Bateman, Bullard and Terry: the empty zen of excellence

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.
Zen Aphorism


I’ve always loved the Patrick Bateman/American Psycho quote:


There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.



There are parallels between Bateman and Jimmy Bullard. In some ways they are polar opposites: Bateman is excrutiatingly aware of his emptiness and fights it by murdering prostitutes, while Bullard hasn’t the capacity (or indeed desire) to look inside himself so spends his time playing golf and fishing.

I have long thought that the ideal characteristic for 75% of sportsmen is to be more or less unthinking. As previously noted (or perhaps not, I forget what I wrote and what I just thought about writing), John Terry is not arguably not mentally strong, as he is commonly portrayed, he is right over there at the Patrick Bateman end of the Bateman-Bullard continuum: he is really not there. How else to explain him? How can you feel remorse or regret or concern when really you feel nothing at all?


I still say if the ball is there to be won I will go for it, whether with my head or whatever, and if it means us scoring or stopping a goal, I won’t think twice – John Terry


How many sportsmen mess up when they think too much? Too many, that’s for sure. This is why John Terry doesn’t come unstuck under pressure (Moscow wasn’t mental, he just fell over), while others do.

Similarly, Jimmy Bullard was in many ways the perfect footballer. Gifted and unthinking, with most coaches he would be relied upon to go out there, sieze the moment and deliver what’s needed. He brought energy and passion and fearlessness to Fulham’s Great Escape when others would have felt the pressure. Bullard? No bother. He’s not going to think too much about it. So in the dying moments at Ewood Park he can whip the ball into the top corner, or he can drop a free kick onto Simon Davies’ right foot or Danny Murphy’s head or wherever else he wants.

From Barry Glendinning’s recent Observer interview (


Our chat concluded, Bullard insists on picking up the tab, then driving me a couple of miles to the train station: small details, but in this game invariably the sign of a good egg. En route, we return to his repeated admission that he never thinks about much, so I ask what he ponders during those long hours in splendid isolation on the riverbank. “What do I think about when I’m fishing?” he asks. “I don’t really know.” A ruminative silence is finally ended by a frank admission: “Mate, I just think about how I’m going to catch my next fish.”


10 thoughts on “Bateman, Bullard and Terry: the empty zen of excellence

  1. Bit unfair maybe since, as Wittgenstien would have it, thought is a bit of an abstraction anyway. Is Bullard just the ultimate existentialist?

    1. I thought about this too. In the end I decided i wasn’t being unfair because I’m only taking what he says about his own lack of thinking. Certainly there are all kinds of zen principles at work though, much like the old baseball “see ball, hit ball” truism.

  2. I always thought that Patrick Bateman was a representation of an unexamined person finally becoming self-aware. Prior to whatever moment awakened him, he was effectively just like the rest of the silver spoon Bankers/Jock in the American high school movies/Frat boy in American college movies, moving along in his perfect life, unthinking. It was because he was so vacant and brought up with such an understanding that the world was his that he was unable to constructively examine himself whenever it was that he awoke. So, in your example, I wouldn’t have Bullard and Bateman at opposite ends, but would rather have them as two sides of the same coin.

    Having said that, I don’t think Bullard is anywhere near the right example to use. The fact that his default pleasures in life are so unfashionable carves Bullard out as something different from the stereotypical unthinking sportsman, motivated only by his penis and whatever trends exist to help guide his life (i.e. his consumer choices). Similarly, the fact that he had to grind it out over his career seemed to give him a sense of self-awareness and modesty (he was, after all, able to mock himself, and knew he had to move because he didn’t have another big payday in him) that the sportsmen that I think you are talking about do not possess. Players like Terry, Cole and Ferdinand fit the mold. No matter the truth, those players know within themselves that they are the best, the coolest, the most attractive, have always known it and always will. They have had that level of self-assurance trained into them from a young age by their coaches, so that, as you highlight they are able to act, and not think when it matters.

    1. Aha. very interesting… i perhaps took him too literally at his word. haven’t read american psycho nor seen the film for eons so even bateman i perhaps didn’t think about enough either! But thanks for the thoughts, teriffic stuff.

      1. It occurred to me that you could take it a step further. If “[i]t was because he was so vacant and brought up with such an understanding that the world was his that [Bateman] was unable to constructively examine himself whenever it was that he awoke” then what are the consequences for when a player like Terry, Cole, Ferdinand, Gerrard, etc. think? These guys are create in high-octane no-time-to-think situations, but in reality football is increasingly a thinking man’s game (see Chopper’s excellent “speed of thought rather than of foot” line the other week), and guys who can’t think when things are moving slowly are next to useless. Maybe we need more thinkers, not less.

  3. There’s a passage in “Moneyball” that makes the same point, though never says it explicitly – a conversation on the bench between Billy Beane and his teammate Lenny Dykstra, who doesn’t even realize that the pitcher he’s facing is Tom Seaver.

  4. You would have thought Mike Tyson was the ultimate in terms of an un-thinking, ‘one trick pony’, mindless sort of animalism. But if you watch the film “Tyson”, it’s quite shocking to see that there is a thoughtful human being inside. He’s even recently taken to commenting on Australian politics!

    One review said of the film: “I was so impressed by being reminded what a champion this guy was and what an animal he was, you know, in so many ways. But then in these interviews, there’s a strange poetry to the way he talks about his life. I actually found it really moving and, apparently …when he saw this film in the editing room, he looked at it and he was silent for a while and he says, “It’s like a Greek tragedy. The only problem is I’m the subject.”

    Not sure how this relates to Bullard except that perhaps its dangerous to judge from the outside what’s going on inside.

  5. Only on a FFC message board / blog would there be a discussion at this level about sports ‘blokes’…….not convinced that the likes of Bullard are worth intellectualising about, but love that you try Rich. Keep the thoughts rolling…..

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