IBWM StaffComment

IBWM meets Steve Bull

IBWM StaffComment

The chance to meet a true goalscoring legend doesn't come around often, so when it happens we send Jeff Livingstone off with his little notebook.

Define legend.

You’ll have your own ideas, but how about this for qualifying criteria.  Just imagine watching your club get relegated.  Heartbreaking.  You deserve to be in the top flight, yours is a big club.  Okay then, maybe next year, we’ll be back.  But then you suffer another relegation.  Then another.  Ouch.  Watching your team drop from the top flight to the equivalent of the fourth division?  That’s going to smart.

This is exactly what happened to Wolverhampton Wanderers aka Wolves in the 1980’s.  Why did this happen? Well, thats’s another story for another day.  What was clear to Wolves fans in the summer of 1986, numbed by the ignominy of consecutive relegations, was that they needed something, or someone to inject a little happiness into their life and save their club.  In November 1986 that sunshine arrived, from a very unlikely source.

Steve Bull, a raw but talented 21-year-old striker signed on at Wolves from archrivals West Bromwich Albion.  A late developer, Bull had been picked up by West Brom from Non League Tipton Town following a tip (did I just say that?) off by Town manager Sid Day, also a scout for the baggies.

Bull only made one top-flight appearance in England, coming on as a substitute for West Brom against QPR on 12 April 1986.  Declared surplus to requirements by Baggies manager Ron Saunders in November that year, Bull pitched up at downtrodden Wolves and a truly beautiful relationship began.

Steve Bull never made it back to the First Division, or Premier League as it is now, but he managed to score an astounding 306 competitive goals for Wolves in 561 appearances and played for his country in the 1990 World Cup.

The fact that Wolves are now a Premier league team in England, owes a huge amount to the renaissance of the club that Bull spearheaded in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Now that, I think you will agree, is legend material.  I was lucky enough to catch up with Steve recently and he was, as ever, on good form.

First of all Steve, how the hell are you and what are you up to these days?

I’m fine, couldn’t be better, although I could be better if Wolves were higher up the Premier League!  What am I up to these days? I’m vice president at Wolves which means I’m busy on match days, I’ve got the Steve Bull events company which runs 7-10 events each year and I’m also an ambassador for sportingbet.com predicting scores each week.

How do you think Mick McCarthy is doing at Wolves?

I think he’s doing very well.  He’s doing the best he can with what he’s got, hopefully he’ll be able to strengthen this month to help the club move forward, but as long as he keeps us in the Premier League this year I don’t mind.

Do you think Wolves will stay up?

I think they will.  They can’t keep playing as well as they have and losing games, it’s got to turn sometime.  Maybe they need to run over a black cat or walk under a ladder to turn things around, but I think they’ll stay up.

You scored a few goals for West Brom in the old Division Two. Did it knock your confidence when Ron Saunders agreed to sell you to Wolves - a club then languishing in Division Four?

It did to be fair.  I had scored three goals in five games at the Albion and thought ‘here I go, I’ve landed, I can get goals and start chasing some records’ but it never happened like that.  Ron Saunders said I didn’t have a first touch for that division [two] and Wolves had come in for me, did I want to go? I went and spoke to Graham Turner [the then Wolves manager] and he sold the club to me.  I didn’t care what it was like, I just wanted to play football and Graham gave me that chance.

You were technically still a Division Three player when you got the England call-up from Sir Bobby Robson. That first training session must have been nerve-wracking.

It certainly was, especially when you’ve been playing in the third division and have been told you don’t have a first touch!  As soon as I took part in the training session my first touch was getting better and better because of the quality of players I was playing with.  No disrespect to the players at Wolves, but when you play with world class players it makes you a better player.  It was nerve wracking but I enjoyed it.

You got off to a flying start by scoring on your debut against Scotland at Hampden Park. Was that the moment you knew you could cut it at international level?

I never really knew that I could cut it at any level, whether it was playing for Wolves or England.  As soon as I scored that goal against Scotland I thought ‘they’ve given me a chance and I’m still playing in the third division, so what more could I do if I was even higher up in the league?’  I loved it!  Every time I hear of players not wanting to play for England because they’ve pulled a hamstring, or their club doesn’t want them to play it does my head in, because when you have the three lions on your shirt you should go all out to win a game.

A brace at Wembley against Czechoslovakia sealed your ticket to the World Cup with Paul Gascoigne setting up both goals. Was Gazza the most talented player you played with?

He was superb, he was one of the most talented players I ever played with but there were some other great players in the [England] side.  I feel really sorry for him [Gazza] with everything he is going through at the moment.  Hopefully he can pick himself up and get back on the coaching trail soon.

You were about to come on in the semi-final of Italia 90 against West Germany when Gary Lineker equalised - be honest, did you have mixed feelings as the tracksuit top went back on?!

I did, to be honest!  I can still picture it now, with Bobby Robson saying ‘get yourself warmed up, get your tracksuit off, you’re going on”.  I thought ‘oh my word, I’ve got a chance, I’m going on against Germany in the World Cup, I’ll have some of this!’  All of a sudden I’m about to unzip my tracksuit top and Gary Lineker scores his goal off the defenders leg.  As it went in Bobby turned to me and said ‘just put your tracksuit back on Bully”.  I thought as the game might still go into extra time, I still might get another chance, so when Bobby told me that, I didn’t give up hope, but I was a bit deflated.

Would you have fancied a penalty that night?

It’s a painful way to go out, such a split second thing.  You just have to get your head down and hit it as hard as possible.  If I’d have been told to take one, I would have done and I’d have hit it as hard and low as I could.

Your England record stands up well - four goals in five starts and eight sub appearances. Was Graham Taylor too quick to discard you and was that a problem when he became your club manager a few years later?

No, Graham is a top manager.   I spoke to him just the other night and he has no regrets about his decision.  He’s a manager and a manager has his own things to do.  There were more strikers out there scoring goals and he chose the top-flight strikers rather than the lower league ones.  I don’t condemn him for it, I had a chance to play for England as a striker from the lower levels so I’m very, very fortunate.  He’s a top man and when he came to the club [Wolves] I respected him then as I did when he was with England.

Did you ever have the opportunity to move abroad, and is it something you would have liked to do?

Not really.  With England we had six weeks of running up and down Italy and all I wanted was a cup of tea and a nice English breakfast!  I did have a chance to move to Torino after the World Cup, but after those six weeks I’d had enough and decided to stay where I was.

You played against Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard in Italia '90 but have been quoted as saying Steve Walsh & Gerry Taggart were your toughest opponents. Really?

You can’t really compare as Koeman and Rijkaard were very talented players but I never got to play against them week in, week out.  I said that tongue in cheek as Walsh and Taggart were the type of players I actually played against week in, week out, but they were two of many fine players I played against in my career.

In the end you succumbed to ongoing knee troubles - do you think with the protection modern day players get coupled with squad rotation you could have played on for longer?

I do and I don’t.  I’m one of these diehards who, even if I had a pull or a strain, wanted to play every single game and train every day.  If  I had the head I have on my shoulders now back when I was young,  I probably would have protected myself.  I could have had another three or four years left in my body.

You time at Stafford Rangers was marred by financial problems at the club. Has that put you off coaching for good?

Not really, I loved being involved.   I love Stafford Rangers, it’s a great little club, but I felt I had the carpet pulled from under me a little bit.  I don’t think I’ll go back into coaching, more likely a manager or a number two, but that will be in a couple of years when my daughter has grown up a bit.

New Year's Day 1990, you scored all four goals in a 4-1 win at Newcastle. What are your memories of that day?

Very vague to be fair as I’d had a few beers the night before! There was me, Thommo, Cooky and Mutchy [Andy Thompson, Paul Cook and Andy Mutch] and the gaffer said you can have a couple of halfs but at five past twelve, you have to go to bed.  We were slurring at 12 o clock in a Newcastle hotel with all these women saying we love you, we’ll see you tomorrow.  Next morning, we got up in a terrible state, and regretted what we had done but sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn’t.  I scored four goals in that game, and that’s my only memory, the four goals going in!

What is your favourite ever goal? Last minute winners for Wolves against Birmingham and Albion must be up there?

Yes they are.  Every Wolves fan will remember winners against Birmingham or the Albion.  I’d say one against Birmingham, when we had been losing 2-1.   Andy Thompson got a penalty to make it 2-2 and I was thinking well that will be it. In the93rd minute, Simon Osborn got the ball in midfield, knocked it over the top, I got onto and half volleyed it in from 20 yards out.  I thought ‘Jeez, my word!’ and I just ran the length of the pitch in front of the blue noses thinking ‘you’ve given it to me all game, I’m going to give it back!’

Steve Bull is a Sportingbet ambassador, to see some of Steve’s latest predictions and for a whole host of great odds visit www.sportingbet.com.