clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

They Played For Both Clubs: Sam Allardyce

Chris pens a love letter to a big burly bloke with a fantastic moustache

Oh Sammy Sammy.......
Oh Sammy Sammy.......
Matthew Lewis

In the latest edition of 'They Played For Both Clubs' I have taken a look back at a man who made over 180 appearances for Bolton Wanderers and 63 for our opponents this weekend, Millwall.

Some know him as the greatest English manager since Brian Clough.

Some know him as a long ball merchant.

Some know him as a tactical innovator.

You may know him as Big Sam.

You may know him as Sam.

Ladies and gentlemen, my hero, Samuel Allardyce.

Born in Dudley in 1954, Sam Allardyce grew up as a Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter, however soon grew out of that nonsense in 1973 when he signed for Bolton Wanderers. A burly centre half, Sam spent seven seasons at Burnden Park under managers Jimmy Armfield and Ian Greaves, his high point being the most wonderful moustache in English football. His time at Bolton Wanderers came to an end in 1980 when he left to join Sunderland. He was part of the Bolton side that won the Second Division title in 1978 and left having made 184 appearances, scoring 21 goals.

His time in the North East was brief, just 25 appearances, before joining Millwall in 1981 under manager Peter Anderson, of Sheffield United fame. Allardyce spent two years in London before taking Anderson's lead and moving to America where he briefly played for Tampa Bay Rowdies, making 11 appearances before returning to England and signing for Coventry City. The impact of his time in America with regard to sports science and player management would stick with him throughout his career.

A season at Coventry was followed by one as captain at Huddersfield Town, before Sam came back to Lancashire as captain of Preston North End, whom he led to promotion from the Fourth Division as captain in 1987. He left Preston in 1989, briefly stopping at West Bromwich Albion as player-assistant manager to Brian Talbot. He left the Baggies two years later as the club fought against relegation to the Third Division in 1991. Allardyce then moved to Limerick in Ireland as player-manager, winning the First Division in 1992, playing 23 times in the process.

He then returned to Preston North End to again perform player-assistant manager duties under Les Chapman. He was thrust into the top job shortly after when Chapman was sacked. Allardyce steadied the ship but was thought inexperienced by the Preston board, who relieved him of his job and appointed notorious manager John Beck in his place. Allardyce was demoted to a coaching role which he performed until he retired from the playing side in 1992 having made 479 appearances, scoring 32 goals.

In July 1994, Allardyce was appointed as manager of Preston's rivals Blackpool, succeeding Billy Ayre. He remained at Bloomfield Road until the end of the 1995/96 season when he was sacked by chairman Owen Oyston, then serving time at Her Majesty's Pleasure, following a disastrous Play-Off campaign which had seen Blackpool squander a commanding 2-0 lead against Bradford City, missing out on promotion by a single point.

A brief spell coaching at Sunderland alongside former Bolton Wanderers colleague Peter Reid led to his appointment in January 1997 as manager of Notts County. He was unable to save them from relegation in his first half season, but won promotion at the first attempt winning Division Three breaking club records and winning the title by 19 points.

He remained at Notts County until October 1999 when he was appointed as manager of Bolton Wanderers by chairman Phil Gartside. It would go on to be a watershed moment in the club's history. At the time Bolton were struggling, and manager Colin Todd had resigned following the sale of star midfielder Per Frandsen to local rivals Blackburn Rovers behind his back.

Despite being in the bottom half of the table upon his arrival, Bolton Wanderers reached the Play Offs by the end of the season, though Wanderers lost to Barry Knight and Ipswich Town in what has become known as one of the greatest sporting injustices in the history of the world. Referee Barry Knight *spits* issued 12 yellow and two red cards to Bolton players, and none to Ipswich players; he also awarded Ipswich three penalties. Several Bolton staff, including Sam Allardyce, Gudni Bergsson, and Paul Warhurst, were fined for comments relating to Knight's officiating of the game. Knight was never appointed to referee a game at Bolton again. Happily, Knight later retired due to injury, which I hope hurts him every day for the rest of his life. The bastard.

With two fingers up at Knight, Allardyce led Bolton to Play Off glory a year later, beating Preston 3-0 in the Final at Cardiff. Bolton then began the following campaign strongly, topping the Premier League with ten points from our first three games, before levelling off and ensuring safety on the final day of the season. This pattern was repeated over the next season with Wanderers surviving by just two points.

However, the 2003/04 season saw Allardyce and Wanderers blossom into a top half side. Again jibbed by a cheat of a referee, we lost the League Cup final 2-1 against Middlesbrough, though this pain was somewhat lessened by a fantastic 8th place position in the league.

Allardyce was becoming known for his revolutionary approach to sports science and player management, rehabiliting the careers of several superstar footballers who had lost their way, such as Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Kevin Davies. This approach led to a rapid improvement in club fortunes and to the reputation of the manager.

In 2004/05 Wanderers finished sixth and qualified for European football via the UEFA Cup, equal on points with eventual Champions League winners Liverpool. A successful run in Europe was complimented by another 8th place finish in the league, and prompted Allardyce to be interviewed by the FA for the soon-to-be-vacant England job following Sven-Göran Eriksson who announced that he would leave after the 2006 World Cup. He was, however, never offered the job and it went instead to the less-abrasive and considerably less talented Steve McClaren of Middlesbrough.

This set-back proved to be the beginning of the end of Allardyce at Bolton, perhaps with the man himself wondering whether he had achieved all that he could at the club. April 2007 saw a raft of speculation that he would soon leave the Reebok Stadium in search of silverware - this speculation was soon confirmed and he left Bolton Wanderers the following day citing fatigue and the need for ‘a break'. He went with the best wishes of the club and fans.

However, this break turned out to a matter of days before he joined Newcastle United, long-time admirers of Allardyce. This development left a sour taste in Bolton fan's mouths. The club declined without their talismanic manager, whose own career took on a more nomadic slant after leaving the club.

He spent big money in his time at Newcastle. The likes of Alan Smith (£6m Manchester United), Geremi (£2m Chelsea), Jose Enrique (£6m Villarreal), Joey Barton (£5m Manchester City) and Abdoulaye Faye (£2m Bolton) followed and expectations were high. Despite a positive start, which included an opening-day 3-0 away win against Bolton, a series of disappointing results at Christmas led to Allardyce leaving just six months into a three year deal.

That same year he was brought to Blackburn Rovers in an attempt to halt their seemingly inevitable slide towards relegation - a virtually impossible job that Allardyce managed with ease. The club finished 15th with their new man. The following season saw improvements on the field including a run to the League Cup Semi-Final, and a solid mid-table position for Blackburn.

Again the England manager job came up for discussion following the 2010 World Cup, though again Allardyce was overlooked. He famously claimed that ‘had my name been Allardici then he would have got the job'. He also claimed that ‘if he was manager of Inter, Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United, clubs he claimed to be "better suited" to managing, that he would win multiple trophies every season. He was derided in the press for this, but I reckon he was bang on.

Following a 2-1 defeat to Bolton in December 2010, powered by a wonderful volley from Stuart Holden, Allardyce was sacked by the ruling Desai family, with Blackburn lying just 13th in the league. He was replaced by former assistant Steve Kean and we all know how funny that went on to be.

In June 2011 Allardyce was appointed as manager of recently relegated West Ham United in a surprise move. He vowed to respect the traditions of the club despite his own reputation for a more industrial style of play. He was allowed to spend, including former Bolton charges Kevin Nolan, Matt Taylor, Ricardo Vaz Te, Joey O'Brien and Abdoulaye Faye but the result was the same - success. West Ham beat Blackpool in the Play Off Final and were promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Again Allardyce spent big and rewards came his way. West Ham consolidated their place in the Premier League in 10th place, after which he was rewarded with a new contract.

Big Sam. Sam Allardyce. Love him or hate him, the man provokes debate. I love him. He brought my club up from the doldrums to unheard-of heights, making a small provincial club a heavyweight of British club football (for a time). I often wonder whether the likes of Jose Mourinho or any other famous name could have done the same job at Bolton Wanderers that Allardyce did and as fantastic as they are, I just can't see it.

Of course the way he left the club rankles to this day, but the success that we enjoyed during his time at the club outweighs, for me, any bitterness involved in his departure - though I fully understand why folk remain bitter. He did more for us than most, and I will always respect him for that. To turn up at the Reebok when faced with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool and know that we were likely to win is a feeling that we're unlikely to experience again in the future, and this belief in ourselves should be Sam's legacy.

His impact on the world of sports science is a facet of his character which is somewhat lost amongst the ‘Big Sam' persona. Physicians, masseurs, sports psychologists and dieticians all turned up at the Reebok with a big part to play. Allardyce was a pioneer of ProZone, and suggested recordings of every game in order to compile facts and figures on the performances of each player. Performance consultants come in, offering one-to-one sports psychology sessions with players.

As previously mentioned, this innovation came from his time in America and connections picked up therein. He undertook end-of-season visits to American basketball and baseball teams. A notable trip to the Benetton Formula One team occurred because of their ability to maximise their own talents, despite not having the financial resources to compete with Ferrari.

He will perhaps not be remembered in the upper echelons of British managers, but his impact will last in future generations of managers and players.

I would LOVE to see him one day return to Bolton Wanderers as manager. I do not think that he ever will, and I don't know whether it would be a good idea, but like those older than myself who love Rioch for the success and the style of football played, so I identify with Allardyce for the glory years that we enjoyed.

Thank you Big Sam.









Win %

Preston North End

30 September 1992

30 November 1992







19 July 1994

29 May 1996






Notts County

16 January 1997

14 October 1999






Bolton Wanderers

19 October 1999

29 April 2007






Newcastle United

15 May 2007

9 January 2008






Blackburn Rovers

17 December 2008

13 December 2010






West Ham United

1 June 2011