Image via birminghammail.co.uk
If you think Wolves, one man epitomises that name throughout the eras. That man is Steve Bull. In the latest in our ‘My Wolves Goat’ series, Paul Berry shares why Bully is his greatest of all time at Molineux.
I will never forget my first Black Country derby.
Aged 15-and-a-half, heading down the A41 in one of Wolves’ official travel club coaches, with an air of trepidation not just linked to the activities on the football pitch.
After a hiatus of well over five years, the locking of horns of Wolves and West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns had aroused strong feelings on both sides of the fiercely partisan divide.
By this time, Steve Bull was already writing his own scripts.
Over 100 goals in two seasons in firing Wolves to back-to-back promotions, scoring on his England debut after coming on against Scotland, and now tackling his former club for the first time since being deemed surplus to requirements barely three years earlier.
As injury time loomed at Albion it had already become something of a classic.
Baggies player manager Brian Talbot had put the hosts in front, before Robbie Dennison – another to have swapped Albion for Wolves – equalised from a free kick, and then Wolves keeper Mark Kendall saved a penalty from Bernard McNally.
And then it happened.
Albion boss Ron Saunders had been happy to let Steve Bull head down the road in his bright orange Ford Cortina and join Wolves because of a supposed lack of quality in his first touch.
Ironically, deliciously, as full time approached, Bull’s first touch to an Andy Mutch cross was close to perfection.
Chesting the ball down, before hammering it past Stuart Naylor with a trusty swing of that deadly right boot, to send the massed ranks of travelling fans behind the goal into delirium.
I have to confess, I never saw the ball hit the net. I was nowhere near seeing it.
He chested the ball down, but after that, the natural sway of a packed terrace took over and my view was completely blocked.
A second later, maybe it was even shorter than that, the whole thing went up, and I just knew what had happened.
After three years of watching Steve Bull, everyone knew what had just happened.
Another goal. A winning goal. Personal vindication. Local bragging rights. All nicely in the top pocket before the short return trip to Wolverhampton after the most memorable of memorable October Sunday afternoons.
Bully. What a man.
Rite of passage
As a Wolves fan for 40 or so years, having covered the club for the Birmingham Mail for seven of those, and then at Molineux itself in the press office for nine, I feel fortunate to have seen and met many fantastic players and many fantastic people.
My rites of passage as a Wolves fan were probably similar to so many others.
My Grandad first introduced me to Molineux by taking me to Central League games, where attendances were so sparse that you could walk around the entire stadium and watch the latest first team scores manually placed on the old scoreboard between the North Bank and what is now, yes, the Steve Bull Stand.
From there my Mum and Dad took me to games in the Family Enclosure, ruining any nice white footwear on the redgra by perching on the front barrier, and then gravitating to heading to Molineux, and further afield, with friends.
From picking up a McDonald’s Happy Meal thanks to being a season ticket holder, to then – once of a certain age – having a few pre-match liveners in the Exchange & Vaults, as it was, and the Clarendon.
And, somewhere into the middle of all that heady mix, catapulted a striker like, well, a Bull in a China Shop.
I think football means more when you are younger.
Growing up, with zero responsibilities, going to football on a Saturday afternoon, or a Tuesday night (it was so much more structured in those days) was the highlights of the week.
My early years of watching Wolves prior to Steve Bull’s arrival were fairly up and down – aren’t they all?
I do remember being slightly miffed that Brian Little wasn’t given more of a chance, and that Graham Turner had been appointed to crush the caretaker boss’s claims.
I was sat with my Mum in the lower tier of the still relatively new John Ireland Stand for Bully’s debut.
A 3-0 home defeat to Wrexham. In front a crowd of 5,252. As disappointing and non-descript as so many of the fixtures I had witnessed in those formative years.
‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression,’ so they say.
Well fortunately Steve Bull did, and went on to make 306 impressions over the next 13 years, slap bang in the opposition net.
How I loved those halcyon years.
It didn’t matter that Wolves had slipped to the lower reaches of the Football League, even that they had, twice, almost drifted out of business completely.
Bull. Mutch. Dennison. Thompson, Cook, Downing. Streete (Don’t start, this is a Brexit free zone).
They were my heroes. What I had to look forward to when heading to Molineux or to away games. And, when you are watching your team win way more than they lose, scoring goals at will in the process, it doesn’t really matter what the division.
Let the bull loose
It has just gone past the 30th anniversary of that Bully winner at The Hawthorns.
One of so many highlights that it is almost impossible to condense.
That four-goal New Year’s Day salvo at Newcastle two-and-a-half months later which made the painstakingly laborious coach journey more than worth it.
Another decisive strike against Albion later in the season, the late winner – and t-shirt – at Sheffield United, opening day hat trick at Grimsby. The many, often hilarious, battles with Steve Walsh, and so many others.
Even before all that, the ridiculously prolific spell when he bagged nine goals in three successive home games against Huddersfield, Mansfield and Preston.
And then there was England.
Thirteen appearances, nine of which came as a substitute, and four goals. A goal every 153 minutes for his country. None too shabby.
Even now I can remember where I was for each and every one.
On holiday in the small village of Langwathby near the Lake District for the Scotland strike. Listening with a couple of school friends to the BBC commentary for the Czechoslovakia brace. Watching at a mate’s as his late goal, another one, spared the blushes in the 1990 World Cup warm-up by securing a share of the spoils against Tunisia.
How proud were Wolves fans to see Steve Bull head off, as Sir Bobby Robson’s ‘wild card’, to Italia 90? To see Jimmy Greaves sporting a ‘Let the Bull loose’ t-shirt. For one glorious nano-second I thought it was our man and not David Platt who had notched the extra time volley which accounted for Belgium in the last 16.
The fact that in the last three decades there has only been one further England cap gleaned by a Wolves player in Matt Jarvis, magnifies the achievement of Bully all those years ago.
Steve Bull. A one club man
Could Bully have left Wolves for bigger things when he was at his peak? Of course he could.
He cites four separate serious offers that would have seen him move on from Wolves, including one from Torino in Serie A after that World Cup.
He never went. Thank goodness.
But the fact he didn’t move, the fact he stayed where he was happy and successful, and decided to remain loyal when there was the carrot of considerably filling his pockets elsewhere, is what has quite rightly enhanced Bully’s legendary status.
It is unlikely Bully would have ever been as comfortable in his own skin anywhere else as he was at Wolves. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so prolific. Even though he certainly had the potential and the tools to be so.
“I wanna stop where the fans am,” remains to this day one of my favourite ever quotes from the reams of interviews as Tipton’s famous son became hot property both as a potential transfer target and an exhilarating ‘Roy of the Rovers’ style media tale.
Steve Bull stayed at Wolves. His Molineux career spanned 13 years. And we all loved pretty much every single minute of it.
Even better, he has remained in close connection with the club, is now involved in an ambassadorial role, and is easily accessible for a chat with fans, many of whom simply want to pass on a very short and succinct message: “Thank you.”
Also doing great work with his charity the Steve Bull Foundation, and at a wide variety of events and functions, Bully has also gone on to become an accomplished and entertaining after-dinner speaker, without ever losing the raw edge and straight-talking which has made him so endearing and so popular.
We can be heroes for just one day
‘Never meet your heroes’ so they say.
While the sentiments expressed up to now are very much those of a Wolves fan, I am fortunate to have got to know Bully and his family over recent years.
Having interviewed him on several occasions during my working life at the Birmingham Mail and then at Wolves, it was a true privilege to link up with Tim Spiers to pen a book marking Bully’s 30-year association with the club in 2016.
And all from growing up worshipping his every move from the South Bank, not to mention waiting outside the old Waterloo Road stand to get his autograph.
Being very young when the club won its last major trophy courtesy of the 1980 League Cup, I remain part of a generation which, perhaps up until now, has not seen Wolves as a regular visitor to the top table of English football.
Yes there have been numerous moments to savour, not least the Mick McCarthy and Kenny Jackett eras which I was fortunate to enjoy whilst working at the club, and now the considerable progress being made under Nuno.
But if those of my age don’t fully recall Wolves winning a major cup competition, or challenging for a top division title, we will always have Bully and that incredible team which revitalised a club and a town under the fantastic stewardship of Graham Turner.
Once in a generation
In the coming years Wolves could go on and finish in the top four in the Premier League, or win a big cup, and with the current level of progress, both of those possibilities becoming more and more attainable.
Yet I’m still not sure it would give me the same feeling or knot in the stomach as being a teenager watching that winner at Albion, hat trick at Newcastle, treble in the FA Cup against Cheltenham, that Sherpa Van semi-final second leg against Notts County, and subsequent Wembley sell-out in the final.
Or even seeing Bully interviewed on Football Focus (Wolves in the lower leagues weren’t massively represented in the national media in those days), watching him on A Question of Sport (is it Terry Butcher?), viewing training sessions on the North Bank car park or over at Dunstall Racecourse, proudly wearing a ‘Buon giorno Bully’ t-shirt after his Italian adventure at the World Cup.
Because of the age that I was, and what had gone on before, those truly were the days, my friend.
Once again we had a football club, and players, to be proud of.
And that is why, despite a lengthy list of competition, the Wolf that I would pick as my GOAT, will always be a Bull.
Who is your ‘Wolves GOAT’? Submit your piece for consideration and tell us about who is your greatest Wolves player to have graced Molineux. Email your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org.