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The European Adventure Begins - A Decade On

10 years ago, Bolton Wanderers were making history.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

It's the 15th September 2005, Dare by Gorillaz is number 1 in the charts, and Bolton Wanderers are about to make history. They're about to embark on the club's first ever European fixture, at the Reebok Stadium, against Bulgarian side Lokomotiv Plovdiv.

The decade leading up to this momentous occasion was one of the most successful in the club's history. Two league cup finals, an FA Cup sem-final and three promotions to the Premier League, including a record breaking season in 1997. The club's own transfer record was broken five times, on Chris Fairclough, Gerry Taggart, Robbie Elliott, Dean Holdsworth and El Hadji Diouf, respectively.

The Whites had also become an established Premier League side during this time. After promotion in 2001, Bolton went from strugglers to a comfortable top half side.

In four short years, Bolton went from strength to strength. The season before the European campaign, Bolton reached their highest ever Premier League finish of 6th. 

04/05 table

Looking back, it's amazing to think Wanderers finished only three points behind the Champions League places, as well as being level on points with the Champions League winners Liverpool.

Right, on to the game itself. Lokomotiv Plovdiv were an unknown prospect for Bolton. Looking back at the starting line up for Plovdiv, there's only one player that I recognise, Aleksandar Tunchev, who had a spell with Leicester City after leaving Plovdiv.

Bolton's starting up was just incredible. Stalwarts Jussi Jaaskelainen and Ricardo Gardner were joined by a wealth of international and European talent. In defence, there was local lad Nicky Hunt at right back, Henrik Pedersen, although usually a striker, had become an alternative to play at left back. The two centre back's were Bruno N'Gotty and Radhi Jaidi.

The midfield was just sensational. Gardner was joined by Champions League Winner Ivan Campo, European Championship winner Stelios, the captain was the Nigerian wizard, so good they named him twice, Jay Jay Okocha and the "Japanese David Beckham", Hidetoshi Nakata. At the time, Nakata was the most expensive Asian player ever, costing Parma 28 million Euros in 2001. The sole striker was El Hadji Diouf, who had just become Bolton's record signing, for a fee of £4 million.

Bolton began the game strongly. As you would expect with a Big Sam team, they were winning everything in the air. Bruno N'Gotty went close to opening the scoring when he beat Plovdiv keeper Stoyan Kolev to Nakata's cross in the fourth minute but saw his header bounce wide of the goal.

Plovdiv were on the back foot for the first twenty minutes of the game. However, coming up to the half hour mark, they used this to their advantage. Out numbering Bolton on a counter attack, Plovdiv took the lead after a goal from Jancevski.

Despite having the larger share of the ball, Bolton struggled to carve out any decent chances, and went in at half time 1-0 down.

The game changed for the better mid way into the second when Jared Borgetti and Kevin Nolan were brought on off the bench. After 70 minutes, Nolan, enraged by a Plovdiv player who went down soft, played on. The ball found it's way to Hunt, who crossed it to the far post towards Diouf, who scored with a fantastic diving header.

It was fitting that Diouf scored Bolton's first ever UEFA cup goal. He scored to goal to take us to Europe, so it was right that he was the one to score the first in Europe. He, along with players like Kevin Davies, epitomised the squad at that time. Players with less than encouraging reputations, the gritty underdog who proved everybody wrong.

The Reebok erupted. 1-1. The sound of Amarillo, a song by 70's crooner Tony Christie, echoed around the ground. ' Sha la la lala lalala, El Hadji Diouf will spit on you', the fans sang. The song had become an anthem for the Whites, and Bolton born Peter Kay used it as a charity single for Comic Relief. Never seen the video? You can watch it in all it's glory, including dwarves wearing Bolton shirts walking the Coronation street cobbles, by clicking here. Tony Christie even came to Bolton to turn on the Christmas Lights in 2004.

Back to the game, and after Diouf's goal, Bolton were frantically looking for a winner, but were continually being frustrated by Plovdiv's attempts to run the clock down by diving. As a ten year old watching this game, the one thing that stick's out was the amount of diving the Plovdiv players did. Maybe it was a European thing, but I had never seen that amount of con work on a football pitch before. I'm pretty sure a player went off on a stretcher, only to jump back up and come back onto the pitch. It sure seemed like that anyway.

The game was reaching it's end, and as the full time whistle loomed, Bolton got one more chance. A Fabrice Fernanades cross was headed on by Nakata into the path of Jared Borgetti, Mexico's all time leading goalscorer, who lashed the ball into the bottom corner.


The Reebok erupted again, as the Trotters were seconds away from winning their first ever European fixture. Plovdiv players were enraged, believing Borgetti had been offside, but their pleas went unnoticed. The goal stood, and Bolton had won.

Bolton went to Bulgaria and won the reverse fixture 2-1, meaning the Whites had qualified for the group stages. Bolton went on to face Besiktas, Zenit St Petersburg, Portugeuse side Vitória de Guimarães, and Sevilla (the winners of the UEFA cup that season) in the group stages. Wanderers remained unbeaten, progressing to the last 32, where they met French side Olympique Marseille. A 0-0 draw at The Reebok was followed by a 2-1 defeat at the Stade Vélodrome.

It was a fantastic journey for Bolton and the fans. It didn't matter if you grew up watching Peter Reid, Sam Allardyce and Frank Worthington, David Lee, John McGinlay and Andy Walker, or Kevin Davies, Jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff. It was brilliant for all Wanderers fans.

Tonight, Bolton face Sheffield Wednesday, sitting 16th in the Championship table. The European days and the world class players may have gone, but the memories of both European campaigns will always remain with every Bolton fan.

You can watch highlights of the Lokomotiv Plovdiv match by clicking here.

Have any great memories of Bolton in Europe? You can share them in the comments box below.