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