Supporters of Bolton Wanderers Football Club appear to have a strange love affair with a lot of players who enter the club through the ever revolving door of loan signings.
Yes, there's been plenty of bumps in the road: Danny Butterfield is perhaps fortunate he left Lancashire with a head still attached to his shoulders, even though he too reached a level of cult-fondness (mostly because he was laughably inept), Steve de Ridder, much like Vladimir Wisse and Gael Kakuta, were only liked by fans who prefered to see the odd fancy flick than anything actually resembling effectiveness. Dedryck Boyata, despite having the best chant ever (which we sadly didn't sing too much) was a calamity waiting to happen, and is remarkably still playing for Manchester City and remember Benik Afobe and Owen Garvan? LOL.
Bolton fans fall in love quite easily, and nothing emphasises this more than the various loan signings over the years.
It all began, at least for me as a Bolton fan of tender years, in the Big Sam era. A plethora of utterly random footballers from across the entire globe came to play in windy Lancashire, under the godly figure of Sam Allardyce. Unfortunately, I did miss the vast majority of these due to only becoming a Bolton fan in his final season, so please, let me know below any others that Big Sam brought in. However, there were two players who I had the divined pleasure of watching, two who will remain in my heart until the day it stops beating.
The first one being the infamous El Hadji Diouf. After three years at Liverpool left Diouf's stock rather low, not exactly helped by his tendency to spit on people, he joined Bolton on loan in 2004, with his career hanging in the balance. He near on instantly became a hero to the fans and, with many thanks to Allardyce, re-found his form and became a great player for the club. Even when I wasn't a football fan I knew of Diouf, because every Bolton supporting child in my school would have his name on the back of their shirts, testament to how much he was loved by the fans. I only got to witness a season and half of Diouf's dazzling skill in a white shirt, and even though he broke my, and many others', heart by admitting in front of a room full of adoring fans that he would be leaving in the summer, the memories of him remain. The most prominent being his winner against Atletico Madrid at the Reebok and, in one of his last games for the club, the opener against Sunderland, in the game which practically guaranteed our Premier League survival.
The other being, probably quite obviously, my favourite ever footballer and the love of my life - Ivan Campo. The Champions League winner was originally captured by Sam Allardyce on a loan deal from giants of the game, Real Madrid, in the 2002-03 season. A liability at centre back initially, Big Sam moved the eccentric Spaniard into a holding midfield role where he found his groove in England, after a shaky start. The Bolton fans instantly fell in love with the floppy haired midfielder, and it must have brought a smile to many a face when he unexpectedly signed permanently for the club in the following summer. He would then spend a further five wonderful years in Bolton creating some of my, and probably yours, favourite memories as a Bolton fan. Like his 43 yard wonder striker on the opening game of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, in my first ever game, for instance. His stint would eventually end in tears as everybody's' favourite dickhead, Gary Megson, froze Campo out of the side without even giving him the chance to give a real goodbye to the fans, having to resort to a heart felt open letter that I'd imagine every Bolton fan goes back to read every now and then. Thankfully, I got to see my hero play on the Reebok turf one final (at least until SKD's testimonial!!!) time, in Jussi Jaaskelainen's testimonial game. Even then, his class, skill and sheer happiness at being on a football pitch outshone everyone else's.
The aforementioned Gary Megson had some fun in the loan market too, whilst the gems he brought to the club for a short stint of time never resonated on a platonic level, but will certainly be remembered for the numerous laughs they brought to the terraces. Polish forward Ebi Smolarek was the first one of note, and he was actually quite a good player, he was just never given a chance under Megson. Even after scoring a hat trick for his country, he was still not given a run of games in the first team and left the club having made a mere 12 appearances during the season, and not scoring once.
Upon selling Nicolas Anelka to Chelsea, Megson replaced him with the ageing and not very good, Grzeorz Raziak. He played seven games for the club and did precisely nothing of note during that time. His legacy is being a name that is often mentioned when remembering random players of Bolton past, much like this next one.
The ginger Mourinho's token on-loan striker in the following season went by the name of Ariza Makukula. The 6ft3" had a similar impact to Raziak in terms of goals, also scoring none in his six games. But at least Makukula did do something on the pitch that immediately endeared himself to the Bolton faithful, something that means I will never forget him. In his debut, against no other than Manchester United, he decided to charge straight through the back of United captain, and renowned mad head, Nemanja Vidić. The big Serb was sent crashing to the ground and it was glorious to behold.
When not signing random no-mark strikers from across the globe, Megson also brought a defender in on loan once too, who faired a little better than the previously mentioned strikers - scoring more goals than all of them combined. Big French defender, Sebastien Puygrenier, was drafted in from Zenit St. Petersburg. Why? I can't quite remember. But he made an instant impact, scoring a powerful header on his debut against Tottenham and helping the team to win the game 3-2. I have no real memory of Puygrenier past that game, but at least the one I do have is a fond one.
So with the love affair with on-loan players taking a bit of hit under the tyrannic reign of Megson, it was up to Owen Coyle to get it back on track. And boy, did he.
One of Coyle's first moves as Bolton boss was to bring in young Arsenal starlet, Jack Wilshere, on loan until the end of the season. The midfielder was excellent in his fourteen games for the club and I maintain it's the most consistent level of performances he's managed to muster in his entire career. He adapted well into Coyle's side, either playing in the middle or left side of the midfield, his dynamism and tidy passing was a big help in propelling the Whites away from the relegation zone. Once he returned to Arsenal in the summer, after scoring a single goal against West Ham United, rumours were rife that we were going to try and sign him in the summer. With Wilshere perhaps being a make weight in a deal to take Gary Cahill the other way, being particularly popular.
Thus began the vicious cycle of Bolton getting a player in on loan, him being very good, then the fans becoming attached and really wanting him to come back permanently, and it resulting in heartbreak. It's hurt us a few times.
In the next season Coyle brought in another highly thought of player, this time Benfica's Rodrigo Moreno on a season long loan. However, this one went more the way of Smolarek than Wilshere, as Rodrigo's chances in the Bolton side were inexplicably, incredibly limited. The Spaniard only made 17 appearances for the club, with the vast majority of those coming off the substitutes bench. Why he never got a chance we'll never know, but we're still left to wonder what might have been as Rodrigo went on to much better things with playing in the Champions League with Benfica. making his debut for Spain, and now playing for Valencia.
Stu Holden aside, the next loan acquisition was probably Coyle's smartest move as Bolton boss. He managed to secure the loan signing of Chelsea striker, Daniel Sturridge, until the end of the season. And he was incredible. From his debut in which he scored a last minute winner, to an equaliser against Arsenal, to all the other various goals he scored in-between. Just incredible. In only twelve games for the club he scored eight goals. There was a slight hope that we would sign him permanently the next season, but I think even the most optimistic of fans knew that that was practically impossible.
Despite the successes of the loan signings, and the reputation the club got of being a good place for youngsters to get experience, it wasn't until relegation and the reign of Dougie Freedman, would we really fall in love with players who joined the club on loan.
It was the final day of the summer transfer window, and Owen Coyle signed the infamously not very good, Jay Spearing, for the season on loan from Liverpool. I don't think many Bolton fans were too thrilled when the capture of the little scouser was announced, which made his first season at the club all the more enjoyable.
He was excellent in the middle of the park for us and quickly became the lynchpin in the Wanderers midfield. He was all action and brought the passionate, full-blooded tackles we all expected, but he also brought something extra too: he was very good, much to my astonishment, with the ball at his feet and was a very accomplished passer of the ball, with a fantastic set piece delivery too. So much so that I likened him to a Championship level hybrid of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, as was his grace whilst on the ball and his steely resolve and grit whilst off it.
Hyperbole? Perhaps a little, but Spearing was really that good during the course of his season here, and had he not missed the last few games though injury, we may have made the playoffs.
With his level of performances during the champaign, it was little surprise when the fans were calling for him to be signed on permanently in the summer. And in a rare case of the fans getting exactly what they wanted, to much jubilation, Spearing signed for the club in a deal worth £1.5m. He was given the #6 jersey and, soon enough, the arm band too, but unfortunately he never managed to consistently reach the high standards he set in that initial loan spell. Which resulted in the love the fans had for him quickly turning into contempt, and finally with Spearing being shipped out on loan to Blackburn Rovers after just 18 months.
Another player who joined the club on loan in the same season as Spearing was the incredible Craig Dawson. The centre back was a player I wanted Bolton to sign for a while, so when Freedman fought of completion from a host of clubs to secure his signature I was ecstatic, and he vindicated my happiness in no time.
He was the catalyst that began our upwards trajectory towards the play-offs, as he sent a calming influence throughout the whole team with just how incredibly solid he was at the back. Able to chip in with goals at the other end too, he instantly became a massively important player in the squad.
Thus, a summer of Bolton supporters crying out for his signature ensued. With the likelihood of it happening increasing and decreasing day-by-day it was a long summer of torment, which eventually ended in bitter disappointment.
Just as the next one did too.
After an utterly atrocious start to the season, Bolton, after hopes of challenging for the league in the summer, found themselves closer to the relegation zone by half way point in the season. With the drop to League One a very real possibility, it was another Freedman loan market masterstroke which improved our season, once again. Instead of a defender this time, however, it was a striker, by the name of Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Now, my love for Juke is incredibly well documented (like this poem for instance) and it's well merited. The striker, on loan from Middlesbrough, instantly fit in at the club and steered us clear of relegation. He scored a wide variety of goals, from looping volleys to scrappy tap ins. But his goals weren't the end of it, oh no: his versatility brought flexibility to Freedman's team selections and tactics, as he was able to play up on his own, with a partner, behind a striker or even out wide. He had a brilliant first touch, which allowed him to be able to hold up the ball and bring others into play, and he had the determination and drive to push the team forward.
He even brought the best out of Joe Mason for god sake!
And just like the season before with Dawson, a long transfer window of trying to acquire his services permanently began. This one was even closer than Dawson, and it genuinely seemed as if he was ours for the taking at one point. But Premier League side Burnley stole in, and the lure of top flight football was impossible to turn down, and then he was gone. It was genuinely, at least for me, heartbreaking when he signed for our Lancashire neighbours, and when he tweeted how he "felt like he'd left two clubs", well, then I was gone.
Unfortunately for Juke though, as many of us predicted, he hasn't taken too kindly to Premier League football and has seemingly found it difficult to adapt. He got a good spell in the side at the start of the season and was playing well, but failed to score a single goal and was quickly usurped by Ashley Barnes, who did score. Now with Sam Vokes back to full fitness, Jutkiewicz has found his opportunities extremely limited at Turf Moor.
So despite the bitter disappointment of not signing him the first time around, their is the slightest, most miniscule sliver of hope that we'll see him in a white shirt again one day. However deluded that may be.
Now we're coming to the end of the 2014/15 season, a year in which we've exploited the loan market to it's fullest, and we're in that situation once again where we have players on loan that we want to see return next year. Apart from this year it's about six: Barry Bannan, Adam Le Fondre, Ben Amos, Paddy McCarthy and even Rochinha and Saidy Janko. All players, to varying degrees, that fans want to see back playing under the Macron lights next season.
Will it end in disappointment like the rest? Almost definitely. But that's just love, ain't it?