After 46 Scotland caps, three goals, and appearances at the Commonwealth Games and EuroHockey Championships, Andy Bull has retired from international hockey.
Bull joined the Scotland men’s squad in 2019, having previously been part of the England and Great Britain setup years earlier. It was through some Scotland internationalists learning of Bull’s Scottish Grandparent that the journey to the Blue Sticks began.
Bull explained, “Back in my younger days I was part of England and GB, and was around the Olympic squad, but never quite made the next step. Also, I wanted to play abroad, so I focussed on having a hockey career overseas, and played in Holland for a good while.
“Kenny Bain and David Forsyth took me under their wing when I was in Holland, and they started chatting to me about playing for Scotland when they found out my granny is from Dundee. Then later on, Alan Forsyth started chatting to me about it too, the next thing I knew I was on the phone to Derek Forsyth, and that was me sold. He had me!
“I really loved how it was all or nothing. Del said I had to commit, with everything I had, and I really liked how we had the same ethos. Then I came along for training and absolutely loved it. It was obvious that joining the squad worked for me, and worked for everyone else too.
“I was buzzing to be involved, it was a really exciting time. I came into the squad as a senior player too, which was something I felt I could help with. It was a major opportunity for me to play at a really high level with a great group of lads.”
Bull’s transition to the Scotland setup went smoothly, and before long he played his first match in a victory over Poland, in a test series in Walcz. Bull recalled, “My debut was a good game, I played alongside David Forsyth, which was great. The whole thing was understated though, because it was some test games in Poland, with no crowd, it didn’t feel like I actually made my debut until we played Ireland in Le Touquet.”
FIH Men’s Series Finals in Le Touquet came less than a month after the matches against Poland, and was Bull’s first major tournament with Scotland. It was a tournament that made a huge impact on Bull. He explained, “I remember the national anthem before the Ireland game, and getting really emotional. It really hit me about where I was, and what I was achieving, when we sang the anthem. Then the game started, and I played three absolutely atrocious passes, and Del took me off!
“I was absolutely raging with myself, and just sat alone at the end of the bench. Then Del came over and told me, in his own way, to get back out there and sort myself out. I played a good game after that!
“It was a good tournament, we played for the bronze medal in the end, which was above ranking. We played some really good hockey.”
After years of falling short, Scotland men qualified for the EuroHockey Championships after winning EuroHockey Championship II, in Glasgow, in 2017. In August 2019, the Blue Sticks finally took their place at the top table of European hockey when they competed at ‘A Division’, in Belgium.
It was a huge honour for Bull to be selected for the tournament. He said, “Playing in A Division was definitely one of my goals, so it was great to be selected. The build-up was impressive. We didn’t always have much time together, but we made it count, and I was impressed by how much everyone put in, both with the squad, and when they were away.
“We played well, but some things just didn’t go our way. It was brilliant going up against the very top level, and I think we showed that we could live with them, but sometimes things just don’t fall for you.”
The Blue Sticks went up against Germany; Ireland; The Netherlands; Wales; and England at the tournament. The Scots, in the end, narrowly finished in one of relegation spots, and showed how fine the margins are at the top level of hockey.
It would be two years before Scotland would play another match, and although impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic, Scotland still got to compete in EuroHockey Championship II in Poland in 2021. It turned out to be a tremendous tournament for Scotland, winning silver after losing the final on penalties. Sadly, there would be no promotion from the tournament due to the pandemic.
Bull recalled, “B Division was decent. Playing for Scotland was always brilliant, and the group and staff, when we were away, were always so good. I think we felt we had something to prove at that tournament, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I felt I fit so well with Scotland. I was excited to be part of a group that wanted to prove something.
“I always felt like I had something to prove, to myself, not anyone else. I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to perform on the highest stage. That’s what we were all about in B Division.”
Bull saw being a senior player as a sign of respect, and a greatly appreciated honour. He enjoyed helping set the standard for the team, and helping the younger players develop.
Bull scored three goals for Scotland, all of them were drag flicks, but he humbly sees the defensive side of his game as more important. He said, “It’s a really proud moment to score for Scotland, but my job was to defend. If I’m being honest, I was always more proud of making big tackles and stopping the opposition from playing their game. That’s the side of the game I really enjoyed.”
The next huge target for the team, and Bull, was the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The first game for Scotland men in Birmingham was a classic 5-5 draw with New Zealand – a match that had everything. A loss to Australia was followed by the narrowest defeat to South Africa, and a 3-2 loss to Pakistan. The Scots finished with a 7-2 victory over Ghana.
Bull said, “The Commonwealth Games was a huge target; for me it’s the pinnacle. I think being selected for Birmingham is my proudest achievement in hockey. I was working full time at the time, and I had a few injuries along the way, which made it tough. I had to prep well, but it was tough for everyone. Nobody was guaranteed a place in the team, and everyone pushed each other so hard.
“We didn’t have much time together, so everyone did most of their work away from the squad, and it’s a testament to everyone for the standard that everyone got to in the build-up to the Games. So, it was really special to be selected after all that work.
“The experience was incredible, seeing athletes from other sports and how they go about their business was great. For us, there were some amazing highs and lows. The New Zealand game must have been incredible to watch as a neutral, I mean, what a game. It was brilliant to punch above our weight, but to let it slip away was so disappointing. It showed the qualities we have, and that we can live with the top tier.
“I’m proud of how we did in Birmingham. We were never afraid. We played our game and we were a couple of passes away from winning more games. We could definitely walk away with our heads held high.”
After Birmingham Scotland went straight into the EuroHockey Qualifiers, held at Uddingston Hockey Club. The home tournament saw the Scots welcome Wales; Switzerland; and Gibraltar to the town, with one qualification spot available. A narrow defeat to Wales saw the Welsh take the spot.
Bull recalled, “It was nice to go straight into another tournament after Birmingham. We felt in-form, and we’d done a lot of the work already. Most of the time we didn’t get much of a build-up, so we’d done our build up in Birmingham.
“I enjoyed the tournament, but it was fine margins again. It just didn’t fall our way, and we lost to Wales. We felt we deserved more.”
Those were Bull’s last games for Scotland, though it wasn’t something that was on his mind at the time. He explained his reasons for deciding to call it a day, “I didn’t know I was going to stop. I had a contract in Belgium so I went off to play over there. Some things happened that led to me establishing my priorities in life. I lost my best friend to cancer, which really put things into perspective, and when my contract in Belgium came to an end, I took the summer off to think about what I really wanted to do next.
“I think it’s the natural time to step away. It’s a time of transition for Scotland, and there’s so much exciting talent coming through, I think it’s their time to fly the flag.
“I’ve been a pro athlete for 16 years, which is a long time, and a lot of commitment, and I think it’s time for my next life now, and I’m looking forward to my new career away from hockey. I’ll always be supporting Scotland, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
When you have a career like Andy’s there are so many people to thank for their contributions and support down the years. Bull said, “I want to thank my family, who have been there every step of the way. My mum, dad, and sister helped me with everything since I was young, and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without them.
“Derek Forsyth was huge for me. He was the reason why I came to Scotland, and I wouldn’t have had all the experiences I had with Scotland if it weren’t for Del.
“I’d like to thank all the staff. Graham Moodie was amazing, and Ailsa Wylie was so good to work with. Thanks to all the staff at Scottish Hockey who do so much behind the scenes.
“Thank you to my other half, Libby Williams, for putting up with my hockey life! She’s supported me every step of the way.
“And thanks to Otter Hockey Sticks. I raise money for Sam’s Gift charity, and they’ve been a huge help. Also, I couldn’t have done it without playing for Scotland, which I’m grateful for.”
A huge congratulations from all at Scottish Hockey to Andy Bull on a fantastic Scotland career.