Bolton ‘Who are You?’: Trotters, rollercoasters and sympathy for refs

Howard Page, in his band The Menu

Bolton Wanderers have had the sort of season we might have expected, in terms of position and – the Wembley humiliation notwithstanding – progress in the FA Cup. Now they have pride to play for while we are scrapping for a point or two to be absolutely safe. Howard Page* offered some months ago to be our candidate for some questions ahead of this game as we were only too pleased to remind him; Howard would accept bookings for his band to return the favour …

Salut! Sunderland: You are humiliated at Wembley but then go and beat Arsenal in thrilling style and, despite the letdown at Fulham, sit at a giddy height in the Premier. Describe what must have been a remarkable season.

For me this season has been more exciting and enjoyable than the last two or three. And I’m not only saying that as a Trotter but it seems the Premiership is getting tighter and tighter which leads to more exciting climax, so to speak! Owen Coyle had a mountain to climb after Big Sam, Sammy Lee and Gary Megson but he has managed to morph Bolton’s style of play gradually and forged a far more skilful display and yes, there are still some big, physical guys in there but there is so much more to their game than there was a few short seasons ago. The FA Cup Semi final defeat to Stoke was the most crushing defeat I can remember since I was a ball boy at Burnden Park in the early 70s and we lost to Villa. Despite their worst fears the White Army came in droves on Easter Sunday and made the Reebok a sell out – which is in itself a rare occasion in recent seasons. Beating the Arsenal should have got us back on track towards a successful conclusion to the season until Fulham put a spanner in the works with a convincing win midweek – Sturridge seems to make a big difference to our team’s performance. All that said, the hollow feeling of your team not turning up at Wembley will live in our hearts for many years to come. But now it’s all about the last few games of this season and looking forward to the next season and the real possibility of European football once again. It’s a credit to the Bolton supporters that following the humiliation at Wembley the Reebok was a sell-out for the visit or Arsenal.

Dean Sturridge talked about scoring that winner v Arsenal for the “fantastic” fans, but wasn’t there talk of loads of empty Bolton seats at the FA Cup semi. What’s going on?

That’s a tough one. For me personally I didn’t go to Wembley because it is hard for the average fan to afford to go down to the Capital City twice in relatively close succession. So one possible reason is so many fans, being extremely up beat about Bolton’s chances of a Wembley final, may have been looking forward to going down to the final instead. It’s also a push to get home in time for work the following day with a 4pm kick off in the capital. With the appointment of Gary Megson many fans voted with their feet and didn’t renew their season tickets. I’m hopeful that now Bolton are on the up that the Reebok will be a sell-out more and more times. One of the saddest aspects was the whole ‘do it for Nat’ and it seemed for a while that Bolton were destined for a Wembley final in the year that he passed away. Maybe a little complacency played it’s part on the day not only in the players but in the fans who stayed at home. But rest assured, if Bolton continues to progress on the pitch then the number of empty seats will decline.

What were your minimum and maximum expectations at the start of the season, and does relative success make it likely that Owen Coyle will want to move on?

It’s a rollercoaster ride being a Bolton fan. After the last couple of seasons the lowest expectation is a relegation battle. At the other end of the spectrum lies European football. It’s only with the results in April that Bolton fans could feel relatively secure in their Premiership status. On the other hand with Liverpool having seen bad times over the last year plus uncertainty over the ability of the City stars being able to pull it together as a team the competition for 4th spot was more open than pervious seasons and every fan of a team doing well quietly eyes that fourth spot. For me City will finish fourth but the rivals Liverpool and Everton and of course Bolton are close on their heels. Owen Coyle has proved himself to be a fantastic manager and is not out of place at the highest levels of football. I hope more than anything that he stays at Bolton for a few seasons to come but I have no doubt that opportunities to manage bigger teams will come his way. If and when this does happen he will be leaving behind him a Bolton side who can pass the ball and mix it up in ways no one thought possible so that should attract the interest of other top drawer managers. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

Do you have any abiding memories – good, bad, funny – of games involving Bolton and Sunderland, home or away?

Indeed both! All our fans know that this particular fixture can leave one set of fans ecstatic and the other set dejected. Bolton’s 4-1 victory against Roy Keane’s team was a high for Bolton. I recall reading the Mail Online review of the match and it made me laugh (and not in a good way) when it stated that Gary Megson had finally overcome his unpopularity with the fans. We all know that never happened. And to cap it all the next meeting saw Sunderland beat Bolton convincingly 4 nil. It’s a fixture that usually features goals and is rarely dull between two teams who are slowly improving in stature as ‘top half’ performers. Deviating from the question slightly, one funny personal memory was when we were moving house from Bolton, well Horwich to be precise, up to Scotland in 2001. The estate agent called and said a Mr and Mrs Whitlow were coming to view the house. I said to my wife the only Whitlow I know is Mike Whitlow who plays for Bolton. When the time came for the viewing the Bolton Wanderers car drew up on the drive and in walked Mike in his Bolton Wanderers track suit and his wife. Mrs’ W and my wife did the tour of the house whilst Mike and I picked the bones from recent performances and notable red cards. When the ladies finally came back my wife said to Mike: “So what do you do?” Mike replied: “I play football, love.” Classic.

You cannot have seen Nat Lofthouse in action, I presume, but who are the greatest players you’ve seen in Wanderers colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?

I met Nat on several occasions in and around Bolton before I moved up to Scotland in 2001. He was a great man but I never saw him play. Bolton has seen a good few top class players. For me personally I have to say that Kevin Davis has it all. He’s a great team captain and gives his all every time he wears the top. Since the Summer of 2003 he’s been our talisman and even at the age of 34 he can still be a handful for any world class defender. When Jay-Jay (so good they named him twice) Okocha joined in the Summer of 2002 he added a completely new dimension to Bolton – flair, style and entertainment. It was the start of a new era for the Wanderers as we became a more entertaining team to watch. Jussi Jaaskelainen has also been a fantastic servant to the team. A top quality keeper who has earned Bolton more points than many a striker. Another one of the players I knew personally was super John McGinley. A wee feisty Scottish tormentor of opposition defenders he scored a great many memorable goals for the Whites. Of the less memorable signings top of the tree has to be Mario Jardel, He came the Wanderers in 2003 at the age of thirty with a great goal scoring record behind him. For Vasco da Gama, Gremio, Porto, Galatasaray and Sporting Lisbon he scored 262 to goals in 290 games. He played seven games for Bolton and looked like he’d never scored a goal in his life. Another memorable one to forget was Michael Bridges. Having scored a raft of goals for Sunderland in the late 90’s and after playing at Leeds signed for Bolton in 2004 where he only played one game prior to being loaned back to Sunderland.

What will be this season’s top four in order, who is going down and where will our two clubs finish?

My predictions are :- 1 ManU, 2 Chelsea, 3 Arsenal and City in fourth. I can’t see Spurs catching City with their respective remaining fixtures. City’s toughest remaining game will be home to Spurs and their last game is at home to Bolton. In the Championship next season will be West Ham, Wolves and Blackburn with Blackpool escaping relegation by the narrowest of margins. I would like to see Ian Holloway in the Premiership again next season as he is a breath of fresh air. Bolton I believe will finish seventh. I believe we can overtake Everton looking at our respective remaining fixtures. Blackburn have a tricky end to the season and I think they will end up in the bottom three. It is more tricky to predict Sunderland’s final position as there are a clutch of clubs, seven all within a few points which is remarkable for this stage of the season. Sunderland don’t have any of the top half teams left to play and Bolton are the highest placed team left to play. Bolton v Sunderland should be another memorable one but I feel Steve Bruce’s team should be able to beat Wolves at home and West Ham away. That said for the Wolves and West Ham these will be season defining games and they’ll have far more to play for in their premiership survival attempts. My prediction is Suunderland 11th place.

Does the moneybags nature of modern football excite or appal you?

For me personally it appals. Much of the downside of football is a direct result of the amount of money that is now in the game, particularly with respect to the players’ wages. As a lifelong football fan my appetite for the game has declined in recent seasons. Players’ agents are both encouraging them to move on whilst draining money out of the game. In financial terms the gap between the top teams and the lower teams in the Premiership is getting bigger. That said I firmly believe that money doesn’t guarantee success but can often increase the expectations of the owners resulting in more frequent sackings of the managers – Mark Hughes at City being a case in point. Both our teams are doing well and thrive on team spirit and playing as a team without huge injections of cash. Sunderland has a fantastic chairman in Quinny. I’m sure he will drive the club forward. We have to hang on to Owen Coyle as long as we can.

This was the Eduardo Question and is now the Walcott Question: was Theo brave or foolish to admit to, and apologise for, diving in a match in the hope of conning the referee and winning a penalty? Is cheating of all kinds – diving, sly tugs, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off – so prevalent that we should stop bleating about fair play and accept it as part of the modern game?

He was brave but it is accepted now as part of the game but for me I deplore cheating of any kind. From diving and trying to con the referee, suggesting that he books or sends players off right up to the mind games played by the top managers in the game I deplore all of it. This is the main reason that many sport fans in general consider football to be less appealing than rugby or many other sports. But it opens up the whole question of how do we effect change and punish the offenders? The referee is only human and can’t possibly see everything that happens especially when he has to also work out whether an injury is real or Memorex! Video technology would assist here. I’d like to see some sort of review panel that watches all premiership games and punishes both individuals and teams for this kind of behaviour retrospectively. Fines mean nothing to football clubs the only kind of punishment that hurts is bans for players and points deductions for the offending clubs. We all know the main offenders and it saddens every true football fan when the referee is blatantly conned resulting in a match defining decision. His happens every week. Will this ever happen? Given the reticence to implement any type of in match technology my guess would be no. But something very radical indeed is required if we are to address the decline in the game and restore any level of respect to the match officials. But the problem isn’t limited to the Premiership it is rife throughout football. I take my hat off to referees. They deserve so much more.

How bothered were you that Fifa made Russia and not England the venue for the 2018 World Cup? Are you a club before country man?

I always put my own team first but I am a passionate England fan. As a football fan, I believe the whole system of World Cup selection is wrong and decisions like this should be made in a different way completely not by a bunch of old political animals with many different agendas with the football often low on their lists. The rationale has to be made more open so everyone understands the decision process and all factors considered. This year has seen some very strange decisions, with the rationale unclear at the very least. The football itself seems to be becoming less and less of a priority.

Any thoughts on players and managers associated with both our clubs? Colin Todd and Charlie Hurley going back in time, but Sam Allardyce, Peter Reid and El Hadji Diouf are among more recent examples and you may well think of others.

Colin Todd was assistant manager for a number of years at Bolton but for me was not a memorable appointment. I think he made more impact playing for Sunderland than managing Bolton. I’ve never liked Dioufy. It’s interesting to see him playing up here in Scotland where he isn’t popular either! As for The King I remember very little I’m sad to say. A towering defender by all accounts with over 400 appearances for Sunderland before moving South to play for the Wanderers. For me Sam Allardyce was fantastic but I feel he tailed off in the last months or so and indeed this was the start of the rot for the Wanderers after experiencing the highs of European football. Reidy is another example of a fine servant for both our clubs. But better on the pitch than behind his desk at Soccer Saturday.

Will you be at our game and what will be the score?

Sadly I won’t be there. I’m sure there will be goals and as I said earlier there is rarely a boring affair between our two clubs. That said I predict a 2-2 draw. It depends which Bolton team turns up! May the best team win!!!

* Howard Page on Howard Page: : I am 47,was born in Bolton and have supported the Trotters from a boy. In 2001 we moved up to Scotland close to Loch Lomond but I work I Warwickshire so I drive up and down the M6 weekly. This means I don’t often repeat the process at weekend to go to see Bolton. I do usually see a few games each season especially when we are in Bolton visiting family. Bolton has a small but passionate Scottish fan base mainly consisting of us ‘ex-pats’ and we often arrange trips down to England to see Bolton play. But it’s a long journey home when we lose – particularly from the capital. I design and build web sites and we have as our Scottish based supporters site. I also play in a rock band called The Menu. If you are looking for a band to play at any of your wedding or function let us know. The photo shows me playing in my band, The Menu. I was hoping to send a picture of me in my ‘Bolton Born And Bred’ tee shirt but unfortunately it’s in the wash. Thanks for letting me share my views with you.

Interview: Colin Randall

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4 thoughts on “Bolton ‘Who are You?’: Trotters, rollercoasters and sympathy for refs”

  1. It seems that there are two Bolton teams that appear alternate weeks. There’s a strong comptetive team that plays good football one week that looks as if they could match anyone. Then the following week there’s the other one that looks, well, ehrm……… a lot like us. If that one turns out we could be set for a bore draw!

    I tend to think that you may see the justification for my pessimism tomorrow though Howard!

  2. Hi Jeremy,
    Methinks you are being a wee bit pessimistic. I know the feeling well, particularly after we got stuffed by Stoke. But it’s a battle of two out of form sides. Fulham put 3 past us recently and we even lost to Blackburn. So there may well be 4 goals in it but I’d be very surprised if it were a Bolton whitewash. Mind you we did manage to beat Arsenal at home to a full house so who knows!

  3. What a fabulous article Howard! A cracking read. I love the Mike Whitlow story.

    I think you may well be correct about there being a lot of goals in this one. I would predict another 4-0 with them all going in our net. We have absolutely no cause for even the slightest optimism travelling to the Reebok this weekend. A clearer home banker would be difficult to find this season.

    Be under no illusions Howard. Your visitors (I am sorry to say) are complete and utter dross. It may well be over as any sort of contest by the half time whistle. We can neither score nor defend.

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