So the decade is drawing to a close. The 20’s are right around the corner and good lord has this been a horrific decade to be a Bolton fan. We’ve seen mountains of utter dross in this squad, from the lamp post defending of Zat Knight to the goal allergic styling of Clayton Donaldson. Thankfully, there have been some gems in there. For every Marc Wilson, there’s a Gary Cahill. For every Tuncay, there’s an Adam Le Fondre. For every Owen Garvan, there’s a Mark Davies etc. Our fans haven’t been entirely subjected to watching players of little to no quality. Just most of the time.
But then we get to those we never saw put on the shirt. Those who never made it off the bench or even made it into a match day squad. What happened to those players and why did we never see them play? Well I’ve appointed myself the unenviable duty of constructing an 11 out of these ghosts and we’ll hopefully get those questions answered. Let’s see how many off these names jog your memory.
Goalkeeper - Paddy Kenny
Ah Paddy Kenny. The man who seemed to follow Neil Warnock wherever he went. Surprisingly though, the Irish International’s career didn’t purely lie with following Mr. Manning’s favourite manager. Upon being released by Leeds at the start of the 2014-15 season, Kenny was without a club for the first time in a long time before we snapped him up in September 2014 in a 4 month deal to provide cover for Andy Lonergan after an injury to Bogdan. He never made it off the bench and 2 months into his deal, he ended up getting loaned out to Oldham after manager Lee Johnson understandably judged Paul Rachubka to be a crap goalkeeper (So why in the hell did we sign him THE SEASON AFTER?!).
Kenny had no time to cause controversy at our club like he seemed to do at every club before us. Who remembers him failing a drug test at Sheffield United? How about him sending abusive texts to QPR’s technical director and chairman, Tony Fernandes, after he left for Leeds when they replaced him with Rob Green, who was poor in his first game for the club? What about him being frozen out of Leed’s pre-season training camp due to new owner Massimo Cellino’s paranoia with the number 17, which was Kenny’s birth date? The man was never far from controversy at the time but now he seems to have settled into a quieter role in recent years. He’s currently playing at 41 for 9th tier side, Maltby Main.
Right Back - Rhys Bennett
Christ, it was hard to find a player for this position. Thankfully, I just about managed and found that former academy captain Rhys Bennett has played Right Back in his career so he fortunately gets a mention. The primarily central defender has carved a decent little career for himself in the Football League since leaving Wanderers in 2012. Over 100 appearances at Rochdale, double digits in goals and at 28, he most recently was on the bench against his former club. donning number 16 at Peterborough. He’s come a long way since Coyle sent him out on loan at Falkirk. Fair play to him as he definitely wouldn’t be a name that comes to mind for an academy graduate we might have regretted letting go.
Centre Back - Cian Bolger
Another one who has done fairly well for himself in the Football League since leaving us, Cian Bolger was such an unusual signing by Dougie Freedman. Despite the man hating youth players, he signed Bolger, leaving the Irishman to captain/rot in our academy for the 2 years he was with us, never giving him even a sniff of the first team. Emergency loans to Colchester and Southend ended up being his only 1st team experiences with us, joining the latter permanently upon his release. He’s since gone on to have some fairly fruitful years at Fleetwood Town, coming up against us in the 2016-17 season reaching the play-offs. He joined newly promoted Lincoln City in January 2019, becoming a regular in their backline as they pushed to become League 2 Champions last season.
Centre Back - Sam Lavelle
Now we get to Sam Lavelle, a player who ended up not playing for us, not because of a manager not wanting to play him or being plagued by injury but by the unfortunate circumstance of not being able to register professionally due to an embargo implanted squad limit. By all accounts I could find, Phil Parkinson was interested in playing him and Jeff King during our League One campaign, but the squad limit meant he could not be registered, plus the fitness and form of Mark Beevers, David Wheater and later Dorian Dervite, meant that he would never get his opportunity. While Jeff King stayed the next season and got some game time upon the removal of said embargo, Lavelle did not. He took his chance to leave, joining Morecambe where he currently still plays, closing in on 100 appearances for the regular League Two strugglers.
Left Back - Nathaniel Phillips
I know he’s not a left-back and I know that he never was truly registered as a first team player for Bolton but damn it, I’m putting the son of Jimmy Phillips in his dad’s position and you can’t stop me. The centre-back was a huge prospect for Wanderers, and that wasn’t and isn’t just nepotism talking. Leaving our academy in 2016, the youngster originally earned a scholarship at the University of North Carolina before Liverpool turned his head just 2 days before his scheduled flight to the U.S.A. While he’s yet to play for Liverpool’s first team, he apparently highly impressed Jurgen Klopp in the 2018 pre-season and is still on their books at 22. He’s currently on loan at Bundesliga 2 side, Stuttgart. Here’s hoping he can still follow in his dad’s footsteps in the future.
Right Wing - Yannick Bastos
Anyone remember when Bolton randomly signed what was supposedly, Luxembourg’s greatest young prospect at the time in 2014? I do and I was strangely excited to see what a footballer from such a small nation with no note-worthy history of football could do. From his time here, apparently absolutely nothing. It almost seems like being at Bolton actually killed any prospects he once had. He played just a few times for the reserve team before leaving at the tail end of the year and didn’t add to his 4 caps for Luxembourg during or after his time with us. He went completely off the grid for a year before returning to Luxembourg where he has played ever since for 1st tier outfits, Differdange and Niederkorn. With the latter, he came up against Rangers this season in the Europa Qualifying 2nd round, though he never made it off the bench. If you want a reminder of this strange tale, his interview with the club can easily be found on YouTube with a quick search of his name. Apparently Gretar Steinsson recommended him to us. Cheers Gretar.
Centre Midfield - Jan Gregus
This name is the most frustrating one out of this entire list for me as this is a man who has gone on to have quite a good career. What an absolute calamity by Mr. Popular Dougie Freedman for not playing this man in our first team. Joining on loan from Branik Ostrava in 2013, the Slovakian International was supposed to just join the development squad to get up to speed before joining the 1st team before making a permanent deal but for some reason he never got out of that reserve squad. Oh wait, I know. It’s because, as stated earlier Dougie Freedman hated youth and so Jan was never seen playing for the 1st team.
Since his loan with us expired, he’s played in the Europa League with Jablonec and Copenhagen, while also playing in the Champions League Group stages with Copenhagen, winning at Danish League title during his time there. Internationally, he’s represented Slovakia 26 times, scoring 3 goals. This includes appearances at Euro 2016. If Slovakia make it through their play-off group, then barring injury, expect to see him at the 2020 edition too. He currently plays for Minnesota United in the MLS, where by the Beckham Rule, he earns a fairly higher wage than most of his other teammates. Oh what could have been.
Centre Midfield - Stephen Ireland
Without a doubt, the most recognisable name in this 11, Stephen Ireland was seemingly a very risky signing at the time for Bolton. He was very much in the same vein as Jan Kirchhoff the season prior. A player who had spent pretty much his entire career at the top level, but had most of his key years ravaged by injury. If he could get fit and firing, it could’ve been a masterstroke. The gamble did not pay off though and Ireland left 3 months after signing, with no official reason cited as far as I could find, though fitness and financial issues seem the most likely explanations.
Either way, Ireland just seemed a weird signing from the get go. Exciting but the more you dug, the weirder it seemed. The man clearly lived a lavish lifestyle supported by his Premier League wages at the time, owning several custom built vehicles and a multi-million pound home in Cheshire. When he mutually ended his contract with us in December 2018, he sold said home for £3.75 million and hasn’t publicly been seen or heard from since in the football world. This is only speculation on my part but perhaps he joined as one last pay-day to support his lifestyle but the financial turmoil of the Anderson era put a spanner in his plans. Perhaps, he was sold a pipe dream by Anderson about joining a club on the brink of a takeover, before said takeover never materialised and he was just used to get Lee Anderson another pay-day for signing up another trialist on a contract. We may never truly know.
Left Wing - Gregg Wylde
I have absolutely no idea why Gregg Wylde never ended up playing for in the Championship. Genuinely. The year before he signed for us, he was regular in a title-winning Rangers team. When he left Rangers in the midst of their administration and closing liquidation, he looked a coup for Bolton Wanderers in a team that needed proper competition on the left for Martin Petrov. While FIFA red-tape and waiting for them to authorise his move prevented him from appearing for us in the Premier League. That couldn’t really be helped yet nothing was seemingly stopping him from playing for us in the Championship.
He never made it off the bench. In fact, he only appeared on the bench 4 times for us, 3 under Coyle and once under Freedman. We loaned him out to Bury for 2 months but he didn’t seem to have any impact there. Rumours of a move to Scotland in the January window never materialised and he was released at the end of our first Championship season. He’s since returned to the SPL with Aberdeen, St. Mirren and Livingston as well as returning to England to be a regular sight in League One & Two. He’s currently without a club with his high potential moniker at Rangers having never come to fruition.
Striker - Jamie Thomas
Now this is a rather sad tale. Jamie Thomas was a free-scoring forward across many seasons in our academy. He seemed to have his entire future ahead of him, appearing at U19 level for Wales. With fans clamouring for him to be given a chance, especially at a time when Bolton were begging for goals, he was on the bench after Lennon’s sacking in our relegation season and Phillips giving all of his academy graduates opportunities. He never appeared though and went to Burnley’s academy, never making their first team either.
He then disappeared upon his release at the end of the 2017/18 season. As it was revealed later this year, Jamie Thomas has been battling depression and anxiety for years, with him publicly admitting to such after his surprise inclusion on an U23’s teamsheet. I can’t say for sure where his future will lie. He has since appeared a couple more times in our U23’s but he’s not signed anything with us or any other club since then as far as I’m aware. Perhaps, it’s an attempt to regain fitness so he can return to football. Perhaps he wants/wanted to earn a pro-contract or he’s doing us a favour as we attempt to rebuild. Or perhaps it’s just returning to sense of normality after some extremely tough years. Regardless, I wish Jamie nothing but the best in his future, whatever may come of it. It’s still understated how tough mental health struggles can be for someone. It’s OK to not be OK.
Striker - Chinedu Obasi
Returning to the lighter-hearted topic at hand, we have our final inclusion. The Nigerian international signed for Bolton in 2018 after leaving AIK in Sweden for the 2nd time earlier in the year. I’ve heard rumours that despite a successful trial, Parkinson was pressured into signing him by Lee Anderson, who as we mentioned, would likely profit from him getting a contract. Bolton were also begging for goals and Obasi did not have a bad record so the man was contracted. However, he could never get fit to the levels required for the Championship. He left that summer, returning to Sweden with Elfsborg before going back to AIK for a 3rd time where he has played in both the Champions League and Europa League qualifying rounds this season. Fair play.
Here are a few Honourable mentions:
Rob Lainton & Jay Lynch - These two pretty fall into the same category as they were released around the same time and we’ve come up against both since. Lainton in an FA Cup win over Bury and Lynch this season against Rochdale.
Will Jaaskelainen - Like Nat Phillips before him, you always hoped to see the lad of a Bolton legend don the shirt like his dad before him. Maybe in the future but for now, he’s solidifying his position at Crewe.
Ben Williams & Andy Hughes - These two are paired together because they more signed to be coaches than players. While Ben currently trains our academy keepers, Andy Hughes was most recently First Team Coach at Huddersfield leaving after their relegation.
Andy Robinson - He first joined us loan in 2013/14, the signed permanently the next season. He then left after about a month because he was homesick. Southern softie.
Gary Fraser - He joined us on a 2 year deal, immediately left on loan to Partick Thistle, got banned in October for 9 games for attacking an opposition player in an U20 game before signing for Partick permanently in the next window. Why did we bother?
Luke Brattan - Anyone remember when we signed a Man City player on loan and then never played him? Well that guy plays with Adam Le Fondre now at Sydney FC. Life is strange like that.