They say success can change a man, and not always for the good.
But for Jimmy Bullard, football’s most down-to-earth individual, success was mostly a springboard to fulfil his ultimate fan-fantasy – collecting shirts of famous players.
By his own admission, Bullard isn’t much of a collector and doesn’t boast a massive display despite a career spanning 15 years.
But he does have his hands on some very sought after garments, including a David Beckham jersey, which hangs proudly in his pub, and, of course, a Cristiano Ronaldo match-worn shirt.
Simply owning these shirts is impressive enough. But the story behind obtaining them is what sets Bullard apart from every other player on the planet.
The sheer audacity, cheekiness and ‘he who dares, wins’ attitude is both endearing and admirable.
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Speaking to Mirror Sport, Bullard recalls being at Wigan and entering the Manchester United dressing room at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium before the 2006 EFL Cup final.
He was after then Red Devils star Ronaldo’s shirt, and explains this bold approach to getting what he wanted wasn’t a one-off simply because of the big ocassion.
Bullard said: “I don’t think I went fully in, because the changing room was in a bit of an L shape. But I popped my nut in – I think the kitman was floating around.
“But I walked in and said ‘Ronny, can I have your shirt!’
“To be fair the memory is such a blur because I’d do that often. I didn’t give a s***. I was floating around the England squad waiting for Beckham’s shirt.
“He was getting changed, standing there with his pants on. He’s like ‘What you waiting for?’ and there is only me and him in the changing room. It doesn’t get any weirder than that.
“I don’t give a s*** because I was playing in the England squad thinking ‘Well, this probably isn’t going to happen again. I am a fan at the end of the day and I’m a realist.
“I was in the England squad and I’m not a [Wayne] Rooney or a [Frank] Lampard, so this might be the last chance – and it was!
“So I had to make the most of it and what I want, I’m going to try and get in that moment.
“I’m not even a big shirt collector but I couldn’t believe how good Becks was to be honest. He was quality, and I just thought ‘Get the shirt’, which is hanging up in my pub now!”
For many, dressing rooms are considered a sacred place, especially before cup finals.
They’re a private sanctum for players to go through tactics and get in the zone, and everyone but the footballers and staff of the team named on the door are banned from entering.
Of course, this never stopped Bullard, and he admits there were occasions – like before the EFL Cup final – when players wouldn’t take too kindly to seeing an opponent on their patch.
“Some of them I knew. I knew Rio [Ferdinand] from West Ham,” Bullard continued.
“But some players would say ‘Get out of our changing room’, and I get it but I’d be like ‘Slow down mate. It’s not your changing room – well, only for today. I only want a dicky dirt (shirt)’.
“I’d play it another way and give it to them in the tunnel. There’s no sharper tongue out there than me!”
Since retiring from football Bullard has been heavily involved in the media, where he continues to enjoy the sport like a fan.
Bullard had much success with his The Magic Sponge podcast and now has a new – and very different – project entitled Off The Hook with Jimmy Bullard.
The podcast, in sponsorship with Sky Bet, sees the former England international interview his footballing friends in a relaxed environment – fishing from a riverbank!
* Off The Hook with Jimmy Bullard is available now wherever you get your podcasts. More information is available via this link.