Phil Parkinson took over at Bolton Wanderers at comfortably the lowest point in my lifetime. The club had just dropped out of the Championship quicker than El-Hadj Diouf trying to win a free kick. To add to that dismal season on the pitch Bolton were in a precarious financial position and uncertainty reigned supreme.
This was the crescendo of a number of years where Bolton were becoming increasingly dysfunctional as a club. On dropping into the third tier many thought we could but in a decent showing and have ourselves in an around the top six. I do not think though that I will have been the only one concerned by how badly we might do, and by how long it could take to break back out of League One.
Then along came Parky. His record at Bradford spoke for itself. He dragged the club away from the treat of relegation from the football league and back to League One with some remarkable results against the likes of Chelsea thrown in for good measure. He seemed like the man for the job, but under such constraints, with such an ingrained losing mentality, how much was possible in the first season?
A lot was the answer to that. After flying out of the blocks with four straight wins Bolton hit a rough patch but were able to recover from that, and other slumps, in order to win automatic promotion on the last day of the season, and what a day that was. Despite constantly losing his best players, Zach Clough, Sammy Ameobi and the customary Bolton injuries to the likes of Darren Pratley, he somehow guided the club out of the third tier against the weight of history.
I say against the weight of history because firstly Bolton had never bounced straight back from the third tier, albeit we have not been down there all that often. Secondly, and more importantly, no club had ever gained promotion under a football league transfer embargo. But then along comes Parky, taking over a club seemingly rotten to its core and he pulls it off.
It seemed everyone at the club entered the next season in the Championship with a united purpose, finish above the relegation zone, however close it may be.
After an historically bad start to the campaign, one so bad that no second tier side has ever avoided relegation, Parky slowly yet surely turned the ship around. By the end of January a club which seemed dead and buried after eleven games was right back in the race, and at one point it even looked like we might break clear of the relegation fight, despite once again losing our best player in Gary Madine. Then it seemed we had run our race. A six point cushion turned to dust and Bolton entered the last weekend in the drop zone feeling like it’s the hope that kills you.
Those feelings would be lived out again over the following ninety minutes as Bolton went from being safe to relegated within three second half minutes, and then from relegated to safe within another two. Seldom are great escapes quite that great. They speak to the mentality of an entire footballing unit, a mentality that comes from the top.
When Burton Albion though we were dead and buried somehow Parky had installed the belief into a team seemingly down and out that we were not. The Macron stadium has never seen anything quite like it, and probably never will again.
Possibly the moment of the season, and what is one of the best sounds I've ever heard, in the 89th minute Aaron Wilbraham scores Bolton's second goal in a minute to turn the game against Forest on its head 3-2, keeping them in the Championship. Astonishing. #bwfc pic.twitter.com/mdyXFQAzn2— Best Goal Sounds (@bestgoalsounds) May 6, 2018
In two years at the club he has smashed the record books and redefined what a team in Bolton’s position can do. Where there was once despair there is now hope, the hope that something new and exciting is being built at Bolton. No doubt we will be installed as favourites to be relegated again next season. Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers will have to do it all again and exceed expectations, and who is to say they will not?
Phil Parkinson, Bolton Wanderers fans are having the time of their lives, and we owe it all to you.