Bullen and Stillie seek triumphant departure

Scottish Cup final provides Pars pair with chance to sign off in grand style, says Calum Philip
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The Independent Online

Derek Stillie and Lee Bullen will never match Henrik Larsson when it comes to money in the bank or mere column inches. Yet, they will be the only two people out of 52,000 at Hampden Park today who can truly empathise with the Swedish idol.

It is the final curtain for the Dunfermline Athletic pair, just as it is for Larsson. The last blast of the whistle at the Scottish Cup final will signal an end to their time at East End Park and if there is a rich pay cheque still awaiting Celtic's talisman, then the only thing awaiting Stillie and Bullen is uncertainty.

Larsson will collect more than £1m from a special farewell game against Seville on Tuesday night when 60,000 people pay tribute to him at Parkhead. For Stillie and Bullen, though, the only reward will come in the shape of silverware today.

Dunfermline's precarious financial position has forced both men to look for security elsewhere when their contracts expire. The pair took a wage cut, like the rest of the Dunfermline dressing room, when the Fife club went cap in hand to its team in March to avoid embracing administration after running up debts of £7.5m.

Although the Pars will make almost £1m from reaching their first Scottish Cup final in 36 years, that is not being given back to their manager, Jimmy Calderwood, to spread around his squad. Stillie, the goalkeeper and Bullen, a midfielder, refused the offer of a new deal on reduced terms. Like Larsson, they are both in their early 30s, but neither La Liga nor retirement is an option for them as the next move, as it is for Celtic's departing striker.

At 31, Stillie is already making plans for the future. The former Aberdeen and Wigan goalkeeper has spent the last four years combining football with an Open University law degree. He has two years left before graduation and will choose his next football club very carefully.

"I started the degree when I was at Aberdeen but when I moved to Wigan, I had to switch from Scots Law to English Law," Stillie explains. "When I moved back up here again to Dunfermline, the Open University would not entertain me switching back to Scots Law again. I am not completing this course in two years' time simply to forget about it. After that, I have another two years of legal practice and then I can focus on law as a career. I quite often go to the High Court in Perth to watch trials and see how lawyers work. When I was at Wigan, I would go to Preston Crown Court."

Bullen is equally gripped with a sense of adventure. However, in his case football offered an escape from the real world, not the other way round. The 33-year-old worked in a building society before he packed his boots and headed off to play in Australia, Hong Kong and Greece. "I always wanted to play for a living and when I was working behind a counter, it just fired me up to move," he said. "I would not be at Hampden if I had not gone off on my travels. It made me a better player, though it was ironic that I should go off round the world and end up at Dunfermline, because that was my first club - and they released me."

Bullen has spent a long time climbing the football ladder. Meadowbank Thistle and Stenhousemuir preceded his move to Australia, before he spent four years in Hong Kong where he met his English wife. He then returned to Europe, playing for PAE Kalamata before Calderwood made Bullen one of his first signings on taking over at East End Park in 2000.

"Jimmy gave me my chance when no one in Scotland knew me," Bullen said. "I came as striker but I have played almost every other position since coming to Dunfermline. I have loved my four years here, but it became obvious to me quite a while a go that I am not in the manager's first-choice of team. He has been very honest about that and I appreciate it but at my age, I want to play first-team football.

"I have played about 90 per cent of the games this season because we have had so many injuries and it has probably been my most consistent season. However, I did not feel the contract offer reflected that. I have had offers from a couple of Nationwide League clubs but I will be sad once the game ends at Hampden, because that will be it at Dunfermline - though I don't know if I'll be as upset as Larsson."

Stillie single-handedly upset the entire Celtic following just three weeks ago. He put in a remarkable display to defy the Scottish champions as Dunfermline won 2-1 at Parkhead in a League match. "Studying has probably helped my mental preparation as a goalkeeper," Stillie said. "To succeed in football, as in law, you have to be a totally different person."

Today, Hampden Park will see whether natural law will be restored and Celtic complete the Double, or if Dunfermline emulate their teams of 1961 - against Celtic - and 1968, who took the Scottish Cup back to Fife.

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