The 200% Hall of Fame: Steve Bull

by | Feb 22, 2016

Last October, the 200% Podcast gave out the first of its Hall of Fame awards. In lieu of having the resources to be able to send them anything of actual value, we promised at that time that we would eventually get around to writing some words and creating a picture to mark their inclusion, and here’s the second in this series, Wolverhampton Wanderers and England’s Steve Bull, as remembered by one Edward Carter.

Steve Bull

 

Head down and stampeding towards goal, the concept of nominal determinism reached an apotheosis in Steve Bull, arguably one of the greatest players ever seen in what we now know by the twitter hashtag #FL72. Bull is remembered fundamentally as a one-club man, a lupine wolf-like Wolfgang Wolf manwolf who bleeds old gold and black, has been to Billy Wright’s house and knew Stan Cullis’ telephone number. But it is particularly ironic and consequently hilarity-inducing that Bull began his career at Wolves’ deadly rivals, West Bromwich Albion. Indeed, his first game as a professional footballer was for the Baggies. It was significant, too, for being the only game that Steve Bull would play in the top flight of English football.

Bull was sparingly used by West Brom in the 1986/87 season in spite of their relegation, nevertheless scoring three goals in six appearances. It was deemed an insufficient return, and Bull was shipped off in November to Fourth Division Wolverhampton Wanderers in a deal also including full back Andy Thompson for a total layout of £65,000. It would prove to be money well spent. For the remainder of the 1986/87 season, Bull would replicate his goal every two matches average for Wolves, scoring nineteen goals in thirty-seven games across all competitions. However, by 1987/88 he had scored a club record fifty-two in fifty-eight as his team galloped to the Fourth Division title. In 1988/89 he hit fifty in fifty-five as Wanderers won the Third Division at the first time of asking.

So extraordinarily irresistible was Bull’s form at this point that, as a Second Division striker in the 1989/90 season, he had broken into the England team. By the time his twenty-seven goals in forty-eight games saw him in contention for a 1990 World Cup squad berth, Bull was already an international player: in May 1989 – as a Third Division player – he had scored the second goal in a two-nil Rous Cup win over Scotland at Hampden Park. A brace against Czechoslovakia at Wembley and a strike against Tunisia in the build-up to Italia ’90 convinced Bobby Robson to take a punt. Bull played four times for England in that tournament, three times as a hustling, dynamic impact substitute. He failed to score another international goal in his career, but the fact of the matter is that a Second Division player was selected to start in the potentially crucial Group stage match against Egypt.

Bull never played for England again after Italy, but it did nothing to diminish his performances or effectiveness. Twenty-seven more goals followed in the 1990/91 season, twenty-three the season after that then 19, 15, 19, 17 and 23. The law of diminishing returns saw Wolves initially unstoppable upward momentum slowly ground down into increasing mediocrity at the 1990s drew on, while the ravages of time saw Steve Bull’s piston-like legs slowly begin to fade. Nevertheless, his final season for Wolves in 1998/99 at the age of thirty-four still saw him notch six goals in seventeen games. Overall he scored 306 times in 561 appearances in the old gold.

It was in the period immediately following the 1990 World Cup that I encounted Steve Bull in the flesh. I was ten years old and Wolves were playing Brighton and Hove Albion – a strong Brighton and Hove Albion team, to be sure – at the Goldstone Ground in Hove. He destroyed us: he had a pace, strength, vision, desire and directness that was quite distinct from all of his fellows, each of his touches of the ball greeted by an almost imperceptible gasp (was it fear? Admiration? The crushing sense of his engineering our impending defeat?) from the Albion faithful. He is the remains the best player I have ever seen with my own two eyes. Perhaps this means that I should try harder. Maybe so, but no matter what game I choose, the participants will have to be at their best to top him.

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