*Writers note: I refer to the ‘fans’ a lot in this. I’m aware that the fans I describe in this is a vocal minority of fans. It is however annoying and cumbersome to qualify this every time. Please do not take offence as the intent is not lump everyone together but just to make it easier to read. Thanks *
The last decade has been a cruel one to the fans of Bolton Wanderers. We started it in the Premier League and have finished it at the lowest level of the football league. We’ve faced financial ruin, stared in to oblivion and suffered owners that shouldn’t have been any where near a football club.
This season brought a fresh feeling however. The money troubles that had bedevilled the club for years where in the rear-view mirror, we’ve signed some of the best players in the division and have a young exciting manager promising an ambitious style of football that have paid dividends for him before.
Fast forward to yesterday, after our first league game of the season and the atmosphere was as bad as I had seen over the last 10 years. Many fans rightly vented about the poor performance of a team they had expected to do well but this was accompanied with a barrage of abuse sent to players, pontificating about how poor the manager is and just general tantrums about how awful everything is.
Lets make one thing abundantly clear to start: If you send abuse to any player over social media, you are no fan. In reality you are just being a terrible human being. Former Wanderer, Marvin Sordell, has spoken at length how he tried to take his life whilst here at Bolton (at a point he was being dog-piled by certain sections of the fan-base). Even this week, David Cotterill has spoken of how he had attempted suicide on 3 occasions during his time at Birmingham. Being upset at football doesn’t give you the right to throw abuse at a complete stranger. End of.
This is just a symptom of the larger issue however. The fan base is carrying baggage that is creating a toxic feeling around the club. We’d be forgiven for being a cynical group given all that has happened over the last ten years but it is actually something far more insidious and damaging. There has been failure to face up to the reality of where the club is and rather choosing to focus on where we were/think we should be. How comparatively nicer the stadium/training ground are, drawing against Munich, signing Anelka, Big Sam, beating Arsenal every year, the clubs stature counts for absolutely nothing when determining how successful we will be in the future. We are a League 2 Club. We have League 2 players. We have a League 2 manager. There is no divine reason why we should find this league easy or why we should be playing at a higher level. To think anything otherwise is to ignore reality. Unless some people let go of that pretence, their expectations will remain impossibly high for Bolton Wanderers, the League 2 club.
Marc Iles reported that Evatt blamed an ‘ingrained losing mentality...’. This raised eyebrows from fans and Marc alike given that we have an almost entirely new squad, coaching staff and ownership. But as some perceptive fans pointed out, the only thing that hadn’t changed was the fans. Fans that are in part, creating a toxic atmosphere that is both resigned to defeat but demanding instant success. An oxymoron, yes but it is what happens why you spend years losing but cling on to having been a big club a decade ago.
The club will have to shoulder some of the blame for this as well. Since the arrival of Evatt the message from him, the club and every singing has been that promotion is the aim. That we are a ‘massive club’. That we need to get this club ‘back where it belongs’. This certainly doesn’t help with expectations or this entitlement that has crept its way in to the clubs psyche. Fellow LOV writer, Liam O’Meara, made an excellent point that this brash talk would have been nipped in the bud with some form of press strategy. Given the sheer scope of the rebuilding project underway, expectation management should have been priority number one. Instead the message has been one that built them unrealistically high. Certainly something that should be looked at in the future as a tool to help change the mindset around the club.
The footballing arguments will surely follow this and I didn’t want to use this piece to make the footballing case for patience. It is however important for context. That was our first league game of the season. We lost 1-0 after an awful performance. Yes we have lost 2 cup games previous to this but one of those was against a team in a higher division. We scored 3 goals in those 2 games. Defensive mistakes were the source of all the goals in those 2 cup losses and we looked far more settled at the back in this game. They are trying to implement an ambitious style to a group of players whom 2 months ago were strangers. These players are also League 2 players and will likely take a while to become a cohesive unit capable of playing said style. Barrow fans extensively warned that Evatt had a longer bedding in period than normal managers because of the style he implements but that once it clicked it was brilliant.
No one is denying that months upon months of football alike yesterday would naturally cause even the most ardent optimist to become tired and angry with the management and players. Unfortunately we are talking about the first league game of the season where a loss should be greeted with nothing else other than pragmatism. Those who find themselves described in the words of this article should also heed this warning: Do not be the rot that attaches itself to those trying to help this club. You make a bigger impact than you could ever imagine, so make sure it’s a positive one.