ Wrighty just said: ‘What the f*** are you going to do for losing us the FA Cup final?!’
“I remember the first thing I did was walk in and throw my loser’s medal away. I’ve kept it in the end. I’ve got a losers in the League Cup and two FA Cup losers. It’s hard. But I get why the rugby lads didn’t want their medals, I really do.”
Your job at Palace now?
“My job as under-23 development coach – how can I best help the players? I want to give them the best advice possible so who can I look to? I got Jason Puncheon, kicked out of a club, hard times, challenges and Punch sat, chatted to them. That’s what I want – to give them the full picture. Bring players through, give them a chance.
“I’m loan manager mainly, I think the title will be changed. I just help out. You try to get young ones to the club – everyone’s chasing them, you think you’ve got them and then someone else comes in. We’ve got some exciting young groups.”
Crystal Palace now…?
“It’s the strongest squad we’ve ever had. Anyone tipping us for the bottom places wouldn’t know what a strong second half of the season we had last year.
“Goals is a problem for us, we don’t score enough goals, Christian Benteke has scored more goals than anyone.
“There’s nothing stopping us doing a Wolves , finishing top of the rest, and we have a great squad – we’ve never had so many internationals.
“Gary Cahill has been an amazing signing for us – he’s a great lad, great example on and off the pitch. Good balance. It’s best squad in this club’s history.”
“The players love him, the fans love him, the staff love him and we want him to stay. But if he gets an offer to go, the offer is right for all parties and Steve (Parish) allows him to go then more power to him and I wish him all the best.
“I like to see people move on and do well. But at this moment, he gives us balance and with Andros Townsend and Jordan Ayew works hard. His stats are good, he works hard and gets fouls for us and has scored goals this year.”
The title race
“I still fancy Man City. You have to get lucky with injuries and I see the fightbacks from Liverpool recently, coming from behind to win.
“That’s champions for you – Liverpool show that now. There won’t be much in it.
“City losing at home to us [last season] nearly cost them the title. You saw how hard they had to go to finish well at the end.
“More power to Liverpool for pushing them all the way – one point separated two great teams. But City do have a deeper squad, Liverpool feel they’re close and yet City play the better football – and they’re lethal with pace, resilience and they’re tough.”
Who will finish in the top four?
“Leicester have got a good team, they’ve got balance, nothing else to take care of.
Vardy is in double figures already and is fit, in great shape, not lost his pace. I like Maddison, Jonny Evans is a good player, great keeper, and so they could be the surprise one. I thought West Ham could do it but they’ve been a bit disappointing. So it might be the top four as it is now.”
How a Palace legend’s son became an Arsenal fan…
“I wanted him to pick his own team and, one day, I think he was about five and I took him to Arsenal.
“We went to Highbury, got there and someone gave him a scarf. He put it on, we walked out and saw the pitch at Highbury and he goes, ‘Wow…’ We phoned his mum on the way home and he said: ‘Mum, I’m an Arsenal fan.’
“She was saying: ‘Oh baby, well done!’ I promised if they ever got to a final I’d take him and we went to the Champions League final, we’ve been down to Cardiff together to an FA Cup final.
“We went to the Man United cup final – Vieira scored the winning penalty and Wrighty is dancing round saying: ‘Isaiah, this is what happens when you support Arsenal – you win trophies every year.’
“It’s not been quite as good as that since but he’s had a picture of Wrighty on his phone. He’s an Arsenal fan. I think someone asked him if he had a picture of his dad on his phone. ‘No, he didn’t play for Arsenal.'”