The night Jimmy Bullard scored on his Town debut, at Derby’s Pride Park
- Credit: Action Images
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he recalls Jimmy Bullard’s debut at Derby County’s Pride Park, nine years ago
It is just over nine years since Jimmy Bullard made his debut for Ipswich Town and, true to form, he hit the headlines straight away.
Rarely out of the limelight, the charismatic Bullard made a big impression when he first arrived at Portman Road, in a blaze of glory - well, via a loan move from Hull City - on January 27, 2011.
The midfielder's Town debut was all set for five days later, at Derby County's Pride Park on February 1.
I remember it well - both a bubbly Bullard, and an impressive Pride Park, under the floodlights on a cold Tuesday evening.
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Pride Park, the home of Derby since 1997, had rarely looked better, in the eyes of Ipswich Town's travelling supporters, especially as Paul Jewell's men recorded a notable 2-1 away win.
And Bullard, who naturally marked his debut with a goal, also never looked better in the eyes of Town fans - here was a big name, a big coup, gracing Town's midfield and scoring to boot.
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His famed fondness for tomfoolery, and practical jokes, looked set to liven up a subdued dressing room.
So the start of a great relationship, between a Club struggling to return to the big-time after years in the doldrums, and a player who had commanded big-money moves in the past, but had rather lost his way.
It was exciting for a while, but in truth it didn't end up with a fairy-tale ending, either for Town or Bullard.
While Town remained stuck in the Championship, right up until last season's relegation into the third tier, Bullard left Portman Road at the end of the first year of his two-year contract, during the summer of 2012.
He made a couple of appearances during a brief stay at MK Dons, before hanging up his boots in October of that year, shortly before his 34th birthday, having finally conceded defeat to the effects of past knee problems.
Personally, I enjoyed covering the 'The Bullard Years' at Town, or more accurately 'The Bullard Months,' and I did come across him again while he was manager of Leatherhead, when I visited Fetcham Grove to report on a Leiston away match in 2016. He was manager of the Isthmian League club for just one season.
And naturally, an all-smiling Bullard has graced our television screens on many occasions, in the intervening years.
But whenever I see him, I am always reminded of that stirring debut at Pride Park.
- Club: Derby County
- Founded: 1884 (136 years ago)
- Ground: Pride Park (since 1997)
- Town's first visit (to Pride Park): 1-1 draw on May 19, 2001
- Town's last visit: 2-0 away defeat on August 21, 2018
- Town's overall record (at Derby): P43 W14 D14 L15
Quirky facts: Derby County were one of 12 founder members of the Football League, in 1888. They have only spent four years out of the top two divisions, and won the First Division twice during the 1970s, in 1971-72 and 1974-75.
They were at the Baseball Ground for 102 years, from 1895, until their move to Pride Park.
Town's visit/Carl's experience
New Town boss, Paul Jewell, caused excitement when signing Bullard from Hull, initially on loan - he was a controversial figure on Humberside, having been signed for a club record transfer fee of £5m on big wages and on a deal of more than four years, only to be plagued by injuries and to fail to help keep the Tigers in the Premier League.
On his debut at Derby County, on February 1, 2011, Bullard immediately endeared himself to Town fans by scoring a terrific equaliser, on 28 minutes, after Alberto Bueno had put the Rams ahead early on.
Out of the blue, Bullard let rip with a cracking 25-yard volley that bounced awkwardly, just in front of ex-Town loanee keeper Stephen Bywater, who could only fumble the ball into the net.
David Norris went on to net a 68th minute winner, to inflict an eighth defeat on Derby in their last 10 league matches.
For Bullard, it was a dream start to his short Town career.
Later that month, in an interview, a chirpy Bullard told me: "My family, from the East End, are all Ipswich fans now. It was a long way for them to go to Hull every week. Now it's just an hour-and-a-half down the A12.
"My Dad is now smothered in blue. He loves Ipswich!"
Bullard may have only played 37 games for Town, but he made quite a impact, none more so than on that debut at Derby.