Awesome Hero Who Revived Shambles Of A Club
Bully The Obsessive Gorged Himself On Goals
Today is a landmark day in the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The anniversary of a famous coming. To mark the occasion, John Lalley penned these inspiring thoughts……
You simply couldn’t have made it up. The entire fanciful story stretches credibility to its extremes.
Thirty years ago this very day, the astonishing adventure started with his debut and this manifestation of a man who became a Wolves legend began to outrageously unfold.
‘Out of darkness cometh light’ barely scratches the surface of this transformation. We are talking about the embodiment of a true local hero who forged himself as a Molineux icon; a player who became the inspirational focal point of a club miraculously re-born.
This impossible dream was surely a figment of fantasy because 21-year-old Steve Bull unquestionably could not have chosen a more inauspicious time to join the dysfunctional shambles criminally masquerading as the legendary Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Still reeling from the smothering chaos inflicted by the hapless Bhatti regime and having plummeted in abject humiliation to the lowest tier of English football, Molineux circa 1986 was for anyone of a Wolves persuasion utterly heartbreaking.
The great stadium had degenerated into a dishevelled and dilapidated tip; a shambolic indictment of ruinous mismanagement and chronic incompetence.
Two sides of this abominable eyesore were closed entirely, deemed unsafe for human occupation. The empty rusting remains of the wonderfully atmospheric old North Bank stood pitifully isolated like a discarded doll’s house, dwarfed by a cavernous newish stand that was erected miles from the pitch in less than splendid isolation; a monument to the club’s near-terminal self-destruction.
Had the bailiffs entered, as they very nearly did, they would have run out screaming and most assuredly empty-handed. It was soul-destroying, a shameful travesty, a betrayal of a glorious legacy and, Hell, how it hurt!
It was hardly the context for a little-known, novice striker to conjure up miracles but Bully wasted little time in performing what was seemingly the impossible – and plenty more besides.
Had anyone, sane or otherwise, suggested to the naive new arrival that he would sweep through Molineux like a tidal wave and that same stand would be renamed in his honour, he would have laughed as loud as the rest of us.
But it happened and the Steve Bull Stand will endure as a permanent reminder of just about the most splendidly unlikely turn of events in the history of this club.
From Tipton Town in the Banks’s West Midlands League to the full England side at Hampden Park within four years is by any standards a fanciful hike but Bully magnificently disregarded any conventions of normality.
He chose a different course – a rampage of inexorable goal-scoring from any angle and any position; falling over, sliding backwards, tap-ins or screaming volleys. Bully’s obsessive hunger saw him gloriously gorge himself in a gold shirt to the tune of a phenomenal record of 306 goals including 18 devastating hat-tricks accrued in truly astonishing fashion.
In so doing, Bull became the catalyst for Wolves to regain their very identity, to sift through the ugly debris and re-engage with the simple tenets of basic self-respect and a sense of purpose.
From the depths of despondency and almost irreversible decline, when such was the precarious financial nature of the club that the Express and Star suggested a change of divisions with non-League Enfield was under serious consideration, Wolves belatedly showed some vision and took a chance.
Recruited by the shrewd Graham Turner, Bull departed West Bromwich Albion with a less than ringing endorsement, Baggies boss Ron Saunders suggesting that his finesse on the ball was lacking.
His debut against Wrexham resulted in abject Molineux defeat, then an ineligible Bull (and Andy Thompson) witnessed from the stands at Bolton the utter humiliation as Multipart League Chorley dismantled Wolves 3-0 in the twice-replayed first-round FA Cup tie.
The duo conceded that they wondered what they had let themselves in for but gradually the motley troupe rekindled Wolves’ season.
Bull spearheaded the profitable striking alliance in cohorts with the admirable Andy Mutch and, although promotion slipped away via a play-off defeat, definite hints of restoration had cleansed the stagnant Molineux air.
Bull didn’t settle for consolidating this promising start. Instead, he went into overdrive and on the rampage, seemingly addicted, indulging himself in an orgy of metronomic marksmanship by reaching 50 goals in each of the next two seasons to clinch successive promotions and a memorable Sherpa Van Trophy Wembley victory.
This raw, thrilling aggression, brimming with confrontational malice, culminated in that glorious moment when this unpretentious guy from the back streets marked the most unlikely of England debuts with a goal to defeat Scotland in front of a hostile Glasgow audience.
Realism, it seemed, was in danger of falling on its sword. Every single Wolves fan shared the sheer ecstasy of that special defining moment. It cemented the remarkable bond that has endured untainted for 30 years and thrives to this day.
Better players than Steve Bull have graced the gold shirt of Wolverhampton Wanderers but not a single individual ever resonated with such impassioned pride and empathy in the hearts of our fans.
His loyalty and desire to stay at Molineux when he could have furthered both personal wealth and career endeared him still more. He raised our spirits and deepened our attachment to the club when its very lifeblood appeared to be draining away.
With football today disfigured by avarice and dubious values, the Bully years provided a context for something definably better. He was awesome; a Wolves giant, totally unique. It was an immense pleasure to have witnessed it all.
* We trust that even those readers who have caught up with John’s excellent account elsewhere will share our view that it was well worth reproducing here.