Wolverhampton has always welcomed outsiders and none in recent memory has made a bigger impact than Steve Bull.
His association with the city began 33 years ago and his affection for Wolverhampton is matched only by the affection of Wulfrunians for him.
Confirmation of that – not that it was ever in doubt – came in September last year when “Bully” was given the Freedom of the City, an honour granted to only a few.
Born in Tipton, Steve joined Wolverhampton Wanderers from their old rival West Bromwich Albion in November, 1986, and there the special relationship began even though he must have wondered what he was coming to.
He and Andy Thompson joined Wolves when the team were languishing in the Fourth Division and about to suffer a humiliating FA Cup defeat at the hands of non-League Chorley. If that were not bad enough, they found at Molineux a ground in decay with two sides of it closed for safety reasons and dressing rooms which provided accommodation for both players and the occasional rat.
All that would change as Bull’s 13-year career lifted the morale of not only the club but the whole town.
Steve did not exactly set the house on fire in his first few weeks at Molineux, scoring only five goals in his first 15 appearances but a final flourish that season of six goals in the last three league games was a stunning indication of what was to come.
As Wolves became champions of the Fourth Division and Third Division in Steve’s first two full seasons at Molineux he just could not stop scoring. He hit 52 goals in 1987-8 and 50 in 1988-9. That scoring feat ensured Steve has a place in the history of English football. He is the only player ever to score a half century of goals two seasons running.
The year of 1989 was a special one for Steve. As well as helping his team to a second successive promotion he became only the fifth player from the third tier of English football to win a full cap for England. Not only did he come on as sub against Scotland at Hampden Park, he scored in a 2-0 win. That was the first of 13 appearances for his country, including playing in the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy.
By the time he retired, Steve had become Wolves’ all-time top goal scorer with a total of 306, including 18 hat-tricks, a club record.
The late great Wolves winger Dave Wagstaffe was fond of pointing out how many of the club’s players from various parts of the country opted to stay in or around Wolverhampton once they retired and he believed it said much about the town and its inhabitants.
Steve may not have moved too far away from the place where he was brought up but he still fell into the pattern highlighted by “Waggy”. He became an adopted Wulfrunian and has put back much into the town, which in 2000 was given city status. That same year, Steve had been made an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to association football. Other awards have since provided testament to the impact he has had on Wolverhampton.
Sir Jack Hayward’s ownership of Wolves meant the rundown Molineux which Steve had found in 1986 was transformed into a gleaming gold all-seat stadium and the great man was adamant that Steve’s contribution to the club’s history should have a permanent honour. Not only did Sir Jack make him a vice president of the club, in 2003 he had the John Ireland Stand renamed the “Steve Bull Stand”.
Still the recognition came and when Wolves decided to have a Hall of Fame as part of their new museum, Steve was one of the first six inductees along with such towering Wolves legends as Stan Cullis and Billy Wright. Even now few Wolves home games go by without a rendering from the South Bank fans of their favourite “Bully” song “Stevie Bull’s a tatter”. That’s speaks volumes.
Steve and his wife Kirsty still live in the city and their daughter Gracie Jo is at a Wolverhampton school. As part of his charity work Steve set up the Steve Bull Foundation, ensuring he continues to give something back to the community that embraced him.
Without a doubt, Wolverhampton has been good for Steve and Steve has been good for Wolverhampton.