Last week, our very own Dan Murphy wrote about how he came to be a Bolton Wanderers supporter, and how he so nearly fell into the grasps of his Manchester United supporting family (you should read it by clicking here). That piece then got me thinking about all the Whites' rivals, and if we actually do have any.
Bolton is a big town. With a population of roughly 275,000, it is the UK's biggest town. Bordering Wigan, Blackburn with Darwen, Bury and Salford, it seems like we've never been short of a local away day. It does seem, however, that we lack a genuine rival. Tottenham will always have Arsenal. Stanley Park will always split Red from Blue in Merseyside. Glasgow will forever have the sometimes vicious Celtic/Rangers division. Do the Wanderers lack that? Let's take a look at the teams around us, and see whether anyone gives two shades of the brown stuff about us.
Manchester United are like that kid in Year 11. Football team captain. Hard as nails. Goes out with the best looking girl in school. We've always hated United as much as we admire them. Yes, Salford is red, and borders Bolton, but ask any Manchester United fan about their feelings towards us and you'll get an underwhelming response. An unidentified friend of mine described Bolton as "an inbred bunch of little significance to us". Nice. So that's a non-starter, although older Mancunians like him still hold a grudge for ruining the script at the 1958 FA Cup final. Decades and decades of success have seen that soon wear away, though. Next.
Sticking with the school days theme, Citeh are like the kid you went to primary school with, but when you went to the local comp, he went to a private secondary school. And although everybody now thinks he's the dog's nadgers, you can still remember when he couldn't make a photo frame out of dried pasta. You might have David Silva now, but we remember Kiki Musampa. There's never really been any hatred there, mostly because City have got bigger fish to fry (see above).
We played Bury in the Capital One Cup for the first time in what felt like decades in August of last season. Although I've always been told that they are our "traditional" rivals, the match attracted a paltry crowd of 9,249. Granted, Bury brought a fair few fans, but the buzz just wasn't there. Maybe years of the Shakers yo-yoing in the lower leagues has, especially from the home crowd (surprise surprise), removed what once was a local rivalry. But no more.
Now this is the one for me. Blackburn away is the first fixture I look for when the list comes out. It is the one team that I absolutely hate losing to, and celebrate for days when we win. It's the one fixture that I get that beautiful, horrible, sweet adrenaline rush for the morning of the game. Djorkaeff 2004. Campo 2006. Holden 2010. And now Heskey 2014. Those goals are celebrated above and beyond most others. Not because they were technically brilliant, but because they were decisive goals against that lot. There's just one problem. Like Manchester United before us, Blackburn Rovers just don't seem to care in the same way we do. And the reason is the team below.
Yes, our good friends Burnley. Matches against the Wanderers pale into insignificance when compared to the Dingle Derby. Both Clarets and Rovers will agree. This fixture heated up a bit when Owen Coyle decided to leave Turf Moor for the Reebok when both sides were fighting for Premier League survival, but the spark just isn't there. The lack of bitterness when Burnley were promoted in 2013/14 and a lack of celebration at their subsequent relegation speaks volumes. So it isn't them either.
On paper, this seems like the natural choice. Neither has a "natural" rival. The towns border one another. Younger fans may see Wigan as their rival, as they've only been punching at our weight for 10 years or so. But those days are gone. Wigan are back in the lower ebbs of the football league, never to be seen again. Thanks for your efforts Latics, but you fell just short. Never mind, lads.
Like Bury, this is a team that we haven't had the pleasure of playing against in recent years. I mean, it was brilliant spanking them at Cardiff in the 2001 Play Off final, but it doesn't have the spice that a derby should. Who knows, a Jermaine Beckford winner at the Macron might resurface some old feelings. And the Mayor of Bolton might drop his kecks at Preston Town Hall steps. Both are equally likely (or unlikely) to happen.
The tragic killing of Kevin Olsson in 1974 has always given this fixture a particularly nasty side. Blackpool fans hate, and I mean despise, Bolton Wanderers. But it's for all the wrong reasons. This isn't a rivalry steeped in tradition (the 1953 Matthews FA Cup final aside), but the effects of 1970s hooliganism. My personal experiences with Seasiders' fans means that I have taken great pleasure in their demise, but as a football fan it isn't nice to see a club driven into the ground by a power hungry (add expletive here) who couldn't care less about the club he owns. I don't think that we'll be seeing much of Blackpool again.
I'm of the opinion that Bolton Wanderers are one of those rare clubs without a real rival team. The ones we care about don't seem to care about us, and vice versa. However, it does have its benefits. Travelling fans are spolit with the prospect of Deepdale, Turf Moor and Ewood Park next season, whereas Newcastle United fans have to look forward to one game at the Stadium of Light. I know which situation I'd rather be in.
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