It has been a decade in the sun for Bury Town captain Tom Bullard, who admitted he ‘couldn’t stop smiling’ at news of his testimonial.
The Blues’ leader on the field was expecting just to sign a new 18-month contract when he met with director of football Trevor Collins and vice-chairman Phil Smailes at the end of last week.
But, along with the new deal to keep him at Ram Meadow until the summer of 2014, Bullard learned he would be honoured with a special pre-season match and other events during next season.
“It was a very big surprise,” said the 26-year-old. “I went in thinking I would be offered a new contract, so when they said about the testimonial I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Having been released by professional club Ipswich Town at the age of 14, Bullard joined the Bury Town set-up two years later, graduating from West Suffolk College, where he also learnt how to become a carpenter and a joiner.
Having also turned out for the Blues’ reserves in the Essex and Suffolk Border League, he made his first-team debut as a starter in their 3-1 Ridgeons League success against Cambridge City Reserves on April 12, 2005.
“I went there hoping to play football and learn, and things progressed so quickly without me even noticing,” added the centre-half, who credits Andy Eady and Ian Miller with taking him under their wings.
“When I had a sniff of the first team I felt comfortable, but I never thought I would have been captain of Bury and been there 10 years.
“Wilks (manager Richard Wilkins) has been there all that time and coached me to be the player I am.
“Trevor (Collins, director of football) did the same as assistant, and so have Richard Skelly and Ben Chenery — I’d also like to thank Russell (Ward, chairman) and everyone behind the scenes.”
After his debut, Bullard was a regular in the side that reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase and were promoted from the Ridgeons League the following season before taking on the captaincy in September 2006 when Ian Miller joined Ipswich Town.
Under his leadership, Bury went on to clinch the Zamaretto League Division One Midlands title in 2010 — the club’s first championship since lifting the Metropolitan League trophy in 1969 — as well as winning the Suffolk Premier Cup 12 months later and the Alan Boon Isthmian League Cup another year after that.
“Since I have been there, the club has really moved on, both on the field and off it,” said the defender. “Ram Meadow was so run down and we had just finished mid-table in the Ridgeons League, so it’s unbelievable to see how far we’ve come to be an established Ryman League side pushing for Conference North or South football.”
The only time it has looked like Bullard’s loyalty might waver was in the 2012 close season, but he rejected a reportedly big money move to Lowestoft Town to remain at Ram Meadow.
Looking back on the summer, the skipper admits he regrets ever considering the offer.
“I wish I had never even spoke to them because I never wanted to leave,” he said. “I can’t see myself playing anywhere else because I love Bury.”
At the age of just 26, it is feasible Bullard could yet have a second testimonial at Bury, and he hopes it will come with the club knocking on the door of the top flight of non-League football.
“In another 10 years I’d like to think we would be in Conference North or South, pushing on for the Conference with a new ground,” he said. “I’d love to still be at the club.”