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A Generation Game

A rare match, but when it occurs, you remember why you are addicted to Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

Post match pitch invasion and celebration
Ian Firth

Every so often, once a decade if we are lucky, a football match takes place, where the result has absolutely massive implications for our clubs future, be it a history making cup win, promotion or defying relegation and, of course, the associated financial riches or turmoil.

Most older fans will have at least one game that they treasure. That win against the odds, snatching undreamed of joy from the jaws of despair.

For me, the 1995 Reading playoff final is one of those games. A missed penalty away from being 3-0 down at halftime, but eventual 4-3 winners after extra time. The Bayern Munich comeback, to grab a draw after being 2-1 down, against one of the games giants and hence ensure a stay in Europe, is another. Last Sunday, a whole new generation of Bolton fans witnessed, what, in so many ways, is the ultimate football match.

Pre-match, opinion was split as to whether we would be relegated or stay up. Whilst a win was a tall ask for a team who’s confidence was on the floor, our relegation rivals were just as crap and they had tough away matches. The added worry was how could a club as financially stressed as ours survive another season in League One, irrespective of squad reductions and smaller player contracts?

Then the line up was announced, as the echo of chins hitting the floor rattled around the Macron, not for the first time, I wondered if Parky had taken leave of his senses. Yep Wilbs was upfront going solo with both ALF and Noone on the bench. Straws were grasped and conspiracy theories abounded, as we made our way from pubs and cars to stadium seats.

However, a surprisingly entertaining first half was had, where our team turned up and actually played competitive football, against a Forest team that had rather annoyingly forgotten to put on their flip flops.

We had the ball bouncing around their goal line, that could’ve only been stopped from crossing the line by some fecking hex from a bitter Bradford fan. Then there was Wilbs missing that simplest of simple headers, when it would’ve been easier to do a Ronaldo dribble around six players before scoring from 25 yards into the top bin.

It wasn’t all one way of course. Where did Forest get that Brereton fella from? To quote another comment I’ve just read, he couldn’t hit a cows arse when sat on it. What a sitter that was he missed!

Halftime came, we find out that Barnsley & Burton are losing, we just need that goal. The teams come out and, of course, our most consistent player, Alnwick, has an injury no show. Howard it is. Bloody hell.

One hour in, Barnsley have succumbed to a spanking fetish, but Burton are level, with Preston also having a man sent off, the bastards. Meanwhile, the Ole chants are out as ALF comes on. Then ALF scores! Why didn’t he start? Can Bolton survive 25 mins without conceding? Surely we can’t pull this one out the bag?

Sure enough, Osborn is given the keys to the Bolton net, as our lads switch off as one to watch him score a goal. Then it’s two down and us cynics, who’ve seen it all before, can only shrug, because we just knew that Bolton weren’t good enough. Heads will drop, we will be lucky if we just lose this 3-1. Sure enough, the away fan wind up chants start but, strangely, it’s as if they are in another world, because our world is fully focused on the failing team in front of us. Fans start leaving, the first of many no doubt.

And then with under five minutes left, it changed. Unluckily for those that left, but balls to them, as I’ve never understood why people leave a game early.

Wheater scores, it seems like a scuff but maybe he just scared the ball into the back of the net. Game on but my cynicism says that will be it, Bolton forever one goal away from salvation.

What happened just three minutes later will stay with me for the rest of my life, alongside that Worthington goal, Jay Jays winner against West Ham, you get the picture.

Parky’s main ploy this season has been defend deep and play counter attacking football. For too many games to mention since Madine left, that tactic has morphed into hoof ball to the midget up front.

Not in the 88th minute it didn’t. A low boot out by Howard was met with a sublime flick on by Henry. ALF picked up the ball, made some room and crossed. That man Wilbraham had lost his marker. As one us fans stand up, a roar starts, Aaron is up for this one. Sure enough an absolute beauty of a placed header puts us in front. Bollocks to cynicism. What a fraud that’s turned out to be. Suddenly, it all comes back, that love, that passion, that belief, that absolute desire that we have to win this game.

An eternity later it seemed, they lads only went and did it. Emotional release valves are fully open, I’m physically shaking. I look around and see more than one old‘un with tears in their eyes, people leaping around, some not really knowing what to do, overcome or stunned with what had taken place in front of them.

A nod at this point to the majority of the Forest fans. Football is a game where weakness and failure is mercilessly pounced upon. However, most fans acknowledge victory against the odds and the Forest fans were no exception. Standing to applaud the scenes in front of them, probably remembering 12 months earlier, when it was they who were running around a pitch like lunatics.

What a game. What. A. Bloody. Game.

As for Parky and the players, I’m sure that whatever their background with previous clubs and whatever happens this coming summer, they will remember this one game for Bolton as a highlight of their career. And rightly so.