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Played For Both: Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Gavin McCann

Ahead of tonight’s clash of the winless, we take a walk down memory lane to reflect on a true winner

Bolton Wanderers v West Ham United - Carling Cup
Big Gav McCann: what a player
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Tonight’s Championship basement battle between Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers promises to be either an absolute humdinger or a turgid stalemate. With one side facing an unimaginable Football League record 19 games without a win and the other going into the clash without a win in 32 Championship away games, I can’t decide which.

With that in mind, I think it seems only appropriate to reflect on a player who was either great or crap, I don’t think anyone knows. The fact that Bolton fans sang the following about him with more than a hint of irony is testament to this:

“He dribbles and he passes, He tackles and harasses, He gets up peoples asses, He's better than Zidane.”

Blackpool-born Gavin McCann, now 39, began his career with Everton but spent the vast majority of it playing for tonight’s two sides.

After making just 11 appearances for the Goodison Park side McCann moved north east to Sunderland, where the highlight was being part of the side that racked up 105 points on the way to the Division One title in 1999. He also managed to earn his solitary England cap, in a friendly against Spain at Villa Park in 2001.

After playing 135 games for Sunderland, scoring 13 goals, McCann moved on to pastures new with Aston Villa, where he made a further 129 games and scored 5 goals during a largely injury-hit spell.

Because we love an injury, McCann then of course signed for Bolton for £1 million in 2007. His first two goals came in the UEFA Cup, and they were vital ones too. The first was a thunderous winner in a 1-0 away victory over Red Star Belgrade and the second saw us earn a draw at home to Sporting Lisbon. You can watch the win over Belgrade below, with a headbanded McCann’s goal at 8:13.

He had to wait until April for his first league goal for the club, also a winner in a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough, which proved to not only be his one and only league goal for the club but also his last ever professional goal.

McCann, lovingly known as Badger, became somewhat of a fans hero despite only making a total of 87 appearances for Bolton, scoring three goals. And that cult status has been recognised by one nutty Wanderers fan in the below montage:

Injuries once again hit McCann at the end of the 2010 season, and an ankle injury eventually cut short his career at the age of 33. After retiring he remained at the club in a coaching capacity and is still with Bolton as an Under-18s coach, working with head coach Nicky Spooner.

McCann launched his own football academy in tandem with childhood friends former Blackpool player Jamie Milligan and former Fleetwood Town player John Hills back in February 2008, which was based in Lytham St Annes. The Milligan-McCann Academy landed a sponsorship deal with Northern Care and was aimed at encouraging youngsters to play more football.

McCann’s longest lasting legacy may well be the controversy surrounding his transfer to Bolton, which pointed to some of the shady deals that apparently went down at Bolton during that era. The player, then assistant manager Sammy Lee and chairman Phil Gartside, and agent Jerome Anderson were taken to court by another agent Tony McGill over claims that he was cut out of the midfielder’s transfer from Villa.

Alas, nothing came of it due to a lack of evidence, but it was last year found that Lee had lied about the club’s involvement in the deal. But perhaps the most interesting point of this case is the emergence of a text message in which McCann calls his former Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill a “weirdo.”