England and Arsenal legend Ian Wright was the catalyst for promotion, says former Burnley boss Stan Ternent
It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost 20 years ago to the day that Stan Ternent gave Burnley fans one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts they’re ever likely to receive.
Disbelieving supporters had to pinch themselves at one of the most sensational signings in the club’s history, as former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright arrived from Celtic.
The Premier League winner, who was then the Gunners’ all-time top scorer, was brought in to give the Clarets’ promotion hopes from Division Two a shot in the arm.
And he proved the catalyst as Burnley won seven of their last eight games to pip Gillingham to second place on the last day of the season.
Wright, 36 at the time, had combined with Mark Bright to lift Crystal Palace back to the top flight via victory over Blackburn Rovers in the play-offs in 1989, when Ternent was Steve Coppell’s assistant at Selhurst Park.
That was a sweetener in the deal - which had been pushed by chairman Barry Kilby and director Ray Ingleby - but defender Mitchell Thomas also had a big role to play in making the move happen.
“Everybody seemed to be happy about it, and it obviously worked because we won promotion,” said Ternent.
“He was great to have around the place, he had a fantastic personality.
“I knew him from my days at Crystal Palace so I knew exactly what I was dealing with and what I was getting.
“We got promoted down there as well.
“Promotion was what we all wanted at Burnley, and it just gave everybody a lift at a crucial stage of the season.”
The former Eagles striker, who earned 33 caps for the Three Lions, had already featured for West Ham United and Nottingham Forest that term, scoring five goals in 10 appearances for the latter in Division One.
Wright had then moved north of the border as a short-term replacement for Henrik Larsson, who had suffered a serious injury, and was due to see out his career at Parkhead.
However, he found his opportunities limited under John Barnes, and things came to a head after a 3-1 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle – which prompted the infamous headline ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious’.
Barnes was sacked, and less than a week later, Wright joined Burnley.
It meant dropping to the the lowest level he had played since he joined Palace from Greenwich Borough in 1985, but Ternent said: “He was at Celtic when Mitch [Mitchell Thomas] played for me. They were best buddies.
“I was having a conversation with Mitch down at Gawthorpe one day and I asked him how Wrighty was.
“It all stemmed from there really.
“Mitch told me that he wasn’t happy, Celtic were going through a bit of a transitional stage at the time, so we went from there.
“We had to check with his agent once we knew he was keen on coming and we sorted it out.
“He had a lot of TV commitments, but we were able to agree a deal and myself and the chairman [Barry Kilby] got it over the line.
“The rest is history.
“He came down on the train, and I remember Ray Ingleby had to go and get him and bring him through.
“The chairman and I were stood waiting with the press.
“We couldn’t get near the place when he signed because it was absolutely packed.”
Wright made his debut in a goal-less draw at home to Wigan Athletic, as leading scorer Andy Payton served a three-match suspension for a sending off against Bristol Rovers.
He played the next three as Burnley’s hopes of making the top two took a hit with defeats to rivals Preston North End and Luton Town.
The European Cup Winners’ Cup victor, who also lifted the FA Cup twice, wouldn’t make another start for the Clarets that season, but his contribution would be monumental.
While Payton and Andy Cooke were a fearsome strikeforce at that level, Burnley now had Wright in reserve to come on and influence things.
And in 11 appearances from the bench, Wright netted four crucial goals, and claimed another memorable assist for Paul Weller’s dramatic injury time winner at Oxford United.
He struck late on, after replacing Paul Cook, to salvage a vital point against promotion-rivals Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium – sprinting to the dugouts to leap into Ternent’s arms – and then netted a quite brilliant winner in stoppage time when beating Notts County keeper Darren Ward from a Steve Davis pass after the Magpies had levelled late on completely against the run of play.
Wright scored 323 goals domestically throughout his career and the very last one of those helped the Clarets overturn Lloyd Owusu’s opener for Brentford at Griffin Park on Easter Monday.
Two games later, Burnley were promoted at Glanford Park following victory over Scunthorpe United, as Gillingham faltered on the last day, beaten by Wrexham and a goal from future Claret Mark McGregor.
“He was dead easy to work with, and he gave you a lift whenever you were in his company,” said Ternent.
“He was a bubbly character, but he was also a fantastic player and goalscorer.
“He’s one of the best forwards this country has ever produced.
“Everybody got a real lift and that was the idea behind the transfer.
“I knew he would have that effect and I knew that he would score a goal or two.
“It was good for a club like us to have a player of his calibre and the players were able to learn from him.
“He played an integral part in that run up to achieving promotion, there’s no doubt about that. He was a massive part of it and he had a huge effect on the players because he was an out-and-out winner.
“He was football royalty. He scored some vital goals for us, he was a great guy, the life and soul of the place when he was here, but as soon as the ball moved he wanted to win.
“It’s got to be up there as one of my best signings because we got promoted.
“I still speak to him now and again. He’s a great lad and he’s done really well for himself. He’s always on the magic lantern now, doing punditry with Alan Shearer, and he deserves all the success that he’s having because he’s such a nice guy.”