Wednesday’s globetrotting have-a-go pro happy to be ‘home’

Well-travelled: Former Sheffield Wednesday captain Lee Bullen at Sheffield's Botanical Gardens.     PICTURE: sarah washbourn
Well-travelled: Former Sheffield Wednesday captain Lee Bullen at Sheffield's Botanical Gardens. PICTURE: sarah washbourn
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HE PLAYED in every position for the Owls, represented clubs on three continents, faced Gazza and Henrik Larsson on the field and has worked with Sir Alex Ferguson.

He also has a fork-lift driver’s certificate, a degree in Sports Media and he now sells houses in Sheffield.

Lee Bullen was not your average footballer and he’s not your average retired footballer now.

This is a man who taught himself Greek, worked in factories and a building society and played football in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Greece and Australia.

Now the 40-year-old Scot is back in Sheffield with a wealth of experience behind him, the undying admiration of half his adopted city and grudging respect from the rest.

“Sheffield feels like my home city now,” said the man who led Wednesday to League One play-off glory in Cardiff in 2005.

“I had a great time at Wednesday and I’m back there doing a bit of coaching with younger players.

“During my time as a player I developed a great affinity with the fans.

“I know I wasn’t the most talented footballer but Sheffield people are hard-working people, like the people back home in Scotland and I think they have a similar mentality.

“I’m no Ronaldo and I made mistakes but they knew I was always giving 100 per cent and I got a bit of leeway from the fans because of that. That’s why it gave me a massive sense of pride to move back here.”

But it must have been tough to leave a job at a club like Falkirk, flying along with exciting home-grown youngsters having beaten Rangers and Dundee United and due to face Celtic last night in the Scottish League Cup?

“It was a tough decision but it was the right one – although I got a lot of satisfaction working with the young players.”

Fair enough, but life as an estate agent must seem fairly tame after a professional career and much globetrotting?

“I had a great time wherever I was playing. I wouldn’t change any of it. I loved Australia, great people, great natural beauty. And Hong Kong is a 24-hour party city. I had four years there.”

It was after Lee Bullen played against England in Hong Kong in 1996 that he went to Kalamata FC in Greece.

“I went over there and decided that I needed to make the effort so I forced myself to learn Greek,” he said.

“I was the only Brit at the club. It was difficult but I took lessons and stuck at it and I’m about 75 per cent fluent now.”

Lee also played Scottish Premier League football after he left Hillsborough – and faced his most revered opponent.

“Henrik Larsson is by far the best player I played against and such a great bloke. He would make you look totally stupid on the pitch then he’d be buying you a drink and chatting in the bar after the game.

“You’d think you had contained him for 80 minutes then he would score three in the last ten. Fantastic talent and a lovely man.”

Lee is now taking his UEFA pro licence to allow him to coach full-time – and it brought him face to face with one of his heroes.

“We went to Manchester United’s training ground with the Scottish FA to meet Sir Alex Ferguson as part of the course.

“He was fantastic, really strong in his views as you’d expect, but with some fantastic insights and stories. You just can’t help but learn from a man like that.”

And you can’t help but learn from a man like Lee Bullen.

Well travelled, bright and down to earth with an understanding of what it’s like to have to work for a living.

“I go back home as I always have from time to time, and I go in the pubs and clubs I used to go in and many of the lads I used to hang around with are still sitting in the same seats. They were the ones who said: ‘What do you want to go to Hong Kong for?’

“Some of them were better players than me but they never made professionals.

“Sometimes you just have to get up and go somewhere else to try something new.

“I don’t regret any of the things I did, And there were some great times.

“The high point of my career has to be a Sheffield Wednesday game – beating Hartlepool in the play-offs at Cardiff. A fantastic atmosphere and a real roller-coaster game.

“At the end I just sat on the floor with a few cans and (Star photographer) Steve Ellis took a great picture which Pete McKee turned into a painting and which I now have in pride of place at my house.

“The low point was an own-goal against Bradford for Wednesday and being left out of the Falkirk team to play in the Scottish Cup Final.

“But overall it’s been positive.”

Ask any Wednesdayite about Lee Bullen and they all say the same.

Sound bloke, always gave everything, not the most gifted but someone you could rely on 100 per cent.

Safe as houses, you might say.

The Dentist’s Chair episode? Well, boys will be boys...

IT WAS one of the most infamous nights in English football history - and Lee Bullen was there.

The ‘Dentist’s Chair’ drinking spree in Hong Kong by England footballers ‘preparing’ for Euro-’96 scandalised the nation – and gave the world a glimpse of the traumas that lay ahead for Paul Gascoigne.

The troubled midfield player was part of an England team that had beaten Hong Kong team Golden 1-0 that day, a team that included the future Sheffield Wednesday captain.

“It was not the sleazy place that some imagine,” said Lee.

“It was like a TGI Friday sort of place which turned into a nightclub later on.

“We had been to an official dinner after the game in a plush restaurant in Aberdeen, Hong Kong. The England players were a great bunch of lads but things got a bit rowdy – as they tended to when Gazza had had a drink.

“The lads were signing autographs and having pictures taken and they were great with everybody. But Gazza was soon up to his antics and soon the players were tearing each other’s T-shirts off , which is not great I suppose.

“I know it looked bad when the pictures came out but to be honest it was only lads messing about – you can see far worse on a Friday night in any town in England. Boys will be boys.

“But it was a great day for me. I got to play against England and met Jamie Redknapp, Alan Shearer and Tim Flowers.

Three weeks later Lee Bullen was at Wembley for the England Scotland Euro ’96 group game – as a fan.

“It was a great atmosphere that day, fantastic. Scotland missed a penalty and then Gazza got his wonder goal.

“England should have won that competition.”

A bit of a break from football

EAD versus heart – and the head won.

That’s how Lee Bullen describes his leaving the assistant manager’s job at Falkirk FC three weeks ago to come back to Sheffield to work in his partner Nicola’s family estate agency business.

But he still has a dream.

A dream that one day soon his old boss Steven Presley will get a job in England and give him the call - as he has promised to do.

“I loved my job at Falkirk, helping to create a young team. If Steven Presley moves to an English club and makes the call I would definitely think about it,” said Lee.

“I’m 100 per cent commited to the business and I’ve really taken to it but you never know what might happen.”

If that call never comes then Lee Bullen insists he is happy to remain half of Spencer’s Estate Agent with his partner Nicola, whose father Jim established the Ecclesall Road business.

“It’s a family business with a great reputation and we have some new ideas like Twitter, Facebook and blogs – with bar code recognition on our ‘for sale’ signs.

Point your smartphone at the sign and it will download full details and pictures of the property.

“I think we have a great future.”