Kneesy does it for Jimmy


So much potential, so little fulfilled. I believe this is a short but accurate reflection on the career of Jimmy Bullard who has recently announced his retirement from the professional game, aged 33.

Seen as a joker, a comedian, and a bright spark all over England for his antics on and off the field, it is no doubt that the game does need more players of Bullard’s character, yet the reality is he could have been so much more.

Bullard was a late bloomer in football, not turning professional until aged 20. After impressing at non-league Gravesend & Northfleet, Bullard got a chance at West Ham but failed to make the breakthrough and instead moved to Peterborough United where everyone got to know the name Jimmy Bullard…

Bullard shined under the bubbly figure of Posh boss Barry Fry and soon found himself a move up north to Wigan Athletic, where it can be argued, he played his best football.

An integral member of the team, Bullard drew recognition with his impressive performances as he helped the Latics move up the football leagues and eventually into the Premier League.

Bullard has always been a cheeky character but under the limelight of the Premier League and all the global fascination that it brings with it, Bullard thrived even further under the spotlight. Soccer Am paid this special attention and soon football fans everywhere soon fell in love with everything about Bullard including his curly barnet.

It was obvious that he could play a bit too, and there were rumours that he was in line for an England call-up if he carried on his good form. In the summer of 2006, a £2.5 million move to Fulham followed and many must have thought the West-London club were to be another stepping stone in Bullard’s flourishing career. Well, it certainly was a stone.

He hit the ground running at Craven Cottage, earning rave reviews from plaudits everywhere, with then Fulham boss Chris Coleman describing him as “the best £2million we’ve ever spent”.

Then, on the 9th of September, Bullard dislocated his kneecap, leaving him on the sidelines for around six to eight weeks. Or so he thought.

Some 16 months later, Bullard returned to action. It was cruciate knee ligament damage, something that proved to be Bullard’s Achilles heel for the rest of his career.

When Bullard eventually returned to fitness, he made an immediate impact and was an important figure, alongside Brian McBride, in Fulham’s survival that season.

16 months is a long time in football though, people change, things change. Was he the same Jimmy Bullard that we had all go to know and love? Had the time out and the severity of his injury affected not only his confidence but his thought process?

The summer of 2008 was one full of drama but uncertainty for Bullard. Fulham had survived relegation by the skin of their teeth; Bullard had England ambitions, would he be able to achieve these here? Rumours began circulating that he was ready to quit Craven Cottage and a lot of these were speculating that he wanted more money.

Then, in January 2009, Bullard shocked the footballing world after completing a £5million move, with a four and a half year contract, to Hull City. Bullard claimed that he felt unwanted after negotiations broke down over a new deal.

However, then Fulham boss Roy Hodgson said of the situation:”He’s been seeking the type of contract we couldn’t give him. I congratulate Hull and Jimmy on getting the contract he wanted. It wasn’t just wage demands prompting Jimmy to go, but the length of contract too”.

Things didn’t start too promisingly at Hull. A reoccurrence of his knee injury on his debut kept him out for the rest of the 08-09 season. He returned in October but just a month and a half later, he had trouble with his knee again and was ruled out for another two months.

Growing frustrated with his constant injuries and their sides slide closer to relegation, Hull fans started to point the finger at Bullard, who viewed his high transfer fee and wages and the poor return on them as partly responsible for the club’s financial problems.

Hull were relegated and it was the beginning of the end for Bullard. He was made available for sale and loan but no fee/terms could be agreed with other clubs. So, an out-of-favour Bullard sat in the reserves, picking up a healthy sum of money while at it.

Despite flashing his brilliance in a loan move to Ipswich Town in January 2011, where he scored six goals in 15 games as well as picking up the ‘Supporter’s player of the season’ accolade in his short time there, things were still complicated with parent club Hull.

Bullard became a hero for Town fans in his loan spell. A breath of fresh air, he sparkled in their midfield. Maybe re-uniting with ex-Wigan boss Paul Jewell had got Bullard back on track. His enthusiasm and energy seemed to be back; Town fans were begging for his move to be made permanent, maybe Bullard had one last trick up his sleeve?

However, he still had two years left on his Hull contract, and at a reported £45,000 a week, things were not going to be easy. However, a breach of conduct in July 2011 saw Bullard suspended from Hull before they paid off and terminated his contract, paving the way for Town’s signature.

Sure enough, Bullard was never the same influence on loan, a drop in form and an infamous boozy night out with Michael Chopra resulting in them being late for training sent him further and further down the pecking order before the Tractor Boys paid off his £18k a week contract, with one year remaining, this summer.

Bullard signed for MK Dons in August but it ended in no fairytale with the eccentric 33-year-old midfielder retiring from the game.

He claimed: “My mind was saying ‘you’ve done this before, you can do this’. But my body was saying ‘pack it in’. Once the pain came I knew I had to stop – it’s got worse and worse.

“I was getting worse as a player. I wasn’t getting better. I thought I’ll finish while I’m half decent. I don’t want to finish while I’m rubbish.”

While Bullard will be forever remembered for his famous leapfrog over a bundle of players in a goal-mouth scramble, his hilarious posing and catwalk in the Hull City kit, his petrified face after Duncan Ferguson was sent off, his entertaining interviews, and his unforgettable impression of Phil Brown telling off his players, you must not forget that largely for his persistent knee troubles, his career really could have been much more memorable.

Will Ridgard