IAN WRIGHT: HOME TRUTHS | WE’VE BEEN WATCHING
The path to becoming a professional footballer at the highest level is tough, but it’s tougher for some than for others. Ian Wright battled his way from living with his family in a single room in south London to become Arsenal’s record goalscorer and, in retirement, a successful TV and radio presenter – but he’s never been able to escape the memories of a childhood blighted by domestic abuse.
For years, Wright struggled with his past in private, but he’s gradually started to speak about his experiences – perhaps most notably to Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs last year. Home Truths finds him courageously tackling the issue head on. “I’m nervous about doing this,” he admits, “but it’s something that needs to be done.”
That’s true generally, as much as for his own sake. The statistics set out at the beginning of the programme are horrifying: 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in the UK last year, and children are present in 90 per cent of cases. Lockdown has only exacerbated an existing problem, increasing the tensions within already troubled households and trapping victims in dangerous environments.
Despite the best efforts of his older brother Maurice to shield him from harm, the young Wright witnessed his mother being violently assaulted by his stepfather and suffered direct physical, psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of them both himself. The damage sustained in such situations is understandably long term – but, the programme suggests, not necessarily irreparable. Home Truths charts Wright’s moving personal journey from acknowledging the appalling reality of what he lived through (which involves a traumatic visit to the family home), to understanding his anger management issues, to meeting and speaking to other survivors, to realising that his experiences and feelings aren’t unique and that – far from being a deserving victim – he is blameless. The wounds may leave a scar, but at least they appear to be healing.
Salvation for the schoolboy footballer came in the shape of Sydney Pigden, the teacher who helped Wright to develop a sense of self-worth, and the documentary highlights the key role that school staff can and should play in identifying children who are suffering from the consequences of abuse. Among social workers there is, thankfully, now universal understanding that abuse need not be physical to warrant intervention. Such measures can be preventative: Wright talks to a man who’s being taught what constitutes abusive behaviour and how to keep it in check, and to a family who’ve been benefitting from a programme designed to reduce friction and improve communication. These initiatives offer encouraging evidence that cycles of violence can be broken and that children (and their mothers) can be spared from suffering.
However, the success of such schemes is contingent not only on the participants’ willingness to accept the existence of the problem and thus the need for change, but also on the availability of adequate resources. The swingeing, ideologically motivated cuts made by the Tories to local council budgets in the name of austerity have without doubt hampered efforts to effectively address domestic abuse, as well as many other social ills that disproportionately affect women and children. This being the politically neutral BBC, though, that particular elephant is allowed to wander freely around the room – the one home truth this important documentary shies away from.
Available on BBC iPlayer now. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos DAN DEWSBURY