My Hero: Wednesday Legends No.5: Lee Bullen

My Hero: Wednesday Legends No.5: Lee Bullen

In the summer of 2004 when Lee Bullen signed as one of Turners’ Ten, he was probably the most unheralded player of the lot. In amongst the other arrivals were Steven Maclean, Glenn Whelan, Paul Heckingbottom, David Lucas, Jon-Paul McGovern, Guy Branston, Lee Peacock, Chris Marsden and Patrick Collins.

It was a summer of upheaval as a lot of players had departed Hillsborough in the wake of us finishing 16th in Division Two in 2003/04 and Chris Turner had spoken of his belief that these players were what was needed to haul us out of the third tier, what had now become League One.

I remember Bullen’s Wednesday debut pretty clearly even to this day. In 2004 I had begun working nights and knew I wanted to spend my now free Saturdays watching the Wednesday. The princely sum of £247 was spent to reserve a seat in the Kop and caught up in the first day optimism I went to Hillsborough along with my father to see what I hoped was the dawn of a new era.

As seems to be the way with Sheffield Wednesday, it ended up in disappointment as Colchester threw three spanners in the works and in what has become a recurring theme in my life I walked away from Hillsborough dejected.

Bully opened his Wednesday account a few days later at Blackpool as he and Lewis McMahon got the Owls bandwagon rolling and got a monkey off their back as Blackpool had taken the Wednesday scalp four times in 03/04.

The team though struggled to find consistency and good wins against Torquay and Huddersfield were erased by horrific defeats at Tranmere and at home to Bournemouth, a game that saw the end of Chris Turner.

Enter Paul Sturrock:
As the season wore on captain Chris Marsden had to retire due to injury, being the man he was he opted to retire mid-season rather than drain the clubs’ perilous finances with his wage.

The shrewd manager Paul Sturrock, had no hesitation in making Bullen captain and from then on, he led by example with his attitude and endeavour. Admittedly he would cock up occasionally, a slack backpass letting in Owen Morrison to score a last-gasp winner at Hillsborough being a memorable example but instead of going into his shell and being afraid, mistakes seemed to bring the best out of Lee Bullen. He always acknowledged them for a start and it was as if he was determined to make sure he righted the wrong he had committed.

That quality seemed to rub off on the rest of the team, whilst the class of 04/05 aren’t revered in the way that legendary Wednesday teams of yesteryear are, there was something about them that I fell in love with.

As the season wore on he became a regular at centre-back after the unfortunate Graeme Lee yet again succumbed to injury and it was in this role alongside the inexperienced Richard Wood that he played his part in the Owls’ greatest game of the 2000s.

Play Off Final:
In front of 41000+ Wednesdayites, Bully and Woody played their part as the Owls first went ahead then clawed their way back into the game after what some would say was a fortunate stroke of luck and others (Mainly Wednesayites) would say was a definite penalty.

Either way we took our chance and once Whelan had lashed us ahead and Drew Talbot had knocked it round the keeper into the net it brought to an end the longest 30 minutes of my life.

The scenes of celebration afterwards are as fresh in my mind today as they were back then.

I think lifting the play-off trophy was probably the proudest moment of Bullen’s career. The pictures of him and the squad lifting the trophy have become iconic but my personal favourite is the snap of him relaxing with a couple of beers next to the trophy.

Lee Bullen was a central figure of our 2004/05 season taking part in all 53 games the Owls played that season.

After that we had to push on and attempt to establish ourselves in the Championship and in all honesty I thought Bully would struggle to make the step up which, truth be told, initially he did as Frankie Simek established himself as right back with Graham Coughlan usurping Bullen’s place.

But for the remainder of his Hillsborough tenure Bullen still had a big part to play…

One of the highlights of his 05/06 campaign was not anything he did outfield but rather a stint between the sticks after David Lucas got injured at the Den against Millwall.

With Sturrock not naming a keeper on the bench, it was up to Bully to take the gloves on and he did so heroically managing to keep a clean sheet and saving a free kick in the process in one of the most controversial games of 05/06 given the nature of the Owls’ winner.

It was a priceless three points in our battle against relegation.

His willingness to play wherever he was needed also won him a Good Sport Award as during his Owls tenure he played in every position on the pitch!

My favourite Bully goal came in 2007 in the FA Cup when he latched on to a free kick and got the best of the Manchester City defenders to cleverly nod it over Nicky Weaver, it looked like a brilliant training ground move and it belied his years.

With the emergence of Mark Beevers and Tommy Spurr, it was going to be even tougher for Bullen to cement a first team place and it was no real surprise when Brian Laws announced that he was to be released in the summer of 2008 with his last game for the Owls being that unforgettable day at Leicester although he didn’t see it out succumbing to injury and getting substituted at half-time. A sour end to his playing time at Wednesday although he did get a guard of honour and a standing ovation a week later when we evaded the drop and put Norwich to the sword.

Overall Lee Bullen made 147 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday scoring 9 goals.

He may not be the most gifted player ever to pull on the hallowed blue and white of Sheffield Wednesday but he lacked nothing in commitment to the club and in this modern era of footballers commonly not giving a toss and being in it purely for the pay packet he was a breath of fresh air.

I think Lee Bullen thought it was a genuine honour to be a Sheffield Wednesday player.

He embraced everything about Wednesday and at a time where fans found it hard to love the club, given the boardroom shenanigans and the then chairman Dave Allens lack of skill in the Public Relations department, Bully bridged the gap. I got the feeling that he was a fan of the game who felt incredibly lucky that he’d managed to make a living doing something that most of us would give nearly anything to do.

Every team could do with a Lee Bullen.

One who always makes the most of his abilities, one who won’t hide when he makes mistakes and one who will always give everything he has to his team’s cause.

He still gets to Wednesday games when he can, which is more often these days since he moved back to Sheffield with his lovely wife Nicola and I remember the “there’s only one Lee Bullen” chant being stirred up loud and proud when the crowd saw him in amongst them at Preston.

If we were underwhelmed when he signed for us in 2004, his attitude, leadership and honesty both on and off the pitch won over every single Wednesday fan enabling us all to take him to our hearts and I think he took us to his heart too.

We didn’t pay a penny for him when he joined us but his contribution ended up being priceless.

Thank you Bully

Danny (D-Good)
Owls Alive
Twitter: @OwlsAlive or @DGood83

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