November 21, 2014,
Posted by Richard in
Books, Books, Sport
As Jimmy Bullard charms the nation in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, here’s an exclusive look at chapter one of his book, Bend it Like Bullard…
CELEBRATE EVERY GOAL AS IF IT’S YOUR LAST; DO SO BY MOCKING YOUR MANAGER AND IT PROBABLY WILL BE
‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’ Aristotle
Why always me? Mario Balotelli may have claimed that one for himself but I reckon I could justifiably wear that T-shirt too – as long as he washed it first.
You know your mate who you can always convince to do anything for a laugh because you haven’t quite got the bottle to do it yourself? That’s me. And that’s why when my Hull team-mates and I hatched a plan to perform the goal celebration to end all goal celebrations, it was inevitable that I ended up being the focal point of the whole thing, despite it not even being my idea.
On the eve of our match away at Man City in 2009, we were having dinner together in the team hotel when Paul McShane came up with a plan.
‘If we score tomorrow, let’s rinse the gaffer by doing a celebration taking the piss out of his on-pitch team talk last season,’ he said, as my team-mates and I nodded and laughed enthusiastically. ‘Not if we’re 3-0 down, but if it’s an equalising or winning goal, whoever scores it has to do it.’
McShane was part of the Hull team who had been humiliated by our gaffer Phil Brown in the corresponding fixture the previous season. Then – playing without me obviously or it would never have happened – Hull trailed 3-0 at the break and Brownie decided to keep the players on the pitch and delivered his half-time words of wisdom to them in front of the stunned visiting supporters.
If you ask me, that was a liberty and if I’d been a Hull player then I would have walked off the pitch and gone to the toilet. A lot of my future team-mates said he lost the dressing room at that point, and that’s why they were up for a small dose of revenge. But that was Brownie – he was unpredictable and did the most ridiculous things sometimes.
For better or worse, his very public team talk became one of the most talked-about incidents of the season. What was it that Oscar Wilde said about being talked about or not being talked about? I’ve got no idea. Do you think I’ve ever read Oscar bloody Wilde?
A year later, it was me who was being talked about when, with eight minutes left and Hull trailing 1-0, we were awarded a penalty in front of thousands of our fans who had travelled to Eastlands.
Shortly before, Brownie had asked me to play further up the pitch as we tried to claw something out of the game. I’d been playing in the deepest position of our three-man midfield, but the gaffer encouraged me to get forward and try to cause a few problems for the City defence, or at least give them something else to think about.
Who knows whether it was that or just fate, but a few minutes later Kolo Touré bundled over Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and the ref Lee Probert gave us the pen. The City boys went absolutely mental, arguing with him, but I tried to shut all that out.
I just picked up the ball with only one thing on my mind – scoring and going crazy in front of our fans. I’d completely forgotten about the ‘half-time bollocking’ celebration. I stepped up and smashed the ball to Shay Given’s right to draw us level and reeled off yelling and screaming to the Hull fans.
I’d completely lost the plot, as I do whenever I score, until one of the boys reminded me about the special celebration. Within a couple of seconds, all my team-mates were sat around me in a circle while I stood in the middle, gesturing, pointing and finger-wagging at the lot of them. It was a pretty convincing impression of the gaffer even if I do say so myself.
To add to the authenticity of this performance, it was in exactly the same spot at the same end as Brown’s barmy moment the season before – Laurence bloody Olivier couldn’t have done any better.
I love scoring goals and I love celebrating them. I’d done my bit for the lads and I still wanted to do my own little piece where I run to all four corners of the ground acknow- ledging the crowd. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for that – I once did pretty much that while I was at Peterborough and got booked for my trouble – as, for some weird reason, the referee who had so kindly given us the penalty was now insisting that we should carry on with the last eight minutes of the game.
As City kicked off again my only thought was ‘I fucking hope this stays 1-1 after that celebration! Imagine if we lost 2-1 now . . .’
Fortunately we held on. I still had to face the gaffer back in the dressing room . . . but only after I’d milked the celebrations with the away fans even more at the final whistle, naturally.
With Brownie there was no way of second-guessing how he’d react to something like that. He could either be absolutely fine and good-humoured or he could come down on you like a ton of bricks.
At City the dressing room is split into two, with an area for the coaches and all their technical equipment and a space for us to get changed. By the time I got back there, most of the boys were crowded round a laptop in the coaches’ half watching replays of my celebration. Then the gaffer walked in.
Brownie looked into the area where all the players would normally be and seemed puzzled that nobody was there, but then he looked round and saw most of us stood by one of the computers. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to spot us seeing as most of the boys were pissing themselves laughing.
‘Oh shit,’ I thought as he strode over to see what all the fuss was about.
A few of us shuffled back into our half of the room as the gaffer watched the incident.
Then it went silent.
‘Oh shit,’ I thought again.
‘Oi, Bullard,’ he yelled. ‘What have you been doing?’
I looked up and was mightily relieved to see a broad smile across his chops. He thought it was absolutely hilarious.
(As it happens, he hadn’t seen my celebration at the time. He told me later that while I was busy taking the piss out of him, he’d grabbed hold of Richard Garcia to tell him to drop deeper so we’d have a five-man midfield and keep hold of our hard-earned point.)
‘That was blinding,’ he said. ‘But that’ll be the end of that though, eh?’
Message received loud and clear.
But not before I did a post-match interview about it on Soccer Saturday in which I explained how it had come about and told the reporter, ‘Whoever scored had to do the pointing. Trust it to be me!’
The press asked the gaffer a lot of questions about it after the game as they were hoping he’d be furious with me and the boys. They’d have been disappointed with Phil’s reaction as he maintained his good-humoured way of looking at it. If anything, he felt that it exorcised the ghost of what he’d done the season before and that we could now all move on.
I wasn’t that bothered about what he felt; I was just relieved that I’d gotten away with it.
And not just that, the following day I was on the back pages of pretty much every newspaper and all over the telly. Football fans could not get enough of it – I even picked up a Nuts magazine award for the celebration despite the fact it wasn’t my idea. In reality, Paul McShane and the other lads should also have won it but I just took that one for myself, thanks very much!
Would any of the other lads have done the celebration if they’d scored? It’s hard to be sure. But it was typical that I was the person in the spotlight at that precise moment.
The truth is I’m not wired right. At least, I’m wired just a little bit differently to other people and that meant I had an absolute ball as a professional footballer. I can honestly say that not a day went past where I didn’t appreciate what it was that I was doing. Make no mistake, I lived a dream and I loved every second of it.
Unlike most other Premier League players, I grafted as a part-time footballer, cable TV technician, carpet fitter and painter-decorator while trying to get my big break. And that’s why I was so determined to take it all in, soak it all up and, most importantly, entertain for every minute I was on the pitch.
I couldn’t help but perform, whether it meant with the ball or just by acting the fool – and if that enhanced people’s enjoyment of the game then so be it.
To some players football was just a job, to me it was the realisation of a boyhood dream, of hard work, tears, tantrums and plenty more besides.
That goal celebration is one of three things that football fans always ask me about. There’s that, being on Soccer AM and my, ahem, confrontation with Duncan Ferguson.
I came. I saw. I went bonkers.
Bend it Like Bullard is out now! Get your copy here