Remember the day: Saturday 4th October 1997 (around 4.44pm)
More than twenty years on and it is still the highlight of my time watching Bolton Wanderers. It was our first season playing at the Reebok and we were back in the Premiership after being promoted as champions from the old Football League First Division the season before.
For all those who weren’t born or simply cannot recall that glorious afternoon, Serbian Savo Milosevic scored the winner for Aston Villa in the 12th minute but the result at the time took a back seat. A minute from time, right in front of the East Stand Lower, Wanderers’ centre half Andy Todd had a bit of a skirmish and handbags incident before kicking seven bells out of Aston Villa’s notorious centre forward, Stan Collymore. We were close enough to here the ‘smack’ of Todd’s fists hit the side of his head as pathetic Stan groaned whilst the punches rained down.
To the right of me, an older ‘gentleman’ in the stand that day (who up until now had been relatively quiet all season) was showering down expletives on the afore mentioned Collymore in unison with Andy Todd’s punches. In a strange way, it really was quite poetic. Me and my mate were smiling, giving the older chap encouraging nods of approval as he gave it to him both barrels. Now I’m certainly not condoning violence or swearing of course, but the passion and pure hatred for the opposition was there for all to see that day, from both player and fan. The following morning’s newspaper supplement had a photo emblazoned across the centre pages of Todd, with fist poised and utter disdain in his eyes, aiming another punch at Collymore.
Ahhh I was proud to be a Wanderer.
Those of you not familiar with Andy Todd, he was the son of our once manager Colin Todd and he was a total hothead, and that’s certainly what he gave Stan the man that Saturday afternoon. He left Bolton under a cloud not long after breaking Browny’s cheek and jaw bone in a Wanderers ‘team bonding’ session. Enough said.
We went on to lose that match 1-0 in a season which would see us relegated, but the result was irrelevant that day. Right there epitomised the life and times of a Wanderers fan. We lost, but the passion mattered more. What mattered was, as a young fan, we could see what it meant to a Bolton player, and as a fan no matter what age, underneath our emotions run high and in unison.
These days I hear some of the older generation describe our younger fans as hooligans and maybe they do take it a step too far sometimes - Port Vale away last year springs to mind, but they are young, our life blood, our future and their passion will live long. It’s these younger fans who have had it tough. They started watching us when we were riding high, when the Okochas, Djorkaeffs, and Nicky Hunts of this world played with such aplomb and it has been downhill ever since for those fans. The older generation know Bolton Wanderers never do things easy or by the book, we lose when we’re expected to win, win when we’re expected to lose. That’s just how it is and always will be.
But like me back then, and Bonnie Tyler in the 80s for that matter, they just need a hero, someone for them to channel that passion towards, someone who has that bit of bite and fight in midfield, a cult hero to step forward.
From a footballing point of view that’s where we are lacking big time. In my view, we’re too soft for this division. We’re too nice. Birmingham came to the Macron on Tuesday night without any trepidation or fear at all; they saw it as a great opportunity to extend their winning run and with nearly 5,000 Brummies behind them it was an uncomfortable watch. There lies the problem, teams aren’t scared of us or intimidated and that needs to change.
Don’t get me wrong, I know Pratters as a professional is right up there. Parky has his team sheets ready printed with his name on them, but is a captain running for 90 minutes and being a good example to other team mates enough? I don’t think it is.
Do we need another Andy Todd? Certainly not, but we do need a midfield general who shows the opposition who’s in charge and gives the fans someone out there on the pitch to rally around, someone who mirrors the passion and fight shown in the stands.
But I’m talking of someone in the Joey Barton mould, Gennaro Gattuso, Nigel de Jong or even the loveable rogue Jamie Pollock for that matter - just someone who has that presence to put the opposition on the back foot and strike up some fear even before the teams come out. Trouble is we need that fight now to get us over the line and I’m not sure we have that in the squad at the moment. Getting that quality of player in will certainly cost a few quid, but that would be at the top of my shopping list in the summer.