Now, it may not come as a great galloping surprise that I do not, nor have hardly ever, rated Darren Pratley. Since he joined Bolton on a free transfer from newly promoted Swansea in July 2011, the name Darren Pratley has become synonymous with the downward spiral of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. Don't believe me? Then read on.
Now, there may have been a tongue in cheekness to my pre season predictions, but never in my wildest imagination did I believe that my prediction that if only Darren Pratley could be injured for a long time it would be for the good of the club actually come true.
When he joined the club he had been barely tested in the Premier League, having played one game, as a substitute, for Fulham in 2003, eight years before joining Bolton. Since then he had bounced around the lower leagues, first at Brentford on loan and then for Swansea. It was a strange signing. Sure, he had scored a goal from the halfway line in Swansea's play off semi final, but had been on the bench for the final and had been in and out of the team that season. On his signing, the north west's premier table tennis manager said "We're delighted to have Darren here. A number clubs were interested in him and we are pleased to have secured his services. He's an exciting player, who has the right character to blend into our squad. He is a good addition as we look to progress our club further in the upcoming season."
Now, Pratley wasn't the only player to join on a free, nor the only player whose signing raised a few eyebrows (Mears and N'Gog came in as well), but he was the only one with little to no Premier League experience. But all players deserve a chance, so we sat back to see what he could produce in a midfield that already contained Muamba, Petrov, Holden, Eagles, Bibi, Mavies, LCY and the newly signed Nigel Reo-Coker.
Oh yes, it all started so well, with the 4-0 victory at Loftus Road, Pratley coming on as an eighty third minute sub for Reo-Coker so not really having the chance to do anything to influence an already won game. He came on as sub for the next three games, all defeats to big clubs, doing nothing to suggest that he was someone who could change what was going on around him before starting at home against Norwich. We lost.
Are you seeing a pattern forming already?
Further starts against Arsenal (lost) and Chelsea (more blitz than loss) followed. Seven games into Dazza's career at Bolton and we stood rock bottom, those three points on opening day but a distant memory. Oh yes, you can say "well we played City, Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Chelsea in that time", something that we had complained about before opening day. But do you know who had agreed to join us before the opening fixtures were announced? Darren Pratley. What would have happened if he hadn't joined us. We would have probably got QPR, Wigan and Blackburn. At home.
We beat Wigan away the next game. Did he score? No. An assist? No. A booking? Of course. Over time, Dazza has been booked more times than that room at Hotel Football where you can meet Salford's finest ladies of the night and photograph them overlooking Old Trafford. Forty times in total. Does that show commitment? Probably. But, and lets face this, when you're getting booked more times than Kevin Davies, you need to have a look at yourself.
There is no real point in having a further look at the relegation season, we all know what happened. However, we had spent ten previous seasons in the top division with no real issues. Pratley turns up? Relegated? Pratley turns up. One of our players has a heart attack and dies for twenty minutes. In that season he scored once, making him the lowest scoring midfielder alongside Muamba, who had the excuse of being on life support.
Pratley turns up and the club's finances take a nosedive, almost into oblivion in his time at The Reebok/Macron.
Hey, remember the next season? We all thought that it was going to be OK as Prazza was now back at probably the right level for his talent? It was going to be great going to little grounds like Peterborough, Brighton and Barnsley. Hey, remember when we were eighteenth at the beginning of October and fired our manager? Hey, remember who got booked three times in his first five games? Now, credit where's it's due. As we went on the improbable run to almost the play offs, improbable due to the manager we had, Dazza was pretty much ever present, pitching in with an incredible....on no, he only got two. Two. That's two less than Keith Andrews got. Keith Andrews. Let that sink in. Keith Andrews scored more than Darren Pratley.
The next season brought another brief flirtation with relegation, but after beating Watford 2-0 on 22nd February, Wanderers managed to gain twenty nine points from a possible forty five to finish fourteenth. From the previous possible forty five, they gained eleven. Wait, what's this got to do with Dazza? Well, he was injured in the first half against Watford, and didn't play again that season. Remember that 7-1 trouncing by Reading, our worst defeat since before most of us were born? He played in that. Pratley gets injured, doesn't play, team plays well and wins games. Ring any bells.
I'm not going to bore you with the rest of the details, history has pretty much proved that the descent of Bolton Wanderers Football Club, relegation, financial misery, heart attacks, transfer embargoes, Dougie Freedman, can all be pinpointed back to the arrival of one man.
And he is also captain. If I was manager, I'd be getting the club chaplain to do an exorcism.
So, we come to this season. Now, seriously, I would never wish an injury on an individual and the injury he has suffered is a nasty one and I wish him a speedy recovery. BUT....since his injury we have won all four league games, including the one he suffered his injury against. Previously, if we had gone down to ten men, we'd have conceded within five minutes and then let in a last minute goal to lose. Not this time. Without Pratley, the team rose and keep rising in his absence. Jay Spearing may not be everyone's idea of a captain, but he brings more than the current permanent incumbent. The midfield appears to be more cohesive. And we are winning. We are winning without him. His injury is unfortunate, yes. But only for the individual concerned. For the team, for the club, for you, for me, it is a fucking godsend.
He will be out for ten more weeks. That takes us to the end of October. It should be longer. It should be forever. Say what you like about Darren Pratley, but history has proved that, as far as Bolton Wanderers are concerned, he should have come with a health warning.