Who are you? We’re Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers supporters prove they are a generous lot, providing us with not one but two excellent match previews. Here’s the first, with another to follow tomorrow.

White house2

Think Fleet Street photographers and you probably conjure mental images of oily scruffs crawling through the undergrowth towards some troubled star’s secluded country pad. Ian Jones makes you think again. Always impeccably dressed and on Sunday best behaviour, so much so that the royals found him quite bearable during his Daily Telegraph career, he looked more like a country solicitor than the stereotypical paparazzo when he turned out on assignments. Ian is also a lifelong Bolton Wanderers fan, often to be found charging up the M6 from London to catch a game. For our clash at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, he’s resorting to prayer for a win but suspects we’ll share the spoils……

It was the penultimate game of last season. On May 3, when the three points from the 2-0 win over Sunderland secured our place in the top flight for this season.

Sunderland were already safe thanks to the goal scored by Daryl Murphy, a last minute header against Middlesborough the week before, and I remember the relief when I knew we faced a side who had their future secure. It was a battling performance that was needed though against a side who weren’t ready to roll over and hand us the desperately needed points on a plate and ironically it was El-Hadj Diouf playing his last game for the Trotters who opened the scoring.

Little did we know that it would be to Sunderland that he would go only a few weeks later. The relief of the Bolton faithful at the end was evident, a turbulent season and survival at the 11th hour.

All the faithful at the Reebok hoped that this season would be different, but without our recent wins bouncing us up the table, things would be looking rather grim. Yet with only a handful of points separating the drop zone from a place in Europe, every point counts.

Both Sunderland and Bolton are in a similar situation and if I have to be honest my faith would be more in Roy Keane than Gary Megson, although on Saturday the mood at the Reebok was much more positive and the game against Liverpool was one of the best by Bolton for a while. Despite the 2-0 defeat, our performance and tactics have to be applauded.

If this new found confidence can be repeated on Saturday Nov 29th I would be fairly confident for all three points against a Sunderland side which seems to struggle in much the same way. Then you go and trounce Blackburn away, and now I’m not so sure, not that I have anything against a team beating Blackburn, they are geographically our nearest team, but a win against Man United would get you hero status.

The previous Bolton – Sunderland game I saw was in November 1998 – when they won 3-0 with goals from Allan Johnston, Niall Quinn and Michael Bridges. We’re hoping that result will not be repeated, and it was Michael Bridges who came to Bolton for a brief spell in 2004, sadly never repeating his best performance of his career for Sunderland in the 1996/97 season.

The Sunderland/Bolton crossovers go a long way back. My early memories of Burnden Park are of Sam Allardyce and Peter Reid together. Allardyce played for the Wanderers from 1973, Reid came to Bolton in 1974 staying for eight years, with 226 appearances and 23 goals, Allardyce then went to Sunderland in 1980 for a season before moving onto Millwall. They became good mates from day one and by all accounts still are.

Many supporters still admit to missing Allardyce, but all confess that the open style of play Megson encourages is far more enjoyable, although somewhat frustrating with the inconsistent performance.

Recent signings include Johan Elmander the Swedish International striker signed from Toulouse helped them to qualify for the Champions League when he netted a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory against Bordeaux on the final day of the 2006/2007 season. He is still settling in at the Reebok and his best, I feel, is yet to come. Then, the England U21 international Fabrice Muamba has already found good form and is one to watch for the future, and if Ricky Gardner can find the final touch in front of goal then Premiership security will not prove to depend on the nail-biting finish we had last season.

Bolton ian 1

“This photo was taken at our first ever game in Europe (Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Bolton won 2-1). I’d waited 35 years to go to this game – I’d started watching Bolton at 6 years old. The photo taken by my 8 year old son Angus, who lives in Berkshire, but is a passionate Wanderer”

In a club vs country debate, I wish I could say country as a true patriotic Englishman. But I support a united nations side in Bolton so I have to stay with the club. Maybe we could get Nat Lofthouse out of retirement!

As for the match outcome, I think a close and well contested 1-1 draw, but I’ll be praying for a Bolton win and I’m looking forward to the return of Diouf.

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