I must admit to you, I wish I’d written this in the immediate aftermath of what was, no two ways about it, the proudest moment in supporting this great football club. You honestly could not write it, I couldn’t put it into words at the time and I’m still struggling now but I’ll do my best seen as I’ve started and these things tend to come out best in the form of either a heartfelt article or podcast for me, so here goes.
Life as a Bolton Wanderers fan is never dull and it certainly isn’t easy, it never has been and never will be, however, it is something I’ll be forever proud of and this group of players epitomised that for me come 5pm on Saturday. In fact, to be honest with you, it began at 2pm and seemed to last all afternoon, from the moment the team was announced right up until they achieved the near impossible.
You all know what we’ve been through so I won’t bore you with it all again, there isn’t a place for negativity in this article so instead I’m going to skip to the good bit, and that starts with fielding a team of players who desperately want to play for this club, its badge, and its shirt, because trust me, that’s a rare sight these days.
To step up to the plate mid-omni-shambles and do a club proud to that extent just by having such a raw passion to play is infinitely admirable.
News had of course trickled through just prior to team selection deadline that the seniors would not feature, however, that took nothing away from the excitement, the passion and the pride felt throughout the football club, if anything, it just made things immediately more positive, from the fans right down to the lads themselves in the dressing room, it was their big day, their time to shine, and boy did they.
Having recognised somewhat that they’d have the fans backing regardless after last week’s mammoth performance against Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park, they remained incredibly level headed and not for one minute did a single one of them take that for granted, again, something I find utterly admirable.
To not only make home debuts, but full senior debuts, the majority of Saturday’s team emerged and disappeared back down the tunnel pre-game either side of the warmup with a cheer equal to that of a goal scored last season. It was spine tingling. You could tell this was to be a momentous occasion.
Minutes later, an experienced head on young shoulders, making his fifth appearances at the astonishingly relatable age of 20, Harry Brockbank lead his team out, met with one of those ‘hairs standing on end’ type reverberations from the 9,000 supporters, collated in just over 24 hours, which is a separate story in itself, which just never seemed to end until the ground emptied well after full time.
Living their childhood dreams, some of which still in theirs, kicked off what was to be a historic game of football for this club.
Before we go any further, lets set the record straight, this isn’t a cry for sympathy, nor is it a guilt trip, nor was it a case of special treatment, it was simply a unique occasion in which our pokey little league one club with no senior starters, were able to hold their own and more, against a team of men. It really is something to behold.
Having just turned 20 myself, I couldn’t imagine, nor would I ever dream of, or have the sheer confidence to face up to the reality of that out on that pitch, never mind at 16!
The adrenaline pumping through their systems is unimaginable, the bravery to meet the 50/50 passes and headers against hardened rocks at centre halve, the general physicality of the game, forgetting the atmosphere and the occasion itself, having so much to deal with and keeping such cool, composed, calm, yet confident would’ve been well beyond the ability of most 17 year old’s in a cup final on FIFA or Football Manager, let alone a real game.
Its still hard to grasp what these boys have achieved just by turning up because of their love for football and for the club, even despite the presumably much more attractive alternatives that must’ve faced a fair few of them prior to the season kicking off is so heart warming and inspirational its something so simple, yet held in such high regard by our supporters, because thats what this football club is all about.
To have been in no way overawed or taken aback by the occasion and powered on through like well oiled machines shows outstanding maturity, and again, probably something so far beyond the grasp of 99% of kids their age, its almost enviable.
The boys gave their all throughout, Matty Alexander taking hits and balls to the face in any act to prevent Coventry from bundling the ball over the line, the defence throwing their bodies in front of shots and in the way of set pieces, midfielders stretching near beyond their physical capability at any opportunity to win the ball and Eddie Brown running the show on his own up top, to get on the end of any through or loose balls.
It must’ve caused real physical stress yet took it on the chin as if a daily routine, mind blowing and something I’m sure I speak for us all in saying we’re so grateful for given that we aren’t used to it and wouldn’t have this momentous occasion to milk without it, and so we should, for them.
Standing firm, correctly appealing three offside goals, standing over to-be quickly taken free kicks, kicking the ball away after the whistle, not being afraid to put a foot in at any given required moment in a tackle, an elbow in the air and occasionally a
shoulder, especially when dealing with arsey goalkeepers (loved that Darcy!), all of which was just absolutely fantastic to watch, ultimate shithousery.
Unaffected and unfazed by the three disallowed goals that illegally made their way past Alexander, amongst others who I’ll credit respectively in a moment, a special mention to him whose double save in the dying embers of the game kept his and Wanderers’ sheet clean.
Yoan Zouma & Liam Edwards for being stone walls and not giving up on denying any Coventry attacking threat, Sonny Graham for taking up the Spearing/Karl Henry role of sitting deep, looking hard and making all the important, crunching, play breaking tackles, Ronan Darcy for continuing to run, even now, must be on his way to Rochdale, and Eddie Brown for holding up play, making a general nuisance out of himself and linking up well with Politic who was equally brilliant, even having the cheek to attempt a re-creation of his half way line goal for Salford.
I could go on, but those guys in particular were exceptional on first impressions. I think had Wanderers managed to conjure up a goal, the stadium, mainly the roof could well have become unsafe, however, thats not what mattered, nor am I disappointed in the slightest that they didn’t, to just earn a more than deserved point is what mattered, to do themselves justice, to put themselves out there and to initiate the re-formation of Bolton Wanderers football club and thats exactly what they did. Superb.
At full time, it was as if we’d won the cup final, Sir Nat would’ve been proud, as everyone else was associated with Bolton and still very much is. A memorable and historic occasion both we and they will never forget, truly special.
The difference this team have made to this club is unbelievable, its so refreshing, so rejuvenating, so encouraging and so reminiscent of the good old days, so majestic, its something to behold.
To round off what was a phenomenal afternoon for the players and a return to the Reebok for myself and other fans, seeing their faces beaming with pride, joy and raw passion was really, really emotional and you’re lying if you were in attendance and weren’t close to tears at full time.
I can only hope that the players went on to (legally) enjoy their Saturday evenings as much as the majority of the fans will have been able to after it all, rightfully and deservedly so.
I know they wont let it go to their heads, these boys are one of a kind, their ones of our own and I couldn’t be happier.
It’s a moment in the club’s history that we shouldn’t and I’m sure, wont forget in a hurry, because that was special, for all the right reasons, and credit goes to those who’ve put up with it all this time and whose efforts have payed off, that goes for all the staff behind the scenes working tirelessly to make it all happen and the players for sticking with us and both showing & reminding us what it means to be and support Bolton Wanderers.
Its all we want, we don’t expect much, just honesty, loyalty, commitment, passion and pride, for if you play for the name on the front of the shirt, they’ll remember the name on the back.
Well done lads, absolutely phenomenal.