My wife and I got married in October. In all of the stress of planning the wedding, we had made the easy decision to postpone our honeymoon for two reasons. First, we wanted to actually enjoy ourselves and winding down from over a year of getting everything in order for one day, we knew that it would be tough to do on a trip that immediately followed the party.
The other reason was that we simply wanted better weather than what mid-October in Europe would likely offer. We pushed the trip to the end of April of the following year.
It wasn’t as difficult as one might expect to talk her into spending part of that trip in Bolton, and as luck would have it, Bolton Wanderers were at home on the final day of the season right smack dab in the middle of our holiday.
I’ve been a Bolton Wanderers supporter for a relatively long time (for someone with no family or geographic ties to the area, anyway) but I have never had the chance to make it to the Macron Stadium. Timing and finances for a cross-Atlantic trip just never seemed to work out until now.
I had been lucky enough to see the Whites play in person on their last American preseason trip at the start of a season that would end in relegation but never lucky enough to make it to my club’s own stadium. Before that, it was all about watching the matches on TV, tuning into dodgy internet streams, and, after relegation to the Championship, listening on the radio thanks to the lack of streaming.
Now, it was finally happening: I was going to the Macron.
The Trotters were doing well in the league all year and as the months rolled on and the details were finalized, I became more and more hopeful that they’d make it easy and that the fans would be able to kick their feet up, relax, and party our way to automatic promotion.
However, because Bolton Wanderers are Bolton Wanderers, they didn’t make it easy and it all came down to the final day of the season where the only thing this team had to do was not lose. The Whites had not won on the final day of the season since 2010 and while there were some draws in that stretch, I try not to get my hopes up about anything Bolton-related. It was nervy going in.
The day approached and my good friend Chris, a manager of this here fine website, picked up my wife and I from our Manchester hotel to bring us to the stadium a couple of hours before kickoff for a bit of light shopping and a prearranged quick stadium tour. Many of you probably take it for granted now but having the stadium appear over the horizon for the first time was a wonderful sight and it set the stage for the day.
We arrived at the stadium and I did my best to clear out the shop of the things in my size because it’s so much easier in person than having to deal with the online store and the frankly absurd £20 shipping charge to the United States. We then proceeded to take a walk around the ground and I was amazed to see the players out in the open, talking to and taking pictures with the fans.
Typically in American sports, players park directly under the stadium or in a secured parking area and go right to the changing rooms, completely out of sight of everyone.
Here though, I was able to speak to Gary Madine, Derik Osede, Dean Moxey, Adam Le Fondre (who said he hoped they could make our trip worth it), and Super Kevin Davies.
Finally, I was able to finally see the statue of Nat Lofthouse up close. Back in 2013, this site’s cofounder, Matilda, and I cowrote a biography of the Lion of Vienna that ultimately made it into into a book about the statue itself as the introductory chapter. It was one of my proudest moments as a fan of this club and finally seeing the statue in person was a special moment.
The quick stadium tour followed and we were shown the tunnel and the pitch by Bolton’s Head of Marketing and Communications, Paul Holliday. Before we took a trip up to the press box though, I was presented with a matchworn David Wheater shirt (it smelled very, very sweaty) while meeting and taking a photo with the big chin himself. We were then taken up to the press area, got to meet the famous Marc Iles, and took in the view from the camera gantry. What a sight..
After the in depth look around the stadium, we made our way to our seats to watch the match. For much of the first half, I was on the edge of my seat, refreshing Fleetwood Town's official Twitter account for updates on their match. Then, Jem Karacan scored Bolton's first and I swear, I have never celebrated a goal that hard in my life. Sure, some have come close like Lee Chung-Yong’s winner against Birmingham City, Stuart Holden's goal at the death against Blackburn, or Landon Donovan's late winner against Algeria, but none were like this.
It was becoming a party atmosphere and then David Wheater made sure it would be one shortly after the break. Adam Le Fondre put the final nail in the coffin some 15 minutes from time after some wonderful work by Josh Vela and the party was on.
The final whistle blew and a large chunk of the lower portion rushed the pitch. After the initial wave, we made our way there as well and it was probably the happiest place on Earth. Thousands of people celebrating in the confines of roughly 110 yards by 72 yards. Everyone was jubilant, including a shirtless Josh Vela who was in our immediate area.
After the celebrations died down and the field was cleared, the trophy was raised and the lap of honor was completed.
Standing ovations all around.
Bolton Wanderers gave me a day I won't soon forget.