Ian Wright

14th September 2007 at 01:00
A PE teacher taught this footballer turned presenter that life, as well as the beautiful game, is all about team work, earning his undying gratitude

I was quite a disruptive, hyperactive pupil in class, and when the teachers couldn't handle me they sent me to see Sydney Pigden. He was a PE teacher at Turnham Primary School in Brockley, south-east London, and at first I was afraid of him, but he soon became my mentor and a massive influence.

He was hard, but fair, and he taught me how to read and channel my energy into something more positive. I didn't have a good relationship with my step father, so he was the first dominant male figure in my life who had time for me and cared for me. He was like a father figure. I knew he had a soft spot for me and the other kids called me "teacher's pet", but I didn't mind because I wanted to please him.

If I wasn't good in class he would tell me that I wouldn't be allowed to play football on a Saturday, and that was quite an incentive. He made me a school monitor for a bit and taught me the importance of working as a team. As a nine-year-old, all I wanted to do was dribble round everyone and score goals, but he taught me the importance of passing and being less selfish with the ball. And he had a similar message in terms of my school work. I couldn't just be loud and talk over teachers because it wasn't fair on them, or the other kids. We had to work together.

He always told me to keep going, work harder. He said nothing comes easy, but that hard work is always rewarded. It was great to have this instilled at an early age and I've tried to live by it ever since. Now when I talk to children, I tell them the same message: that you always reap what you sow. I didn't really know what that meant at the time, but I gradually came to understand and appreciate it.

I never felt as if I was as good as my brothers and was constantly looking for approval. Friends and relatives used to ask my mum to just bring round my older brother, and not me, because I was too loud. That was hurtful to my mum and put her in a difficult position. Mr Pigden implicitly told them that I wasn't bad. He believed in me and never gave up. It was like a chain reaction and others started to believe in me too. I improved in class and teachers and other adults started to respond better to me.

I met Mr Pigden again about two years ago as part of a TV show. I was standing in the Arsenal dugout and then suddenly there he was. I had no idea he was coming and it was a big shock. We hugged and I started to cry like a baby. The emotion just overtook me. About 30 years had gone by since I'd properly seen him and he'd obviously kept an eye on my career and what I'd achieved. He was very proud of me. I'm just very thankful to him

Ian Wright MBE, 43, is a former footballer turned television and radio presenter. He scored 185 goals in 288 appearances for Arsenal, and holds Crystal Palace's post-war scoring record, with 117 goals in 277 appearances. He played 33 times for England, scoring nine goals. Formerly a team captain on the BBC's They Think It's All Over, he presents TalkSPORT's Drive programme. He was talking to Hannah Frankel

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