Jack Wilde was a man of simple pleasures. He enjoyed J&B Whiskey, a vice he passed onto his daughter, Edna. He spent his holidays walking along the Blackpool promenade, as many who live in the north-west do when the sun is shining. His greatest pleasure, however, despite not offering the guaranteed pleasure of his other two indulgences, was following his local football team.
My great-grandfather passed this affliction, this addiction, this passion onto his daughter, who in turn infected her son, who in turn burdened his own. Bolton Wanderers is in my blood.
I grew up in Leicester, where I still live to this day, and as such never met anyone who supported my club, the club I was stuck with from the first seconds of my life where a cap emblazoned with the Bolton crest was thrust onto my head by my father, his only meaningful contribution on the day of my birth as he spent the majority of his time in the delivery room passed out due to his fear of needles.
Despite how this may seem, Bolton Wanderers was never forced on me, and though I’m sure he would have been disappointed had I strayed from my roots, my father let me make my own choice. I never strayed once.
I attended my first game barely 3 months old in 1998. The first I properly remember was a 2-0 loss at home to Fulham in 2004 where a Brian McBride masterclass dampened the celebrations of our highest ever Premier League finish at the time. This is the typical kind of result that every Bolton fan knows too well: Bolton on a high, and we come crashing down.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t attending games regularly due to the distance between Leicester and the Reebok, I have had a season ticket every year of my life, and I certainly feel I have been rewarded. I have seen European football, amazing upsets and fantastic players pulling on my team’s shirt.
I was often teased for supporting an unfashionable club, but I was part of the young generation who grew up with Djorkaeff, Hierro, Campo, Diouf, Anelka, Bergsson, Davies, Nolan and Okocha. This was my team, and these revered legends of the game were playing for them. It was heaven.
Then came Stoke. Then came Wembley humiliation and relegation. I had seen nothing but Premier League football in my time as a fan. I came away from Stoke on the final day of the 2011/12 season having seen us draw and hearing the carnage occurring at the Etihad Stadium where Manchester City won the league with the last kick of the game. Imagine if we had won, we would have been celebrating that goal just as much as those City fans. Instead a 13-year-old Bolton fan and his dad sobbed on the drive home from the Potteries to Leicester having seen the amazing legacy Sam Allardyce had built pissed away.
Since relegation I have been to games much more regularly, going from Okocha to Trotter, Bergsson to Wheater and Davies to Madine, but my love for the club has not waned. Wanderers could be in any league and still be the single biggest passion in my life and the promotion and survival of the last few seasons are the two moments I cherish most.
The Aguero moment may not have saved us but the Wilbraham moment did, and I doubt any Bolton fan will disagree when I say that that moment was the best any of us have and will ever see supporting this club. When the goal went in I looked at the left hand corner of the net where the ball had nestled and cried again, this time tears of joy. Edna Wilde, Jack’s daughter, my nana, had her ashes scattered in that corner in 1999, not too long after I was born, and I knew she had played her part in saving the team she loved.
Unfortunately, not even she is able to save us now. At the time of writing, it is looking increasingly likely that Bolton Wanderers will go out of business, and I have absolutely no idea how I will deal with. If Jack Wilde is looking down, he will see Ken Anderson and be disgusted that such a despicable weasel is anything to do with his club, my club, our club. It is the greatest of tragedies that it has come to this.
It’s not just about me though. It’s about all of us. Many of you reading this will be doing so because you are Bolton fans, and you are Bolton fans most likely because it is your heritage. Jack Wilde’s influence represents that of every fan that has gone before us throughout our 145-year history. Their legacy lives on in us and that cannot be allowed to die. I urge everyone involved in the takeover: Save Bolton Wanderers, save it so our legacy can continue.