When considering Bolton’s manager of the decade, only one candidate can be taken seriously. This does not mean that his tenure was by any means perfect: we did suffer a relegation to League One under his tutelage. However, set against the naive tactical approach under Owen Coyle, the sheer joylessness of the Dougie Freedman era, and the unremarkable lack of care that Neil Lennon showed the football club, Phil Parkinson is undisputably Bolton Wanderers’ manager of the decade.
People forget that Phil Parkinson inherited a Bolton Wanderers side that was seemingly destined for the purgatory of the third and fourth tiers of English football. It had been dropped like a hot shite by Neil Lennon when he saw what was on the horizon. That we are once more in League One isn’t an indication of his failure; that we were able to to celebrate an unlikely promotion and miraculous survival bid during the hellish Ken Anderson dictatorship is proof positive of the job he did here. I will say no more of the cancerous owner that happily took us to the brink of extinction than that.
When the club looked so perilously close to liquidation, memories of the 3-0 win against Peterborough in 2017 and Aaron Wilbraham’s now legendary headed winner a year later against Nottingham Forest became so much more ingrained in the psyche of Bolton Wanderers fans. Though the style of play was often a chore to sit through, critics of Parky would do well to remember that it was the Chorley-born Parkinson that brought us those fleeting, unforgettable memories. He couldn’t avoid footballing abyss, but he gave us two days that will follow us to the grave in the meantime.
I mention Parkinson’s place of birth because he understood how important this football club is to the people of the town, without taking every possible opportunity to remind those entering the turnstiles on a matchday of where he was from. I’ll not insult your intelligence by asking you to compare this with a Manchester United supporting individual who may or may not be the current Wanderers manager.
Added to that, he was a bloody brilliant human being. It didn’t receive national press attention, but it is a measure of his character that set amongst a time of his own job insecurity, he took part in a sponsored bike ride in support of Stephen Darby, his former Bradford City captain, diagnosed with the truly awful condition that is MND. Certainly when compared with Freedman’s aloof reaction to Marvin Sordell’s mental health struggles and Neil Lennon’s alleged misdemeanours in local establishments, Phil Parkinson is not only a better football manager than his counterparts, but a better human being.
Another barometer of Parkinson’s legacy is how he’s been remembered since he left; with Lennon, I have delighted in the resurgence of Rangers in Scottish football. Outside of the green enclaves of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where else would consider him for a vacant manager’s post? Freedman’s early retirement away from the dugout and into a more shirt and tie position at Crystal Palace says everything you need to know about his abilities. No football fan should endure his putrid, soulless approach to the game. Owen Coyle’s forays to Houston, Ross County and as far and wide as Indian soccer highlight what has happened to his footballing stock. Parky, fresh from the ordeal of his time at Bolton, rolled up his sleeves for another tough ask at “we’re a really big club we promise and we’ve no idea why we’re hurtling into nothingness” Sunderland. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. He doesn’t run from adversity (cough, Mr Lennon), he seeks it.
Let’s face it, the 2010s has been a thoroughly horrible decade to be a Bolton Wanderers fan. We started the decade with immediate memories of European adventures, and will end it looking at League Two square in the face. In these miserable times, we have suffered under those that are incapable and uncaring, with the exception of one imperfect manager with outstanding personal qualities. Phil Parkinson is without doubt the best manager that this club has had this decade. He may never be in receipt of the plaudits he deserves, but deep down he’ll know what he gave to this town.
A strange feeling of grief came over me the day Parky left. It’d been a long time coming, and he knew that as well as anyone. I just wasn’t ready for it. He was my gaffer. In some ways, he still is. That he stayed to oversee the period of transition with no apparent consideration for his own career prospects says all you need to know. Give me quiet lead-by-example types over loud mouth soundbite seekers every day, of every week, of every month.
Phil, if our paths ever cross in the future, I owe you a pint. They may not admit it, but every Bolton fan does. Thanks for everything, gaffer.