As Jimmy Bullard prepares to play for Ipswich Town again we dig this interview out of an old box we'd left behind the cellar door and meant to sort out ages ago.
There was a time when top-flight footballers were just like us. You know, the sort of people you’d love to meet for a pint. Not so they could recount tales of knee tremblers with super models but because you thought they look like a good bloke. But the influx of cash, and the pressure that comes with it, has widened the gap between top players and their fans. These days the people who are better than most at kicking a ball about live so different from their public paymasters they might as well be arrogant aliens from the planet Prima donna. Granted it’s their job and they should take it seriously. But when po-faced players cry out about ‘derisory’ weekly salaries three times the national average annual wage, or being held to a contract - they willingly signed a couple of years ago - as akin to slavery we can’t help but feel we’ve got less in common these ballerinas with boot deals than ever.
So thank our lucky stars for Jimmy Bullard. He’s the ‘70’s throwback that scholars call ‘everyman’, pundits call ‘ a character’ and fans call ‘ledge’. The snooker-loving fisherman who plays with the joyful abandon of a child took a different path to most of the gifted youngsters who occupy the top division. When teenage starlets were touching up skirt-less birds, Jimmy was putting the finishing touches on skirting boards. From these humble football beginnings Bullard’s grown into one of the most popular players in the sport today. We caught up with the man who went from Painter and Decorator to Premier League to ask him about being a fan favourite, his love of Ray Winstone and the time he didn’t meet Michael Jackson…
You’ve been responsible for some of the funniest moments on a football pitch since Gazza’s heyday. Do you think that players take their job a little too seriously these days?
“Personally I play my best football when I’m relaxed and enjoying myself, and things just happen when I have a laugh and let my hair down. That’s how I play my football, but not everyone is the same. More money has come into the game now, so it’s understandable that it’s got a lot more serious, but that ain’t me.”
You’ve been responsible for some of the funniest moments off the field too. Have you ever done a TV interview in one take? It seems that either you or the interviewer starts cracking up every time!
“Never! A lot of it when I’m in front of the camera is just nervous laughter, I can’t stop. Anything can just start me off.”
I play my best football when I’m relaxed and enjoying myself, and things just happen when I have a laugh
Our favourite clip is the one at Peterborough when someone let one go and you lost it.
“My brother showed me that the other day on YouTube. I don’t remember what it was over but we had about eight takes! It still makes me laugh when I watch it.”
Do your foreign teammates get your sense of humour?
“Some of them do, some of them don’t. It’s the same with anything really. There’s a British side to our changing room and a foreign side – they get involved if they understand it!”
You’ve gone from playing non-league to the Premier League. Has this rags-to-riches journey kept you more grounded?
“I think it has helped, yes. I realise how lucky I am every time I step onto the pitch. At the end of the day we’re playing football for a living, playing in the best stadiums in front of thousands against the best players in the world. I was a decorator between the ages of 16 and 19 and every time I walk out on the training pitch I realise how lucky I am. I know a lot of players who have dropped out of football and it’s difficult making a living out there at the minute.”
Is that why the fans seems to relate to you?
“I’ve tried to enjoy my football and give something back. I try to entertain the crowd. They’re the ones who’ve paid their money to come and watch after all.”
Talking of entertaining… there was your famous celebration at Man City when you took the piss out of Phil Brown’s half time dressing down the previous season. What did he say to you after?
“He was alright with it to be honest. He’s pretty similar to me; he’s happy for you to express yourself and enjoy the game.”
I try to entertain the crowd. They’re the ones who’ve paid their money to come and watch after all.
How did it feel to get the call up to the England squad a few years back?
“It was brilliant, getting called up for your country is a dream come true. We had my family in my house that night and when I got that phone call it was like a mad house. When I got to my room in the hotel all my kit was laid out. That’s when it hits you. Standing on the pitch with Becks, Rooney and my old mates Frank (Lampard), Rio (Ferdinand) and Joe (Cole) was amazing. It’s only when the ball’s at your feet in training that you feel as though you belong there.”
You mentioned some of your old West Ham mates there. It didn’t work out for you at Upton Park, but do you still have good memories from there?
“When I was standing there with Rio we looked round and thought ‘What an achievement this is for West Ham’. There was us boys and Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson and Michael Carrick, a lot of players who have played for West Ham at a similar time. It proves what a good squad they had back then. I was 19 and in the reserves, I couldn’t get in the first team squad.”
Who was your childhood idol or hero?
“I had a few. I had loads of videos of George Best and Maradona. Then as I got older and started playing in a team it was Paul Gascoigne. I really looked up to him. What a player he was.”
Ever met any of your idols?
"No, but I really liked David Ginola when he came on the scene and I met him, but I would love to have a night out with Gazza.”
I really liked David Ginola when he came on the scene and I met him, but I would love to have a night out with Gazza
On thing you and David Ginola have in common your both bastions of the barnet who have stared in shampoo adverts. How did you get involved?
“It’s just to celebrate the 21st birthday of Wash and Go and have a laugh at the old 80s advert which was big back in the day.
How would you describe your look?
“Slick and Italian.”
Who is your most famous friend outside of football?
“Jamie Redknapp is a good friend. I remember playing golf with Jamie a few years ago. It was a Thursday and he walked in after nine holes saying he had a bad knee. I was calling him a wuss, and then I wrecked mine that weekend and was using his surgeon the following Wednesday! I also know a couple of golfers. David Lynn, Justin Rose. That’s about it really. I did know Michael Jackson...”
Thee Michael Jackson?
“No not really.”
I know you’re well into your golf and fishing, but I’ve heard you’re also a bit good at snooker.
“To be honest, snooker was my sport. You couldn’t keep me out of the snooker hall as a kid. I’d spend all the dinner money my mum had given me. We had a snooker hall just over the road from the school and I’d spend my lunchtime and four or five hours after school in there. I had a 102 break once, but now I’m lucky if I get 30.”
Usually if you’re quite good at a few sports you have to choose at some point, but football, golf, angling and snooker can happily co-exist.
“Nah, I’d have to focus on one at a time. It would be snooker full on or golf full on.”
Any other sports you’re into?
“I boxed for four or five years when I was younger. When I got injured last time I got back into it. I’ve always liked boxing, but football took over and I’m lucky it did, but I still like sparring. Having hobbies helps when you’re out injured.”
What would you do if you weren’t kicking the leather around?
“I don’t know. As I said I was a painter and decorator for a few years, but hopefully I wouldn’t still be doing that. I really don’t know but I would like to give golf a crack. Mind you, Julian Dicks had a go and had a bit of a bad time – I don’t think you realise how difficult it is until you get out there and give it a bash when the pressure is really on.”
Who’s been your best opponent to date?
Paul Scholes was absolutely blinding, and Ronaldo. Lass Diara who’s at Real Madrid was an absolute player. I played against him at Portsmouth a few weeks before he went to Madrid. He must have known the scouts were in the stand because he absolutely ran me ragged that day. It was a joke how sharp he was and he is probably the best player I’ve ever played against to be fair.”
Lass Diara who’s at Real Madrid was an absolute player. I played against him at Portsmouth a few weeks before he went to Madrid. He must have known the scouts were in the stand because he absolutely ran me ragged that day.
If you could play a character in any film who would it be?
“I’d love to be either Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast – I love that film – or Robert De Niro in Goodfellas.”
If you could have someone play you in a film, who would you choose?
You seem quite calm, but when was the last time you lost your temper?
“Calm? You don’t know me. I lost it the other week with my agent.”
What’s your nickname?
“The Bulldog. It was something to do with my last name, but I don’t know who started it or when. It might have been myself actually.”
Are you any good in the kitchen?
“I’ll have a go, but I’m not great. I cook simple stuff. My mum is awesome though.”
If Ray Winstone came round your house what would you cook him for dinner?
“I’d do him a roast dinner. I bet he likes a Sunday roast.”
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