In making his Everton debut in a 2-0 win over Leicester City in February 1978, Billy Wright followed a family tradition set by his uncle Tommy a decade earlier.
Like his illustrious uncle, Wright was a local defender who had progressed through the Everton youth ranks to the first team. An accomplished footballer, he belied many of the characteristics typical in English centre halves. Neither especially tall nor quick, he overcame these shortcomings with astute reading of the game and heading ability that was a redolent of a player taller than his 5ft 9in frame. Such assets were replicated across the field and on occasion Wright filled in as a midfielder or in the number two shirt once distinguished by his uncle.
After making just a handful of appearances through the 1977/78 season, Gordon Lee invested considerable faith in the youngster the following campaign, making him first choice centre back alongside Mick Lyons. Not only did Wright displace the equally promising Mark Higgins and the experienced Roger Kenyon, but he forced new signing Colin Todd, a former England centre back and Footballer of the Year, to play in the unfamiliar right back berth.
With just a handful of first team appearances, Wright was called up to the England under-21 team. Ron Greenwood, the England manager, who, in the 1960s had overseen the emergence of Bobby Moore, and was an advocate of ‘footballing’ defenders, was evidently impressed by what he saw, and at the end of the 1978/79 season called up Wright to the England B team to face Austria. Wright would make a further England B appearance, against Australia in November 1980, but full honours remained elusive.
Wright was virtually ever present through Gordon Lee’s final days as manager, and after Howard Kendall’s appointment as manager in 1981 was briefly captain. And yet he soon fell foul of the new manager. Never the most naturally athletic of players, Kendall criticised Wright for being overweight. Matters came to a head in December 1982, when Kendall finally lost patience with the centre back, who was 8lbs heavier than his prescribed weight. Prior to an away fixture at Ipswich he reputedly announced to his squad ‘Billy’s failed a fatness test’ and dropped him. Although the manager pleaded with the press to be sensitive to the problem, the headlines likening Wright to Billy Bunter were inevitable.
Wright never saw first team action again and in June 1983 joined Birmingham City on a free transfer. There was a spell with Carlisle United, but by the age of thirty, when, under different circumstances, he might have enjoyed his Goodison prime, Wright had slipped out of league football, joining Morecombe, whom he briefly managed.