It was muscle memory (and my cousin’s new ride, if he is reading) that took me to Adams Park on Saturday. An overwhelming and nauseating feeling of duty. My enthusiasm for the game had waned somewhat since the dizzying blur of Aaron Wilbraham, the relentless thumping of ‘This Girl’ and England’s glorious World Cup campaign. After an extremely positive, albeit brief, start to last season, it quickly turned into an exercise in mediocrity, punctuated by underwhelming away days and ill-advised solo trips to the Macron. The case for travelling to the picturesque surrounds of High Wycombe was equal parts familial and civic loyalty, with no expectations of a performance or a result.
The warm-up was risible, with the players kitted out in mismatched gear – half hummel and half macron – an immediate and amusing reminder of our current plight. The welcome put on by the home team was heartening, although to call the slab of non-descript meat and processed cheese a ‘creole burger’ was a misnomer bordering on a breach of advertising standards. A stray TV camera also caught me mid chew, not a great look. The names on the team sheet were completely unknown to me with the exception of the senior professionals, and they looked every inch of their teenage years when lined up against the experienced brick shithouses of Wycombe.
What followed was the proudest I have ever felt as a Bolton fan. The players were a credit to themselves and the club, marshalled by the ever-endearing Jason Lowe. To see these kids go head to head against seasoned pros and match them for the best part of an hour was life affirming, the personification of the strength of the will and the beauty of the collective. They ran, harassed, and pressed valiantly against the odds, even if the game was beyond us for most of the second half. Heroes were made that day, not least the imposing Zouma at centre back, a searing mix of pace, power, and technique who we should look to build our makeshift defence around for the rest of the season.
The full-time whistle precipitated even more raucous signing from the travelling fans, who were brilliant all game, aided and abetted by a sympathetic DJ who played ‘Sweet Caroline’ right on queue. I couldn’t quite bring myself to join in the chanting. I may have been feeling a bit sensitive from the night before, but the lump in my throat made it difficult to get the words out. As cliché as it sounds this is what it was all about: community, family, loyalty, and pride. The feeling of something greater than the self; an institution that will live on independent of the current players, or manager, or owners (or lack thereof).
I tried to articulate my thoughts at work on Monday morning but was met with blank faces from southern man united fans and apathetic colleagues. My manager misunderstood my whole tortured monologue about it and thought I had actually turned up to play in the game. Never mind.
I ventured home and told my flatmate I was planning to write this article. As a follower of another football league team he understood my plight and paid lip service to my emotional state, before responding in all sincerity that “zcrarba, you are Bolton”. I think that about sums it up.