Bolton v SAFC. Salut! Sunderland is – or will soon be – on the road (Orkney to Co Durham, the shores of the Med to a chillier London) and may go quiet for a day or two. Readers’ comments remain welcome; we all know what is at stake. Thefreelancer* is the pseudonym of a Bolton blogger – check out the Bolton Wanderers Blog and Website – who also recognises an important game when he sees one coming. Here are his answers to the “Who are You” questionnaire …
Walloped 5-0 in the FA Cup semi at Wembley last season, and 5-1 at home by Chelsea the other weekend but 4-0 winners at QPR. When the real Bolton Wanderers stand up, what do we actually see?
I don’t think any Bolton fan currently knows who the real Bolton Wanderers are, unless they are prepared to admit that we are nothing but a bottom of the league team with little chance of finishing above 18th. For those of us with a little bit of hope in us, I think we believe that there is a decent bunch of players in there who, given the correct formation and a good kick up the backside, could drag us out of the mire within a few weeks. However, that could prove easier said than done. We have conceded 21 goals in our last six league games and we look clueless going forward much of the time – a deadly combination if ever there was one.
And is Owen Coyle the man to get you away from the bottom and up to a decent position, giving that you looked for much of last season like finishing in the top half only to fall away towards the end?
The jury is still out. We were having a great ride last season for a while with Coyle but then things started to go downhill. It’s when things start to go wrong that your team and your manager need to show what they have got, and so far the signs have not been too promising. Don’t get me wrong I think I still see more promise in Coyle than I ever did with Megson, despite us currently sitting at the bottom of the pile. At least Coyle seems to have a desire to win and a certain belief, something which we never really had with Megson. The biggest problem with Owen Coyle seems to be the lack of a plan B, an accusation levelled at him even during his Burnley stint. For example, he continues to employ Paul Robinson, probably the slowest person on earth, at left back up against the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Nani and thinks we can get away with it. We get opened up down that side week after week and yet the hole is never plugged – even though we have the lightening quick Ricky Gardner who could play there. The problems run deeper than that but we will be here all day. I think the next three games will be crucial for Bolton fans and, if Coyle continues to make the same basic errors, which everyone else seem to be able to see, the fans could start to become restless.
Bolton and Sunderland have similarities: we were the only club never to have played outside the top flight until 1958, you’ve been there for 70+ seasons (not consecutive) but you’ve never won it and we haven’t since 1935. Are we now both just scrapping for “honours” in the middle and lower bits of the Premier?
Yes. It is sad but true. I don’t see Bolton or Sunderland ever winning or even coming close to winning the Premier League in it’s current format. The only way we could really compete is if there were massive changes brought about to level the playing field, so to speak, perhaps the way they do in America for certain leagues where they have a salary cap of about $3 million for an entire teams annual wage bill.
It follows on from there: do you resent the money sloshing around at the top end of the game or just wish Wanderers could get their hands on some of it?
Yes and no. I enjoy us being the underdog to a certain extent and I think pumping tonnes of money into the club would take some of that away. It would be nice sometimes if our board could come out and persuade some of the big players to come to us but overall I don’t like the amount of money in football. I have a fantasy that all money available for a football club to spend on transfers and wages should come directly from within the game (as in from what a club earns through sponsorships, sales, tickets etc) rather than outside investors using clubs as billionaire’s toys.
Charlie Hurley and Colin Todd spring to mind as men who have served both clubs; El Hadji Diouf is one we’d sooner forget, Any thoughts on player/manager links between Bolton and Sunderland?
El Hadji Diouf was a character. And Colin Todd, I thought, was a great manager for Bolton – we saw some great times under him. Not much of a link but didn’t Sam Allardyce once play for Sunderland?
I know Diouf didn’t really do the business for Sunderland but if he still has anything in his locker I think Bolton could do with his type in our team at the moment. I think he did ok at Rangers last season.
Any good, bad or amusing memories of past encounters between us?
I remember losing to Sunderland on the opening day of the season a couple of years ago. That set the tone for our season and was the first nail in our previous manager’s coffin. For that, I thank you.
What have been your highs and lows as a Wanderers supporter? Did you ever meet Nat Lofthouse?
I never met Nat Lofthouse no. Unless you mean the lion that walks round the pitch clapping his hands? Biggest high for me as a Bolton fan was winning 4-3 against Reading in the 1995 Play Off Final at Wembley. We came back from 2-0 down and ended up winning 4-3. The difference between those times and now was that we went into every game expecting a win no matter who we were playing. Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd – we had a go at all of them when we first made it into the Premier League. Now we seem to go out of games with little more than a whimper.
Some of the lowest points in my career as a Wanderers fan had to be during the infamous Megson era. We played some of the worst football I have ever witnessed from any team in any division. Even though we stayed up (in the Prem) it was far more sickening to watch us play during that period than it was even in the relegation seasons that went before it.
What do you make of Steve Bruce? I imagine that being a former Man Utd stalwart doesn’t endear him to you but does the uncertainty about his future, and the growing criticism of him by supporters, surprise you?
To be honest I consider myself a modern Bolton Wanderers fan and don’t base my opinion of a manager on a Neanderthalic hatred of a club he once played for. At times Steve Bruce impresses me, or he has done in recent seasons. Recently, though, many Sunderland fans seem to be on his back and unhappy with the way the team are performing. I know that feeling well although, as an outsider, it is easy to think “what’s all the fuss about”? I think, like for Bolton, the next three games could be critical in deciding Bruce’s future.
Tell me about the antipathy between yourselves and United. I’d bet you see plenty of there tops being worn around Bolton.
I think the days are gone where one would be afraid to walk down the street in town wearing the wrong club shirt. Sometimes, as a Bolton fan, it can be frustrating to see young kids becoming glory supporters instead of supporting their local side. The thing is, we are now so used to it that it no longer registers on the radar. I don’t think I hate Man United the way some Wanderers fans seem to but I do harbour a dislike of them in some respects. Some of it rational, some not. I don’t like the way that “Fergie Time” happens, and it does actually happen – and the United fans I know personally gloat about it. We all know it goes on. Little things like that bug me more than the historical despising of everything red.
This was the Eduardo Question and then became the Walcott Question after Theo (bravely, i thought) admitted he’d dived to try to win a penalty. Now it’s the Barton Question. So we have diving and feigning injury covered, but what form of cheating do you most despise and what would you do about it?
Perhaps not cheating as much as a Respect thing. I hate players getting in the referee’s face and crowding around him. There is only one reason to do that and it is to intimidate and influence the referee (ok that is two reasons). There should be no place for that in football. As a referee myself, I would like to see a rule introduced which meant that even touching the referee, however gently, should result in a straight red card. That way there are no questions, no quibbles. It will stop players from attempting to push the boundaries. I know that is quite an extreme view but it’s just what I believe.
Club versus country. Who claims your greater allegiance and why?
Club. Every time. Why? I was going to say “because England are rubbish”, but if that were true I would not be a Bolton supporter right now either. I just don’t feel the same attraction to England, I can take it or leave it much of the time – until it get’s to a major tournament and the league season is over. Then I am an England fan as much as the next man (or woman). I still need my football fix. During the season I tend to hate International breaks because it means I don’t get to watch the Wanderers.
Name this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three and winners of the major trophies.
Bolton top – Champions. Sunderland bottom!
What? I win a prize! Ok…
Top four. Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool.
Bottom three. Wigan, Norwich, Swansea.
FA Cup. Arsenal.
League Cup. Liverpool.
Where will our two clubs finish if not already mentioned?
What one step should BWFC or the authorities take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
Ticket prices should go down. More and more people are out of work. More and more working people are being priced out of the game too. Tickets for away fans too seem to cost an absolute bomb at the moment, often upwards of £40, and when you factor in travel and a day off work it becomes an expensive affair.
Other than that, I know its a controversial subject but, standing terraces should be introduced for supporters. The atmosphere at so many modern grounds is so flat that the enjoyment of attending a game in person is being sucked out of the game. A large contributing factor to that is the all seater stadiums. You can go to a lower league club with 4,500 fans and enjoy a better atmosphere than we get at the Reebok every week. Obviously it would have to be properly ticketed and properly policed but there is no reason that the disasters of years gone by should be repeated if done right. Look at concerts and gigs where people stand for hours, people don’t get trampled when the crowd control is done properly. They have terraces all over Europe and they seem to do ok too!
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I will be there. I think it all depends on the team selected by Coyle. If he picks Robinson at left back again then even Sunderland with your lack of width will get some joy going forward. Also, if Zat Knight starts you might get another own goal out of him. If Coyle was to pick who I consider to be our best eleven and set us up properly I would confidently predict a Bolton win. If he picks the same core of players who have capitulated so many times already this season then we will be lucky to get a point. At this early stage and without knowing the team sheet I’ll go for safety; 2-2.
* thefreelancer on thefreeelancer: an you tell me as much as you can in a couple of paragraphs about who you are, what you do and your history of supporting Bolton?
I am a season ticket holder at the Reebok and long time fan. My favourite memories of watching Bolton were in the mid nineties when Bolton took on Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Aston Villa and other higher division clubs while we were frequenting the lower leagues. We beat them all. We also went to Wembley twice in 1995 and beat Reading in the Play Off Final to reach the Premier League for the first time in my life. I now write about the Wanderers in my blog when I have the time and I also love to play football. I am currently attempting to work my way up in the refereeing world and also enjoy coaching kids football too.
Interview: Colin Randall