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Destination Europe

Fifteen years today, Bolton Wanderers qualified for Europe for the first time

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Portsmouth v Bolton Wanderers - Fratton Park Photo by Chris Ison - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

To the majority of those in attendance at Fratton Park that afternoon, the game between Portsmouth & Bolton Wanderers was a typical end of the season draw, an insignificant result.

Although to those from Bolton, it was the moment history was made. It was the day that Bolton Wanderers qualified for Europe for the first time in the clubs’ history.

Having clinched an 8th placed finish in the 2003/04 season, it seemed natural that the next aim for Wanderers would be European qualification. With the 04/05 season looming, Big Sam looked to add real quality and experience to the side.

Whilst moves for Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert failed to happen, Allardyce was able to bring in ten new faces, four of whom would prove vital to Wanderers’ success that year.

Radhi Jaidi, the first Tunisian to play in the Premier League, created a formidable partnership with Bruno N’Gotty in defence.

The Real Madrid icon Fernando Hierro arrived from Qatar on a free transfer for one last hurrah. The former Spain captain may have been at the end of his career, though he still oozed quality.

The same can be said for the late, great Gary Speed. At 34, the Welshman was surplus to requirements at Newcastle & BSA pounced, picking Speed up for £750,000, which turned out to be an absolute bargain. Like Hierro, Speed proved that age was just a number, adding guile and quality to an already impressive Wanderers midfield.

Then there was El-Hadji Diouf, who arrived on loan from Liverpool.

His time with the Reds had been filled with controversy. His stock was at an all time low, though if there was anyone who could help revitalise a career, it was Sam Allardyce.

Like Kevin Davies the season prior, Diouf thrived in a Bolton Wanderers shirt, ending the season as top goalscorer. Diouf was synonymous with the landmark moments of the season.

One of those moments was a scrappy equaliser against West Bromwich Albion. He not only rescued a point for Bolton but also stopped the horrific run of defeats that had caused Wanderers to plummet down the table. That draw proved to be the turning point in the season & the impressive run of results led to the situation that Bolton found themselves in on this day fifteen years ago.

Much of the talk leading up to Bolton’s trip to Portsmouth was all about whether Diouf would play or not.

Having spat at Portsmouth Captain Arjan de Zeeuw in the reverse fixture, Diouf was one of the most hated men on the South coast. So it was understandable that Big Sam was considering leaving him out of the squad.

Thankfully Allardyce decided to include Diouf & his decision was justified in the eleventh minute. He fired past Jamie Ashdown to hand Wanderers the lead, much to the disgust of the home crowd.

A second half equaliser from Yakubu cost Wanderers the win, though they got the point they needed to seal a place in Europe for the firsr time in their history.

A week later, Wanderers beat Everton to end the season sixth in the table, level on points with the eventual Champions of Europe, Liverpool. It was the perfect send off for Fernando Hierro, who received a rapturous standing ovation from the Wanderers faithful.

Blast Amarillo as loud as you can & raise a glass to Big Sam’s Galacticos, the team that made history.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Bolton Wanderers v Everton - Reebok Stadium Photo by Nigel French - PA Images via Getty Images