CARDIFF – 10 YEARS ON: An interview with Lee Bullen – Part Two
Being a traditional half-full but fearing the worst type of Wednesdayite, I drove down to Cardiff with my Dad, Mum, uncle and sister absolutely bricking it with nerves so I can recall very little about the build-up other than having a full English in a Welsh greasy spoon and then sitting out in the sun in some Cardiff park with Wednesday fans playing five-a-side.
But boy do I remember the game – the euphoric highs, the painful lows and, my God, the emotion.
A sea of blue and white, the noise, the achievement, the elation and the sense we’d done ourselves extremely proud on a national stage. But what was our captain’s take on the events of 29 May 2005?
Welcome back to part two of Owls Alive’s interview with Lee Bullen.
You can read part one, where Bully discusses all things 2004/05 and gives us a special insight into Paul Sturrock’s management style here.
So to Cardiff, an odd question, but were you disappointed not to be at Wembley?
(Laughs) ‘As a Scotsman, I suppose there was a little bit of disappointment, but we knew it wasn’t going to happen. It’s never really crossed my mind to be honest with you and a little bit of me thinks that there was a better atmosphere at Cardiff anyway.
I think the stand is a bit nearer the pitch, a lot more vertical from what I’ve seen so it created a hell of an atmosphere so, no, I was happy with my Cardiff experience. It was phenomenal, a fantastic stadium to play football in.
Argentina 1978? Nope, Cardiff 2005
It was a wall of noise. Some of the best pictures are of just all that blue and white. When I look at it again, when the cameras are panning round the stadium, it reminds me of the first World Cup I remember as a kid growing up – Argentina ‘78.
When Argentina got to the final they played Holland in blue and white. It was all ticker tape, blue and white streamers and as it panned round the (El Monumental) stadium in Argentina, that’s what I related Cardiff to that day.
It was just almost like a World Cup Final when you see the pictures but, bizarrely, it’s a third tier play-off match.
Watching the TV pictures tilting up from the bottom, you realise how many supporters are there, all Sheffield Wednesday fans, unbelievable.’
How proud were you to lead the boys out behind Paul Sturrock?
‘Proudest moment I’ve ever had as a footballer. I’ve been lucky enough to play against England in my career in a friendly and for a Scotsman to play against England… big one.
To walk out in Cardiff will never be beaten. It’s the most amazing feeling ever. It could’ve been the worst experience ever but to do it and have the opportunity to lift that cup with those players, that group of friends at that time was the most amazing feeling.
But walking out with that ginger haired lad who I’ve since met, he’s taller than me now, amazing. I’ve got a picture with him and it’s one of the best. His eyes are lit up, so excited. Proud, very proud.
Brunty missed a sitter in the first half
We started well and deserved the lead with a great goal from JP but it should’ve been more. Brunty missed a sitter. He just rolled it into the keeper’s hands. Normally he would just bust the net with that left foot. Surely he was going to do that! No! F*****g idiot!
I still can’t remember a thing about the half time team talk but Paul has since talked about it. He says we came in 1-0 up so he said we needed that inspirational speech.
He says “Lads, I’m pissing with sweat, it’s roasting warm, and you look f*****d.”
We’re starting to think ‘Is this motivational?’ but he goes on… “You’re one nil up so imagine how f*****d they are!” So the boys are pumped up. Four minutes later, its 1-1 then we’re down 2-1.
He says later: “Some f*****g motivational speech that was at half time.”’
All this tension, all the drama, does the old football cliché command from managers of ‘Go out there and enjoy yourselves’ ever actually ring true?
‘Yeah I did enjoy it actually. A lot of people say you’re that nervous and because you know what the prize is at the end of it you don’t really get an opportunity to enjoy the match.
I thought personally I had a good game, played quite well and that took me along. If you’re making a few mistakes, it starts becoming more difficult and you mentally start questioning yourself.
We played quite well because, as you pointed out, at the game a couple of weeks before at Hartlepool, they tore us to bits. Boyd and Porter were a handful in that league and scored plenty of goals and we knew that they had Daly and Williams to come off the bench so we knew they were strong all over the park.
Adam Boyd was a thorn in Wednesday’s side in 2004/05
Boyd had given us a hard time so there was a certain bit of trepidation but after the first couple of tackles, the first couple of clearances, headers – I think we started well and I’ve since looked at our defensive shape in the first 10 minutes – Woody, Brucey and Hecky and I think we look on track as a back four and as individuals.
I looked as if I was enjoying the game; enjoying clearing the ball as it came in things like that. Especially the first half, but I enjoyed the full 120 minutes of it.
There’s a mental side of it when you go 2-1 down but overall I’d enjoyed it.’
2-1 down, 71 minutes gone…
Eifion Williams bagged Hartlepool’s equaliser…
‘Yeah. When that second goal goes in you’re thinking, “Oh f**k, surely not” we should be out of sight. They’ve come out second half fired up and got the equaliser. It’s a massive throw in; it’s skipped off my head and gone in.
I turn round and Brunty’s just got his head in his hands. Lying on the deck. He knows he’s not done his defensive duties BUT its fine, it’s still 1-1 so we can get back in it.
They make the change and bring Jon Daly on. They have a wide free kick almost on the corner spot and Daly gets in and makes it 2-1 and you’re thinking “Oh nooo”.
It winds me up when you hear people saying different. Don’t let anybody tell you there’s not an automatic deflation.
…and Jon Daly put the Poolies ahead
You’ve got 18 minutes to get something out of the game. Paul makes three changes. Brucey, Quinny and Peacock all put in a hell of shift but were done; remember it’s such a hot day.
Stevie Maclean’s had one training session and one work through set plays in three months. Paddy Collins is a much more offensive type of full back. I said to him “Just bomb on, me and Woody have it covered. If we lose 3-1, we lose 3-1. Do not defend, we’ll play two at the back, we’ve just got to go for it.”
And Drew Talbot had loads of legs and loads of enthusiasm.
We get the throw-in. JP to Macca, back to JP, he flipped it into the box, Drew takes his touch, over the shoulder and we get a penalty.
Chris Westwood’s controversial red card proved a game-changer
You see it from three out of the four angles and it’s soft but from the ref’s angle it’s a stone-waller. I think you’ve got to hold your hands up and say from the other angles that it’s soft.
But then it’s onto Macca-balls-of-steel. Remember he’s had one training session and he’s not been playing. He turns up, great penalty taker but that is the worst penalty I’ve ever seen in my life.
I used to play with the ‘keeper back in Greece – Dimi Konstantopoulos – big intimidating lad – Stevie usually puts it in the corner but he just smashes it and luckily enough, Dimi goes the wrong way.
It wasn’t until we had the 10-year reunion a couple of months ago I was made aware of the fact that Macca was on 19 goals and if he gets 20 goals he’s on for a £20k goal bonus. So he wasn’t gonna give that penalty to nobody! He was buzzing for that but it gets us back on track, they get the man sent off, it goes to extra time.
Steve MacLean: Balls of steel to make it Hartlepool 2-2 Wednesday
90 minutes are up and, again, what do you say? Gaffer is there, “Don’t lie down, and don’t let them see you’re tired. Try and stay up if you can and take fluids on. Be patient. We should get opportunities.”
I didn’t say anything to anyone specifically. Everyone had their piece to say and the gaffer said what he needed to say. We knew what we needed to do. The momentum was back with us and I think that as it proved with Glenn Whelan’s goal, you need a little slice of luck.
Big centre back Michael Nelson had been phenomenal for them but he made the decision to bring it down onto his chest after flicking it over with his heel. I think he’ll rue that one for the rest of his days, but Glenn did brilliantly to keep his feet and put that one in the bottom corner. Party started.
But still, there was a point when the boy Efion Williams broke forward one-on-one and I put in a slide tackle that keeps us in it and I think after that… second half we keep the ball in the corner, we’re wasting as much time as we can. Last minute and there’s a goal kick up field, Woody wins the first header and then everything just goes into slow motion.
The crowd disappear, you can hear a pin drop, you’re so in the zone and so focused on Drew and you’re thinking ‘the defender’s let the ball bounce – I can’t believe the defender’s let the ball bounce! Surely he’s got to go meet it and hook it forward’, cos I’m a defender and I’m thinking ‘who lets the ball bounce?!’
But Drew anticipates it brilliantly, gets ahead of his man and then he’s one-on-one and, as I say, it’s now slow motion because the Hartlepool fans are sat behind so I can see nothing but Wednesday fans on three sides.
You can see that slowly the fans are starting to rise off their seats as he gets closer and closer to goal.
The kid’s chasing him but he’s not gonna catch Drew, he’s quick remember. The goalie comes out and collides with the defender running back and Drew takes it round them and that was it, net bulges, pile on, game over, party started, no come back from that.’
A moment that will live longer than 10 years…
‘They had that board out saying ‘we’re going up, play off winners’ or whatever and I just thought I’m just going to take a step back from this.’
‘Yes. At that point, I didn’t know if I was going to be at Wednesday or not. My contract was up. It’s one of these things I think I needed to have memories buried in my mind of.
Let the celebrations begin…
You’ve got all the lads around you putting scarfs on, wigs, funny glasses, holding inflatables and getting the champagne spraying – but I didn’t want to miss the moment. You don’t get that mental picture in your head if you’re doing all that so yeah, emotional, definitely.
I saw supporters in tears, hugging people they’ve never met before just because they’re in blue and white stripes. Dancing around with each other. Just to have been part of that and to give yourself as well your teammates that day that 90 minutes, that 120 minutes – you don’t often get that as a football supporter.
And especially at our level – there’s a hell of a lot more lows which make the highs, I think, in comparison to a Chelsea or Man U fan, that much better. So much better.
So you’re on this massive high, you’ve just lifted the trophy, buzzing for it then you go in the changing room after and it’s not a deflation… it’s just a relief and I think that’s where the photograph comes from when I’m sitting there with the cans of beer.
That was in the warm-up area just outside the changing rooms. A lot of the younger boys are in there still spraying champagne jumping about dancing and singing everything like that so there’s me and Paul Heckingbottom, two of the older lads, just sitting there against the wall just chatting, didn’t even realise the photograph had been taken but that just summed the whole feeling up at the end of the game.
You’re high but you’re absolutely mentally and physically drained. Again, just elated but deflated at the same time.’
And the service station?!
‘Well you can imagine there’s all those people getting out of the stadium so the motorway is absolutely chocker trying to get away from Cardiff and we’re stuck on the bus. Sturrock’s take on it was like this…
“Am at the front of the bus and I’m sitting there and I’m all… (sigh) I had a beer but it wasn’t very nice. To go through that emotion one minute and then you’re almost leaning your head on the window the next on something of a comedown.
We’re stuck in a traffic jam, driving up the hard shoulder and I’m thinking I just want to get back to Sheffield.
I then look out the side of the coach and I see Heckingbottom with the f**king cup, doing the conga down the motorway through cars with the other lads! And then the fans suddenly realise after thinking: ‘Who the f**k’s this running over my car?!’
They see the cup and then players are giving them beers and singing and dancing, suddenly the horns are beeping. That really lifted Paul.
Unbelievable. Fans were taking the cup into their cars and getting their photographs taken with it. We eventually get moving and we pull off at a service station and there must be about 3,000 fans in there and you go in and they see you.
There’s a ripple of noise starting and slowly but surely there’s more noise – “Look, they’re there with the cup!”
I remember getting to the top of the balcony off the escalator, still holding the cup and the whole place just erupts into E I E I E I O!! Sturrock says: “That one moment in that service station made that day.”
For me, you get small memories and photographs of certain times in football, as a player and as a captain that make you love football and that day was one of them.’
Bully is still in touch with a lot of the lads…
‘Hecky is at the 21s at Barnsley, Spike’s doing it at Middleborough, so I see them at games. I still speak to JP quite a lot because he’s got a lad down here. Lucas – I’ll text all the time, Peacock got his pro-license up in Scotland and Whelan and Brunt keep in touch, as does Brucey.’
Is that the norm in football?
‘Normally there’s one or two you’ll stay in touch with but I think that group – don’t get me wrong – I’m sure teams that have a bit of success at whatever level will probably stay together more, teams that don’t have as much success probably one or two will stay in touch.
And how does Bully reckon our current team match up against those Kings of Cardiff?
With a similar team spirit, who knows what could happen in 2015/16?
‘Well ability wise, it’s definitely a better group of players that we have now. Is it the same team spirit that we’ve got today, I don’t know but that’s not a negative towards the team spirit we have today.
Again, it comes down to players living all over the place so there’s not as much of that togetherness but there’s still a good bond and good group amongst them.
Some of the bad results that go against us bring the team together. And I think there is quite a few similarities amongst the group, a few characters, a few tough people, a few determined headstrong people – there’s clashes here and there which you need because there’s hunger to do well just like in ‘05.’
Finally, can you sum up what this club means to you?
‘Well it’s not just the club, it’s the city. As a mentality, it’s very, very similar to how I was brought up. The supporters, they don’t expect you to be a world-class footballer. But what they do expect, what they do demand is for you to roll your sleeves up and give everything – 100% on the park.
I think I did that, I didn’t play well every game and I did make mistakes but I think that was appreciated by a lot of people. Now don’t get me wrong, as teams improve, fans – and I’m one of – demand a little bit more and they get greedier but first and foremost we are Northern and I say ‘we’ because I am a part of Sheffield now.
A city built on hard graft
We are a Northern working-class city built on steel. Factory workers and grafters from the city. The very minimum they expect from their football team is graft, sprinkled with a little bit of quality.
It’s all about having honesty about yourself and about the team and I think a lot of people within Sheffield are honest about their opinions and I think you have to be in football.
You don’t always want to hear the truth but it’s important that you let people know how you feel.
It sums up the city. It’s a warm, friendly, honest place and I think that because it’s similar to where I’m from. I feel very, very at home at this club and in this city.’
What a privilege to share some time with a Sheffield Wednesday great. I had goosebumps across the table when he was describing the Drew goal and to speak to the guy that had the perfect view of it in ‘slow motion’ was massive for me.
Let’s hope Bully is celebrating with us again soon and continues to be written into the history books at Hillsborough for many years to come. Thanks again Lee for sharing your time and memories with us.
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @tjchitt86