Ian Wright flashes his trademark beaming grin as he describes his first impression of the teacher who “changed my life,” Sydney Pigden.

“I was petrified of him,” the former England striker recalls.

But when Mr Pigden spotted Wright standing in the corridor one day after being sent out of class, he took the seven-year-old under his wing and helped him with reading and writing – with a few football tips thrown in too.

“I used to get close to the goalkeeper and I used to hit [the ball] as hard as I could.

“But he used to say to me, ‘score beautiful goals’.”

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Wright speaks at the unveiling of Sydney Charles Pigden's memorial plaque

Sydenham-born Mr Pigden lived in Lewisham for most of his life. At the age of 18, he joined the RAF and flew spitfires and hurricanes.

After leaving the RAF, Mr Pigden spent years teaching at Turnham Primary School (now Turnham Academy) where he was also a football referee and coach who ran the school football teams.

Wright, 55, says his mentor had always wanted to be an educator.

“All he ever wanted to do was teach.

“I never forgot his teachings - all the way through.”

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Wright returns to his old classroom at Turnham Academy

The Crystal Palace and Arsenal legend was so impacted by Mr Pigden that he has since dedicated his books to the late teacher.

Now, nearly two years after his mentor died, Wright has returned to his old primary school to unveil a plaque to Sydney Charles Pigden, commemorating his services to teaching.

He also takes the time to share some wisdom with Turnham pupils having a penalty shootout in the playground he used to practice in.

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The Crystal Palace and Arsenal legend coaches Turnham pupils in a penalty shootout

Speaking about the ceremony, Wright says: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me.

“It’s fitting that he is recognised for the services he has given to the borough, the Council and Turnham School.”

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The plaque has been installed on the wall of the primary school

The burgundy plaque reads: “In memory of Sydney Charles Pigden for his dedicated service to the Lewisham community: WWII spitfire pilot, teacher at Turnham School, Secretary Lewisham Primary Schools Football Association and sports coach and mentor.”

Wright recalls the exact date he found out his favourite teacher had passed away at the age of 95.

“It was devastating news. December 27, 2017, when I got the call - it was just devastating.”

As a schoolboy at Turnham Primary School in Brockley, Wright struggled with some of his lessons.

“I was naughty. When I couldn’t quite grasp what I was supposed to be doing, that’s when I would be disruptive.”

But the day Mr Pigden spotted seven-year-old Wright outside the classroom became a life-changing moment for him.

“He could have easily gone past - because he had seen me out there before - he could easily have just carried on going and doing what he was doing because he was busy.

“But for some reason he took me on.

“I’ll never forget that time when I was seven and I needed that guidance he gave me.”

During his career in the RAF, Mr Pigden took part in a flypast over Buckingham Palace after the end of WWII.

But it was seeing his former pupil play for England that he described as the proudest moment of his life.

“To be that pupil that he was really proud of - it’s quite humbling for me.”