Sunday, 29 November 2009

Jimmy Bullard, you gotta love him!

Jimmy Bullard, where do you start? On and off-field prankster, dead-ball specialist, golden-locked Soccer AM favourite, the likable Eastender has won countless plaudits for his care-free attitude to the game.

Due to his qualities as the in-house joker, his playing abilities have often been unnoticed. However, there is absolutely no question that Hull’s recent upsurge in form has coincided with Bullard’s return from a lengthy knee injury. During his absence, Hull’s 2009/10 season was looking bleak, a continuation of their dismal second half to last season.

Their opening eight games yielded just seven points with five defeats, including a 5-1 mauling at home to Tottenham and a demoralising 4-1 reverse at Sunderland. Since his return, a substitute appearance against former club Fulham, Hull’s fortunes have improved notably. Confidence has been restored at the KC Stadium and the dark clouds hovering over Phil Brown’s tenure have evaporated, for now.

Hull have recently picked up nine points, winning two, drawing three, with two defeats. Ok, perhaps not championship winning form, but Bullard has given a much-needed lift around the place and the general consensus is Hull have a better chance of survival now; a mid-week victory over Everton and a creditable draw against Manchester City at Eastlands, indicative of this.

Bullard may not have the technical qualities demanded by Arsène Wenger, nor the guile and strength evident in Manchester United and Chelsea squads, but Bullard’s ability has been evident ever since he began his playing career at the relatively late age of 20 at non-league Gravesend & Northfleet.

His performances at that level attracted the interest of boy-hood club West Ham and, despite not making a single appearance for The Hammers, his career was rejuvenated by Barry Fry at Peterborough, where he scored a credible 11 goals from 62 appearances.

After his success under Fry, Bullard made the journey north to Wigan for £275,000 in January 2003 and was subsequently named in the 2002/03 PFA Division Two Team of The Year. A key component in Paul Jewell’s side, Wigan’s renaissance saw them rise from League One mediocrity to the Premier League’s surprise package of the 2005/06 season.

This was where the jester first came to everyone’s attention and Bullard’s antics were a far cry from the modern-day footballer, severely detached from reality. The Micah Richards’ and John Terry’s of this world who happily park their flash cars in undesignated parking spots just for convenience could do worse than following Bullard’s example.

Indeed, Jermain Defoe earlier this month was lambasted by a judge for playing 'the litigation game', just because he could afford to. Following a six-month driving ban after his Land Rover was clocked twice for speeding last year, Defoe's appeal was labelled by the judge as 'sad and frivolous' and ordered the England star to pay more than £1,500 in costs.

Jimmy’s arrival onto the scene was a ray of sunshine at a time it was much needed. In Wigan’s home leg of their League Cup semi-final against Arsenal in February 2006, he was honoured on Soccer AM for running the length of the pitch in an attempt to score when the floodlights went out.

His antics in his first season in the Premier League did not stop there. During a home fixture against Everton, a goal-mouth scramble resulted in a pile-up, much to the delight of an incoming Jimmy who leapfrogged the pile, landing flat on his face.

In the same match, Jimmy fronted up to hard-man Duncan Ferguson, following the Scot’s dismissal for a punch on Paul Scharner. Jimmy had the courage to stare up at Ferguson with a cheeky smirk on his face. Someone had obviously not alerted Jimmy to the fact that Ferguson had single-handily dealt with two burglars in 2001, with one spending three days in hospital as a result.

Then came his celebration this weekend. Only Jimmy could have the audacity to mimic the embarrassing on-pitch team talk carried out by Phil Brown last season. Jimmy’s Pièce de résistance, however, had to be his antics in a Wigan dressing room involving a laundry cart. Wearing nothing more than underwear on his head, Jimmy led his former team-mates in a battle chant before being thrown around in the cart before crashing into the locker room wall.

It may surprise some people that the midfielder is 31 and, with no international caps to his name, he may well have missed the boat for such recognition and ultimately forgotten for his technical qualities. However, this would be unjust, as his pedigree is without doubt. If his legacy as a player is forgotten, so be it. But what is beyond any question is he will be remembered as a breath of fresh air in the modern game and one of football’s true characters.