The EFL Trophy was created in 1983 quite simply to allow clubs outside the top two English divisions a realistic chance of a day out at Wembley. It not only brought in some much needed cash in a decade when English football really was on its arse, but gave lower league fans a taste of what a Wembley final was all about at that famous old stadium.
Unfortunately, it’s reason for being was effectively removed just seven years later. The introduction of a Wembley sudden death final format in 1990 for the later and far more successful EFL creation, the Football League Play-Offs, should have killed off what was a tinpot trophy.
Nevertheless, it did have a sort of pomp in the eighties and Bolton fans of that era had a taste of it. Not the 3-0 walloping by Bristol City in the 86 Freight Rover Trophy final of course. But that fantastic Sherpa Van Trophy final of 89 when, after an admittedly slow start, we played some beautiful football to trounce Torquay 4-1, topped off with that worldie goal by Dean Crombie. Goals from Julian Darby, Sumo Trev Morgan & our wing wizard Jeff Chandler made up the four, with the whole day captured on a souvenir video with Bolton legend Dave Higson commentary. It truly was a fantastic occasion.
The year before, Wanderers had just been promoted after our only ever season in the bottom league, the then division four, thus ending a prior eight year slide through the leagues from the top division. Bolton were also in the midst of a twenty league game unbeaten run, spanning the two seasons either side of that Wembley final. Phil Neal’s side, built very much on a tight budget, finally appeared to be taking the club in the right direction.
The point I’m trying to make though is it took the 89 final to highlight in capital letters that Bolton Wanderers had finally turned a corner and were on their way back to where we all believed we belonged. And that was in the upper leagues.
Moving forward 30 years and we once again need a statement that our club is on the road to recovery.
When I originally did a draft of this article, we had been given a seemingly doable local draw away to Accrington Stanley (rather than say Port Vale or Leicester U21’s) and we’d just had the surprise suspended points verdict from the Independent Review Panel re the missed games. A rare feeling of guarded optimism was doing the rounds and on the back of three consecutive league victories, the possibility of L1 survival seemed very much on.
Therefore, my point was going to be if we treated this cup seriously, then what better way to end a successful relegation battle than with a trip to Wembley? Not only could it underline our comeback from the Anderson era near death experience, but a victory could possibly help put to bed our last Wembley visit, being the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final humiliation by Stoke.
Yes this cup is a third rate competition. Yes under normal circumstances it is suitable for nothing more than a run out for those senior squad players outside our first eleven. Yes it is a sellout to Premier League ambitions for second teams to compete in the lower leagues and the EFL should be condemned for sanctioning it. But we are of course not in a normal season this season and in my opinion this competition can be a positive way to sign off on the unique circumstances we are currently having to operate in. Additionally, as with all cup runs, it could give a welcome distraction from what is very likely to be a difficult survival campaign.
Then the EFL threw their post verdict teddy out the cot, spurred on undoubtedly by our fellow L1 clubs being hugely unhappy with suddenly having to contend with the prospect of Bolton not being relegation certainties. I suppose we shouldn’t have expected anything else, what with the short sighted self serving bastards that they are. Another ‘independent’, independent review panel is allegedly taking place this Thursday and let’s face it, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the suspended 5 points deduction magically becomes unsuspended.
If that wasn’t bad enough, then the completely unexpected and pathetic 7-1 walloping, limp rollover, utter humiliation of a defeat against Stanley in the league happened last Saturday. The Rotherham six goal spanking I could accept. A team quite literally just thrown together is going to be susceptible to a heavy defeat. That was over two months ago now though, so this 7-1 howler is simply just not acceptable. They’ve had their ‘mid-season preseason’ and should be up to speed and familiar with each other’s playing styles. Yes we have a number of injuries and thus not much quality on the bench, but a good team was put out and just because we had a man sent off early doors, does not excuse that performance. Particularly against a relegation rival. Particularly against a team that had been struggling to score. Particularly when over 2600 fans have turned up to watch an away game. Particularly if this team is going to be consistent enough to get the points needed to survive. Hopefully both Hill and his players get a grip of it and ensure there’s no repeat. We can accept being well beaten but the really heavy defeats should now be a thing of the past. I was totally shocked by the game on Saturday and I’m still fuming about it.
It’s safe to say that the guarded optimism has departed as quickly as a warm fart in a brisk winters wind. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, the cup is actually even more important. Because if we do fail to stay up, then what better way to say ‘we’ll be back with a vengeance’ than a cup final win at Wembley? It could indeed be the much needed fulcrum to begin that return. Additionally and perhaps far more importantly, it gives the manager and players an immediate opportunity to right a few wrongs and against the club that caused so much damage to morale last weekend.
One last point. What are the police thinking in dragging their feet on bringing forward the match to Saturday? It sorts out the clash with the Burnley Prem game against Citeh if it goes ahead as planned next Tuesday. Surely they can’t let the behaviour of a few dickheads stop what should be a no brainer of a decision? Get the bloody game played on Saturday.