Following chapter one last week (read here) now it's time for the second instalment of my 'The Rise and Fall' series.
This one was really hard to write. How could you possibly encapsulate the 2001-2004 years with one player alone? The ice cold captain Gudni Bergsson? The composed and flawless Bruno N'Gotty? The magician that was Jay-Jay Okocha?It's simply impossible.
It was a wonderful time to be a Wanderer. Saturday trips to the Reebok were mesmerising. Still punching above our weight. Still taking on the big boys. Still staying up by the skin of our teeth. Something, however, had started to change...
Bolton were becoming fashionable.
Before the "long ball" moans and groans from Wenger and Benitez had started to stick, little Bolton were everybody's second team for a while. And what a time it was if they were your first.
The story for me has to start with with the 2002 World Cup. Ant and Dec were on the ball. The Golden Generation were off to the Far East. And I was in Lanzarote, going to a sports bar for breakfast to catch England v Nigeria.
Wanderers had been linked in the press with Jay-Jay Okocha. Rumours abound that he'd already signed a contract.
The game was hardly a spectacle, England doing enough to go through in a 0-0 draw in the group of death. Nigeria captain Okocha ripped Nicky Butt apart. Manchester United's Nicky Butt. Premier League winner Nicky Butt. Dad managed to deflate my mood entirely when he said "there's no way we'll sign him".
I believed him.
I was gutted.
We were wrong.
The rest is history.
What a magic football player.
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say he was the second most important signing that season, though we had to wait until February for it. World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 winner, Youri Djorkaeff.
Now disgraced TV pundit Stuart Hall brought Djorkaeff to Phil Gartside's attention in the summer of 2002. Estranged from his current club Kaiserslautern, Djorkaeff might be available on a free. But with the club setting its sights on Okocha, worried about funds and Kaiserslautern dragging their heels for a fee, Youri was left to rot in the reserves.
The story went from rumour to saga to marathon to ordeal, but by February, Gartside's negotiations with Kaiserslautern and Allardyce's one man trips to Germany persuaded both club and player to agree to the switch.
His contract was cancelled in Germany, and Youri was a Wanderer.
He wasn't the first marquee signing. We already had N'Gotty and Okocha. But he was the pinnacle.
A World Cup winner.
It was this signing that sent a statement out to the Premier League: we're here, and we've not made plans for leaving.
Sam Allardyce called it "the biggest signing in the club's history": he was right at the time, and an argument could still be made that he remains the biggest player to join Bolton Wanderers in our history, but feel free to disagree. It was this big name that would persuade the Campos, Hierros, Anelkas and Giannakopouloses of the world to take the leap to Lancashire.
I could talk about Djorkaeff all day. Where Okocha was the Ferrari, chaotic, unpredictable and mesmerising, Youri was an Aston Martin. Nothing troubled him, opponent nor task. He made the sublime simple. You could not take your eyes of him. Just too good to be true. From his effortless overhead kick to equalise against Charlton in February 2003, to his brace in a 2-1 win against Everton at Goodison Park in 2002, Le God not only made and scored goals, but he created magic at crucial times.
Youri left in 2004 at the age of 35 after scoring 20 goals in 75 games. He joined Blackburn. The less we say about that, the better. Let's not let that tarnish a beautiful time to be a Wanderers fan.
Djorkaeff joined a small club punching above its weight in the Premier League. He left a team destined for European football. What a player he was.
One of the most, if not thee most, gifted players ever to wear the badge.