Who are you again? We’re Bolton Wanderers

Today Bolton Wanderers supporter Chris Mann previews Saturday’s match. Chris runs the website Burnden Aces. Like many of us, Chris has to pick and choose his away matches these days, though I find it hard to believe Sunderland wasn’t top of his list. Maybe next season Chris?

(And for more from the Wanderers’ point of view, scroll down)

Bolton Photo-0261

My name is Chris Mann (aka Manny from Burnden Aces), I’m a 19-year-old student at The University of Bolton and was born and bred in the town. So I’m one of the proper fans who supports their hometown club and not one of the glory hunters.

The first Bolton game I went to was on my 8th birthday, a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers at the old Burnden Park thanks to goals from Chris Fairclough and ‘Super’ John McGinlay.

I went to about half a dozen games a season for the next few years, including our heartbreaking Wembley defeats in 1999 against Watford and against Aston Villa in 2000.

In May 2001 we beat Preston North End 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to regain our place amongst the elite of English football and that summer I got my first season ticket. In the 8 seasons that have passed, I have not missed a single home game (league, cup or friendly) and average around 6 or 7 away games on top.

There have been some incredible highs and disappointing lows during these years, from seeing my side lose to your friends Middlesbrough in the 2004 Carling Cup final, to seeing us qualify for Europe for the first time in our history. I didn’t make it to any games first time round, but after qualifying again, I was lucky enough to see Wanderers playing the likes of Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon in some unforgettable European trips.

I won’t be in attendance at the Stadium of Light next weekend due to a hectic schedule and lack of money because of Christmas means I have to pick and choose my games, but hopefully we’ll take a good following.

Right, intro (essay) over, bring on the questions!

What did you think of our respective clubs’ prospects before season started? Did you expect to struggle again or to put last season’s late escape behind you?

After the way we somehow survived last season, I was hoping we’d take our unbeaten end to the season into this and things looked good after beating Stoke 3-1 on the opening day. But since then, inconsistency and a serious lack of goals have troubled us. At the time of writing, only Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have a better defensive record than us, but only West Brom have scored less than they’re bottom of the table.

At the start of the season I was hoping to see us finish in and around the mid-table mark, anything above 15th would do for me, but first and foremost, we must get ourselves out of trouble earlier than we did last season.

As for Sunderland, I think inconsistency can be used to describe your form as well. Not long ago you were 19th, then one win later you’re in the top half. It’s difficult to predict where anybody currently in the bottom half will end up but I think Sunderland will have a similar season to Bolton, finishing in mid-table mediocrity.

When did you last see a SAFC v Bolton game home or away, and what happened? Any other memorable games between us?

I’ve never been to the Stadium of Light before (I’ll make it one day!), but being a regular at the Reebok, I was there for last season’s game which all but confirmed our survival from relegation. I’ll remember that day for a long time because the relief was so clear too see among both players and the fans.

We all knew going in to the game that El-Hadji Diouf was going to leave in the summer and he capped his final home game for us with a superb performance, getting himself on the scoresheet in the process before doing a solitary lap of honour after the game!

What do you think of the Stadium of Light assuming you’ve been. Or Roker Park before that? And Sunderland itself?

I can’t comment, but when I finally do make the trip, I hope it’s a nicer place to visit than Middlesbrough! Good lord that was a dump!

What about the signings each club made this season?

I’m not too convinced with the signings we made over the summer. We desperately needed somebody to fill the void left when Nicolas Anelka left in January and we thought we may have finally done it after the £8.2m club record capture of Johan Elmander. He scored on his debut, but since then he’s struggled with injuries and in recent weeks has failed to make any impact in our games.

Fabrice Muamba cost us £5m from Birmingham and looks like he could be one for the future. He’s rusty around the edges, his distribution is poor and his form has been a little inconsistent, but he breaks up the opposition attacks well and hopefully he will continue to improve.

Ebi Smolarek, Mustapha Riga and Danny Shittu have not really had a chance to shine. Smolarek and Riga have both made a couple of substitute appearances, while Shittu has been forced to sit on the bench as Andy O’Brien and Gary Cahill continue to impress in defence.

Perhaps our most important dealings in the summer involved getting Jussi Jaaskelainen and Ricardo Gardner signed to new contracts. Many questioned them at the end of last season, especially Jaaskelainen, with Ali Al-Habsi pushing for the goalkeepers shirt, but so far they have both been shining examples so fat this term.

I think Sunderland made some good moves in the summer, but also some really strange ones such as David Healy. I was impressed by the signings of Steed Malbranque and Djibril Cisse, although I wish you hadn’t bought Diouf from us.

I know he’s been out of the team recently, but Dioufy doesn’t suit the strikers role that he seemed to be playing in early in the season. His time at Liverpool only justifies that. During his time at Bolton, Diouf was a revelation on the flanks, he was the one player that could make things happen and many Wanderers fans were sad to see him go, especially at £2.5m!

Your predictions for both clubs for rest of season

As stated earlier, I think both clubs will be looking to finish between 11th-15th and I can’t really see either side doing anything else. But the focus needs to be on surviving relegation and not looking too far ahead while the table is still as tight as it is at the moment.

Do you regard Man Utd, Blackburn, Wigan or anyone else much as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?

Almost every Bolton fan hates Manchester United, but in realistic terms we aren’t rivals with them because the talent they have there is far superior to that which we have. But it’s still nice to get one over on them every once in a while.

Our three main rivals are Blackburn, Wigan and Manchester City. These games really get the fans going, especially away from home, and the banter between the two sets of supporters is always a bonus.

As we’re out of the limelight, our derby games don’t get as much attention as others in the league, but when the fixtures come out, these are the games that we all look for. Then, when the time comes we all make the trips and hope to gain the bragging rights.

Memories of players and/or management linked to both clubs? Todd, Charlie Hurley and Reid are obvious ones, Allardyce another and also Michael Bridges, Carston Fredgaard, Jason McAteer, Barry Siddall and Frank Worthington.

Colin Todd and Sam Allardyce have both been pivotal figures in the recent resurrection of our club. It’s only 20 years since we were in the old 4th Division so the work they did, along with those before them can’t be forgotten.

Todd was the one who signed Jaaskelainen and Gardner, and he also managed to persuade big name players such as Eidur Gudjohnsen, Per Frandsen and Claus Jensen to sign for the club.

Allardyce, although hated in some quarters for his departure from the club, can’t be faulted for the work he did. In almost 8 years he took us to Wembley twice, Cardiff twice aswell as taking us into Europe for the first time in our history.

He was slated from the outside for signing players who were ‘past it’, but the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro, Nicolas Anelka and ‘Mr Consistent’ Gary Speed were all fantastic signings for us, and ones that made people stand up and take notice of Bolton Wanderers.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Michael Bridges ever played a game for us. Jason McAteer was a good signing for us during our rise back up the leagues, but his improvement was spotted and in our first season in the Premier League, he was unfortunately sold to Liverpool.

Obviously, only being 19 years of age, I’m not old enough to have seen Frank Worthington, but it doesn’t matter how old you are, the older generation of Bolton fans will always show this goal to you.

Frank Worthington Goal

Do you have any memories of Nat Lofthouse from relatives, older friends, encounters with him as an individual?

When you think of Nat Lofthouse, you don’t have to look too far to realise how much pride he had playing for Bolton. He made his debut for us at the age of 15 but had to wait until he was 21 for his league debut because of the 2nd World War.

A record of 285 goals in 452 games at any level is superb and not many will match his 30 goals in 33 England games. His goals in the 1958 FA Cup Final are well known, especially his second after barging United goalkeeper Harry Gregg into the goal with the ball.

My Grandfather speaks very highly of Lofthouse and it’s not surprising after the service he gave to our club, where he is now president.

I won’t forget the tears in his eyes when we left the old Burnden Park, and also when we were promoted back to the Premier League in 2001. He is a man who truely has the club at heart.

Club vs country. Who wins for you?

In all honesty, I’d rather watch a Bolton game than an England game, but if I was a player, I’d be honoured to play for both.

Of those who pulled out of England’s game in Germany, all from the top clubs may I add, I wonder how many will be fit to play the following weekend. It’s a joke how these players suddenly appear to be injured when the internationals come calling. If they’re not prepared to play in a friendly, they shouldn’t be in the squad when the tournaments come round.

Who will win? Will you be there. Score?

As we’re away from home, Bolton will set out to frustrate you and hope to nick one on the counter attack. If we defend well and also have that little bit of luck we’ve lacked in recent times, we could come away with a 1-0 win. But if Sunderland can get their noses in front inside the first 20 minutes then we’ll struggle to get back in the game and I’d go for a 2-1 home win.

Either way, I think the game will be decided by the odd goal.

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