SAFC v Bolton: a woman with Megson in her sights


What were saying about Bolton fans being like London buses? Wait half an hour, then three come along together. No sooner had we thought of throwing in the towel on finding a Wanderers supporter than replies started flooding in. Well trickling. The policy is straightforward: if people are good enough to respond, the responses will be used even if we end up with an excess of riches. Natasha Whittam*, a fiery character well known to those who haunt Bolton fan sites, wanted to do this a season or two ago but then disappeared from our radar. Now she’s back just when we most needed her, happy with her rejuvenated team but offering some forthright views on Gary Megson, old grounds v new, Newcastle United and Fifa …

Salut! Sunderland: What a great start for Bolton. – you must be getting nosebleeds? Is it purely down to Owen Coyle – or would anyone have been an improvement on your old friend Gary Megson?

Osama Bin Laden would have been an improvement on Megson. Never has there been such a negative manager in the history of the game. Mix in the fact he was also clueless and you have a recipe for disaster. Megson alienated the fans from the moment he took over and would often blame the fans for a heavy defeat rather than the overpaid, under achieving players. Regardless of what Owen Coyle does, I fear we have lost a generation of supporters we will never get back.

Every credit to Owen Coyle, with virtually the same nucleus of players that were playing under Megson he has changed the way we play. Gone are 90 minutes of longball bobbins, and now we actually look like scoring when we go forward. The players have more confidence and seem keen to have the ball at all times.

Be honest: what were your maximum and minimum ambitions at the start of the season and how has the bright start changed them?

I fully expected a relegation fight, in fact I thought we might have one foot in the Championship by Christmas. My highest ambition for the season was definitely survival. While we may still end up in a relegation battle, it is nice to be looking upwards rather than down, even if it only lasts a short while.

Who are the key players in all this, and where do you still need to strengthen if you are to remain near the top?

The key player is definitely Stuart Holden. He is the first box-to-box midfielder we’ve had since Kevin Nolan ate a pie shop. For the first time in a long time the forwards get a bit of support from midfield which has taken the pressure off them. Kevin Davies has also been superb, almost all our goals this season have involved him. He’s often portrayed as an old fashioned centre forward but under Owen Coyle he has become much better with the ball at his feet, creating goals with sublime passes. And I also have to mention Johan Elmander who was absolute garbage for two seasons, most Bolton fans would happily have swapped him for 50p and a bag of grapes. Under Coyle he has looked a world-beater, but with him out of contract in the summer he’s unlikely to be around for much longer.

Bolton has a proud history, of course, but most of it in the distant past.Is it possible in this money-driven age to hope that anything like the days of Nat Lofthouse and the like could return?

It’s possible but highly unlikely. Like Sunderland and many other clubs our best chance of winning anything is one of the cups. To be honest though, after the Megson years most Bolton fans would settle for attacking football and the odd cup run. Unfortunately if Coyle keeps producing the goods he’ll be off to bigger and better things before long. All the big clubs want success and attacking football to keep the crowd happy, Coyle has the potential to deliver that.

What about the fans – what is the atmosphere like at home this season and are you getting decent away support?

It’s like being at a different club. There is a buzz about the place, people almost expect to witness and end-to-end game full of chances and great goals. We’ve never been the best supported club, but crowds are definitely up at home and I’ve noticed a few old faces returning to away games.

Describe your own highs and lows as a Bolton fan.

The highs were definitely the early to mid-90s when Bruce Rioch turned the club around, creating legends like John McGinlay, Andy Walker and Jason McAteer. Some brilliant FA Cup runs and a couple of promotions gave us some great memories. For all the money in the game now, the passion back then was ten times greater. The lows were definitely the Megson years, please don’t make me describe them again!

What about Sunderland? What do you make of us, Steve Bruce, the city, the fans? Is there anyone in our team you’d snap up given the chance?

I think Sunderland have progressed slowly and surely under Steve Bruce. I can’t like the guy due to his Manchester United connections (Bolton fans are brought up to hate United and anyone associated with them) but he’s put together a useful team with a sprinkling of outstanding players. Darren Bent is brilliant, and always scores against Bolton. Asamoah Gyan also looks a handful and to have a third striker in great form, Danny Welbeck, you know Sunderland are going to score a few goals.

I’ve not spent too much time in Sunderland I must admit. I like the new ground, but it suffers from a lack of atmosphere almost as much as our own Reebok Stadium. I’d give anything to go back to the days of Burnden and Roker Park where even a small crowd could create a magnificent atmosphere.

And Newcastle: do you laugh at their weakness for shooting themselves in the foot or are they really – as some Mags like to claim – “everyone’s favourite second club”?

I can assure you that all Bolton fans laugh long and hard at the plight of Newcastle. One day they might realise they are just an average club with average players. However, I hope they continue to see themselves as the Real Madrid of the North for many years to come!

Is it time to abandon high-minded ideas of fair play and accept that cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents sent off or booked etc – has become part of the modern game? If not, how do we stamp it out?

We seem to have gone down the route of stamping out tackling and other aspects of the physical game, but totally ignore all the diving and cheating that goes on. I’d much rather be turning a blind eye to the odd bad tackle than someone rolling 30 yards holding their fingernail. In 15 years time I fully expect football to be a non contact sport.

The World Cup: did you enjoy South Africa 2010, what did you make of the Fifa vote and are you now, or were you anyway, more pro-club than pro-country?

The World Cup was awful. Fifa did everything possible to take away the physical aspects of the game and what were we left with? A load of diving and poor football. Football without the competitive edge holds no interest for me. In fact, the World Cup was so bad I now couldn’t give a damn about the World Cup or England. Club football every single time.

Identify one thing Bolton or the football authorities could/should do to improve the ordinary fan’s experience of the game.

Ban Gary Megson from every football ground in the UK.

Name this season’s finishing top four, in order, and the bottom three.

Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal
West Ham, Wigan, Fulham

If Bolton and Sunderland were in neither list, where will we both end up come May?

I think both will finish top 10, Sunderland 7th and Bolton 10th.

Will you be at our game? If not how will you keep tabs? What will be the score?

I’ll be there, sitting with some friends in the Sunderland end. If Bolton score and you see some tall chick screaming her head off don’t be offended. We went three years without scoring a goal under Megson. Or it felt like it.

Bolton are playing well but we’re still a shambles at the back….3-2 Sunderland.

* Natasha Whittam on Natasha Whittam:

I’m 31, own a small advertising agency in Manchester and have followed Bolton since I was six years old. I’ve missed very few league games since 1990 and have seen some truly awful football and results if I’m being honest. But it’s all worthwhile when you hammer the Real Madrid of the North 5-1!

Interview: Monsieur Salut

14 thoughts on “SAFC v Bolton: a woman with Megson in her sights”

  1. You’re kidding, Jeremy! That’s where it came from? Were times so hard for us?

    God love Cloughie. I’m sure he saw no discrepancy in his actions. He always had the courage of his convictions, no matter how often they might change.

  2. Natasha may be too young to remember this, but re her favourite, Gary Megson.

    When manager of Nottingham Forest, the great Brian Clough signed Megson during one summer only for Megson to be promptly sold on to Sheffield Wednesday without playing a single game (IIRC) for Forest. After selling him, Cloughie announced that Megson was in fact completely useless, and saying “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement!” Not sure if you’ve heard that about him before.

  3. I’m glad I knew Roker Park in its heyday and missed the decline. An animated scoreboard and illuminated “welcome” signs. In my day, we knew were welcome without being told and we also knew how and when to yell.

  4. Cash turnstiles will be in operation for Saturday’s game against Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light (KO 12.45pm). HAHAHA see so your not having sooo many thousands flocking to your games too then eh? oh well have fun cyahs there im the one in the bob hat ! 🙂

  5. heh guys get over it, you peeps up int far noreast make a living outa being hard folks that swarm tu game every week! even teking yr tops off – wots that all about eh who wants tu see man boobs everywhere u all go? Eh? oh n you only have what 4 teams in your lands where as we in Bolton have EIGHT!! yes 8 !! premier teams alone all around us, so leave out with the capacity/attendance talk eh, where else can you lot go to for a shout?! In Bolton the biggest employer is the council who has 3000 staff so we havent got a workforce with cash to splash! Ive been to all your local grounds and like our old Burnden Park they all should ve demolished earlier, atmosphere or not! Oh n your locals on the hill in the city should start giving binoculars out too as well as offering seats on the stairs lmao!! Who designed these places? Anyway my BWFC team is looking good with fun smiles skill and excitement back and we still have sensible expectation levels too with no cash from outside pockets to help us out! I predict a good game and an away win to Us with a clean sheet too lol -( yeh ok maybe not on that last bit lol)! cyahs all n have a gud xmas.

  6. I can’t disagree with what you are saying there at all Tom. For me the end of Roker was very sad as it had as you point out been in a decline for a long time. When Roker went it was in many ways like losing a loved one that had been suffering for a long time. It’s easy to recall the last days and not the better days that preceded them. I loved Roker Park and the SOL will never mean the same to me as Roker. The atmosphere is dead most of the time in there and that’s largely down to the size of the place and the distance between the stands and pitch. The players can’t hear you shout and you can’t here them. It’s an anodyne venue for football compared to what we grew up with and a great deal has been lost. 20 thousand more people turn up now because you can sit down! They’d have needed a GPS to get to Roker Park.

  7. Spot on, Tom. It’s a shame Roker died, but, as you say, it had been dying for a decade or more by the time it finally breathed it’s last. While the Roker Roar isn’t always evident at the SoL, it didn’t die and can be brought back from its slumbers when the crowd gets itself het up. Strange with Bolton and that semi final, as I remember huge crowds at Burnden back in the 70s (pre-supermarket)

  8. Canny crack but I’m afraid the rose tinted reflection re Roker Park does not wash. Yes, many of us remember some superb atmospheres there and it was where we were introduced to the frustrating enigma that is SAFC, but that ground died in the 80’s once the Tom Cowie led regime cut the Roker End in half and the terraces ultimately got painted red with yellow crush barriers. To compound the feelings of depression at the ‘murder of Roker’, the introduction of that hideous American themed scoreboard with animated tanks and ‘attack!attack!attack!’ running through it added insult to injury. This once legendary terrace became a pale shadow of its former self and the days of heaving masses of humanity swaying backwards and forwards during big games, the boys enclosure, the peanut man and all the ‘No.17’ lads at the back during the 70’s seemed a million miles away. To compound things, Bob Murray then introduced an illuminated ‘Welcome to Sunderland’ sign at the back of the Fulwell End. The Fulwell was not supposed to be welcoming, it housed hardcore fans who used to scare the living s**t out of many a player and team as ‘Rodney Rodney Rodney Shithouse Marsh’ and ‘What’s it like to be a puff, Bobby Moore?’ will testify to. Before the O’Brien’s demolition bulldozers moved in in 1997, Roker was finished. The SoL is a fine stadium inside and out, not to be confused with meccano sets like the Riverside, and when the lads give the fans something to cheer about it has a brilliant atmosphere. In many respects it is the people that make football stadiums and with due respect, comparing our fans with Bolton’s [who could not sell out a league cup semi final home tie in a sub 30,000 capacity stadium a few seasons ago] is a non starter. Ha’way the lads.

  9. Heart stirring stuff this is Natasha. Bloody marvellous in fact. I’d be back to Roker in an instant. These new stadia must have been a ‘wet dream’ for Blue Circle but are nowt more than soulless cauldrons in my book.

    I agree with just about every word you say here. I’ve really enjoyed watching Bolton this season. When you got Mr Coyle in I thought that it would go one of two ways with him ending up managing Man Utd or with him driving a milk float in three years. He’s done superbly and it’s heartwarming to see some of the grand old clubs with REAL tradition and history going great guns this season. I class us as well as the likes of Blackpool in that same group. It’s going to be an interesting game for both clubs I think as there are two sides that have become increasingly difficult to beat. My guess is that this will be a 1-1 draw in a well contested game.

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