I thought long and hard about choosing Dragan Stojkovic for this piece. I’m a sucker for number 10s so there were loads to consider from Abedi Pele to Zinedine Zidane, with a nod to the likes of Hagi, Laudrup and Stoichkov along the way. Perhaps even Diego himself. Who am I trying to kid though? The reality is somewhat less exotic. When it comes to the matter of ‘who is your favourite player?’, the only thing simpler than the question is my answer. Steve Bull.
There are many statistics I can bore you with. It may serve more purpose to provide some context here. I was 6 years old when my dad first took me to Molineux on April 4th 1987. Bull had been signed by Wolves from fierce rivals West Bromwich Albion just 5 months earlier. 306 goals later he played his last game for the club on May 9th 1999. I was 18 years old. Thus, Steve Bull’s Wolves career covers pretty much my entire childhood, my full school career and without wanting to labour the point too much – the journey from boy to man.
That goes some way to explaining why he means so much to me. However, I don’t think you need to be an impressionable youngster to be taken aback by the achievements of Steve Bull. He was a strong and quick, hard-working centre-forward and his early goalscoring feats are frankly ludicrous. He remains the last player to score 50 goals in an English season – and he did it twice, back-to-back. Many fans look back on their childhood heroes and convince themselves that they were scoring in every game. In my case, a look back through Rothmans confirms this was often a literal truth. From the first time I stood on the South Bank at Molineux in May 1987 to the game on Bonfire Night 1991, ‘Bully’ scored 124 goals in 119 games at Molineux. This period included the mind-boggling run of scoring 27 goals in 14 home games in the 1988-89 title winning campaign!
The obvious point to make here is that these achievements were in the lower leagues of English football. I can only say that, to a young fan cheering on his hero, this was an irrelevance. And besides, vindication was just around the corner. After having scored for the U21s and the B team, Bull proved there was no level at which the net could elude him when he fired home on full England debut, coming on as a substitute against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1989. A brace against Czechoslovakia followed – the second of which was voted the 37th best England goal of all-time and the 8th best in friendlies – before a late equaliser saved England’s blushes against Tunisia. The result – Bull, with just a season in the old Division Two under his belt, was off to the 1990 World Cup.
In many ways it was all set up for Steve Bull and not Salvatore Schillachi to be the surprise hero of that World Cup. Jimmy Greaves wore a T-shirt on air imploring Bobby Robson to ‘Let The Bull Loose’ while Trevor Brooking amusingly noted how a cheer went up from 50 Wolves fans whenever Bully scored a goal in training. Local reporter David Instone claims to have hauled a mailbag of good luck messages for the player all the way to Sardinia that was said to be bigger than the one for the rest of the squad put together. As a result, I have mixed feelings about Italia 90. On the one hand, there is the deep regret that he didn’t become England’s hero. I still vividly recall the headed miss against the Dutch, the long-range drive tipped wide versus Belgium and most bitter-sweet of all the sight of his training top going back on when Lineker equalised against Germany. On the other hand, there is the knowledge that just one goal at that tournament would probably have been enough to tip the balance and see him leave Molineux. As it was, Graham Taylor soon dropped him and my hero spent the rest of his career with Wolves – adding memory after memory along the way.
I’ll end with a clip of probably my favourite Steve Bull goal. It isn’t his best finish and it isn’t either of his late winners against West Bromwich Albion. It is, however, my clear favourite for the context, the crowd and the commentary – as the man on the video says: ”the hero of all heroes”.
You can read more from Adam on his fascinating blog, Ghostgoal.