"EXETER WILL ALWAYS BE MY CLUB", STEVE TULLY ON HIS FOOTBALL CAREER AND UNDYING LOVE FOR EXETER CITY
Still proudly wearing the badge of Exeter City 16 years on from his maiden voyage in red and white, Steve Tully can hardly help but not smile as he recounts that famous night in Oxford as if it was yesterday.
“I remember the walk from the halfway line and I just knew where I was going to hit it.
“I didn't even look at the goalie, I just put the ball down, turned back and remembered technique.
“Strike through the ball and if you hit it well the keeper is not saving it and lucky enough it went in."
Tully, now 40 and working as a coach in the Exeter academy, etched his name in Grecian history books that night in 2007 with the winning penalty in the Conference Play Off semi-final second leg, sending the club to Wembley for the first time in their history.
But this moment possibly could’ve never happened as Tully, who grew up in Devon in the countryside, could’ve taken a liking to another sport, especially with his Dad’s influence.
“I was very lucky that I was brought up on a farm. So, we had a massive garden and there was always a goal on there.
“My Dad really liked his Rugby though, but luckily at the age of five, he took me to the 1984 FA cup final where it was Everton vs. Watford.
“I think Everton won 2-0 and that’s always the day I remember going back to for my love of football. And ever since that day, my parents said that wherever I went, I took a football."
Throughout his younger years, Tully starred at district level for his school as a commanding central midfielder and was eventually signed to the centre of excellence programme at Torquay United.
After making multiple appearances for Torquay at a junior level, Tully was included in the first team matchday squad several times in the 1997/98 division 3 season, before eventually making his first team debut and stamping his mark immediately now as a player on the right-hand side.
“I remember going away to Barnet and I came on when we were 3-1 down.
“Kevin Hodges just said to me ‘you're coming on as a right wing-back. But we want you to be more of a winger’.
“And we ended up drawing the game 3-3, I don't think I had anything to do with any of the goals,” cheekily remarks Tully. “But that feeling to come off after you've achieved something was great."
After enjoying half a decade with the Gulls, Tully spent the following few seasons between Exeter City and Weymouth. A foot injury anchored his first spell with the Grecians but he received another opportunity to play at St James’ Park under extremely unfortunate circumstances.
“The chief executive (at Weymouth) came into us and said ‘The club's gone bust, so you've all been given free transfers.’
“At first, we thought that it was a bit of banter, but they were serious.
“I rang Paul Buckle who’d moved from Weymouth to Exeter, told him what happened and he said Paul Tisdale the Exeter manager wants to meet me.
“I sat down with him at Exeter services, and he sold the club to me, I told him my aspirations and what I wanted to do and the club ended up signing me."
The full-back enjoyed waves of success at Exeter, including back-to-back promotions where the club spent three seasons in England’s third tier.
Undoubtedly the quality of football improved in League One and the club suffered some difficult results, but Tully soon started believing he was good enough for that level.
“It was a massive step up in quality, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Norwich were all there and that first season was all about staying up.
“I remember going away near Christmas and we lost at Southampton. I was gutted we lost but I really enjoyed it.
“Steve Perryman came into me and said ‘Tulls that’s the best I've seen you play and if people ever say to you, you're a Conference player. Well, I've just seen you play a League One game and you were outstanding’, and in your own little world you believe that you can handle being a League one player.”
The Grecians slipped back down to the fourth tier in 2012 and Tully was released the following year, an unsuccessful spell at Tiverton Town came before a superb time at Truro which included working as a player/manager.
After not having his contract extended, Tully got involved with the Plymouth academy but soon returned to Exeter.
Tully hasn’t ruled out getting back into management but at the moment isn’t ready for his final sail at the club where he spent six years of his playing career.
“I still call it my club and I know it's not my local team. But Exeter will always be my club and I'm lucky enough now to be coaching their next generation.”