There is always a problem when you write about a football club. Unless your team is battling for honours, most of what you write is a constant diatribe about how rubbish your team is. Even Arsenal fans, who constantly win stuff, want their manager out. They may have a point of course. And, as a Bolton Wanderers fan, over the past few years it has been easy to poke the club with a very large stick.
So, I want to tell you about something the club do really well and you may not be aware about. However, before I get to that, I will tell you a story, as I have to flesh up my word count.
When Bolton were promoted to the Premier League in 2001 my mother, the hard as nails Mrs X Snr, wondered if she might come to some games. As I couldn't guarantee that she would get a seat next to mine during the momentous season, she bought a season ticket and I moved my seat. I advised her that she couldn't be a fair weather supporter and would have to come to FA Cup and League Cup games as well. And she did. Rain or shine. We used to park beyond the Brinsop Inn on Chorley Road, which is a good two mile walk there and back. Fair enough, it took her two years to remember how to pronounce Jussi Jaaskelainen. But she did note straight off that Michael Ricketts had a massive arse and wore boots a size too small for him. Over the next six years, she barely missed a game, although she didn't come to the last home game of the 2002-03 season due to nerves. She said she wouldn't know how she would react if we went down. I could tell you how she reacted when I got home and she immediately told me that she couldn't believe that we let Ricketts score, but there will be young eyes reading.
When I moved to London we both gave up our season tickets, which was a shame. However, it was around this same time that she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Not noted for falling over when she had had a drink, she started to do this on a regular basis. Naturally, I followed suit. Well, any old excuse. The doctor told her that she would have about seven to eight years when medication would be able to let her lead a normal enough life, but eventually...... Well, eventually didn't bear thinking about.
Every so often, we would go to Bolton home games, her disabled badge coming in very handy and allowing us to park pretty much anywhere and not have to pay for parking. And she would always come to London whenever we played The Arse as they have "Very comfy seats. Why can't Bolton have comfy seats?".
About eighteen months ago she had to give up her driving licence and now relies on taxis or ambivalent children to take her places. The woman who used to march up and down the hills of the Lake District stating that our destination is "just around the corner", when it obviously wasn't, has now gone. (I remember seeing a poster of Muhammad Ali once which said that he once fought for belts and now has difficulty fastening one, which pretty much sums Mrs X Snr up). Her mind is still sharp as a tack though, which is a always a laugh when people are talking to me about her when she is there and she asks if there is an issue and would they like her to speak to them in one of the five languages she knows.
Naturally, as the disease has taken hold, we stopped going to games together. But, now I'm back in the north, we've been looking for an opportunity to go again. However, we have been held back by how we would go about getting there and, indeed, getting in.
So, I emailed Daniel Scott at the club, whose name I found at levelplayingfield.org.uk. Daniel is the disabled supporters contact at the club. I asked him details about where we could go and how to get tickets etc. Daniel replied pretty much immediately, gave me his direct number and said that we could sit in the Duke of Lancaster' Regiment suite. Now, for those who don't know where this suite is, it's the glass box in the corner between the North Stand and the Lofthouse Stand. As soon as the tickets went on sale, he said, give me a call.
So I did. Although Daniel wasn't in the office, it wasn't an issue. The conversation went something like this.
"I'd like two tickets for the Hull game. My mother is disabled and Daniel said we could watch the game from the Duke of Lancaster's".
"No problem, that will be five pounds"
"Yes, five pounds"
"What about parking?"
"It's free, just show a disabled badge to the staff on the car park gates"
"Errrr.....great". I thought I'd mugged the club.
When the tickets came, it was, indeed, a fiver. I went in free as her carer. So, on Saturday morning, I loaded her, her stroller and her Bolton scarf into the car, trotted up the M61, went straight through the barrier, parked next to the ground and we were in in ten minutes. Up in the lift, we did initially end up on the North Stand upper concourse, as there are no signs in the lift telling you where you are, but we did find the right place quickly.
We wandered into the room at about midday and were met by the room steward and the BWDSA liaison. They both took great care of Mrs X Snr, complained about the ticket we had been given next to a stantion, as they are always telling the ticket office not to sell that position unless it's sold out, but moved us a couple of seats along. The room steward brought a comfy chair along, emblazoned with an away shirt (a blue Reebok away shirt with 188Bet on it, but you can't have everything I guess) and then we were given the history of the room.
It was originally the BT Suite but BT didn't really do anything with it and disabled supporters were allowed to sit there during games. It had concrete on the floor which meant you had to stamp your feet when you left the room to get the dust off, and a corrugated roof, which leaked. There was little to no heating and no speakers, so you were cold and couldn't get the atmosphere. A few years ago, the club were awarded a £30,000 grant to upgrade disabled facilities and included in the work the roof was lowered, heating was put in, the floor was redone and a television was installed. The room was then renamed as The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment Suite. Up until the beginning of this season there was even complimentary tea and coffee but, as with all things needed to be cut back, this fell by the wayside. No issue really, as the upper concourse of the North Stand is like a ghost town compared to the Premier League years, so nipping up and down for a drink takes no time.
This is a fantastic resource and the club should be commended for having it. We had worried that Mrs X Snr wouldn't really be able to go to a game again but now we are talking about season tickets (although as one of my relatives said when I told them I was taking her to The Macron "What? Are you trying to finish her off?") If we did, her carer goes in free, something that not many clubs do. I can't comment on the facilities outside the suite for disabled supporters and do know that, historically at least, away fans at The Macron don't get the same kind of access. But to thinking that we may never go again to talking about going all the time? We must need our heads examining.
And to top it off, we won. And she didn't have as much difficulty being able to pronounce Ben Amos.
And, yes, even at her age and with her disease, she's still a better player than Dorian Dervite.