As the wee hours of Sunday morning arrived, a consistent pelt of summer rain fell on the waiting crowds. Although a few had called it a night long before the bus arrived, many stayed whilst the rain spattered their phone screens. For Wanderers faithful who had cracked open their first drink well before kickoff, it had been a long day. But no amount of rain, or the creeping hangover, could dampen their spirits. Last week’s false start was a distant memory. The heroes were going to get their welcome.
Then they arrived, the bus windows providing a mirror image. Fans pressed forward to cheer, sing and spill beer as the players responded in kind. The Whites are going up.
In a world where we have been told to avoid gathering in large crowds (that global pandemic, I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now), there will be those who criticise the decision to congregate at the stadium. Like we’ve seen in recent months in Liverpool and Glasgow, sometimes excitement and emotion takes over. After a year of watching from our living rooms, powerless and distant from events on the pitch, it was time to show Ian Evatt’s team what they mean to us.
Bolton Wanderers fans have every reason to feel emotional right now. There will be many waking up today with a sore head, cursing that last beer - “I’d have been alright if it wasn’t for that eighteenth San Miguel”. They will be a little worse for wear, but the feelings of relief and joy will subvert the crashing hangover.
After all, just two years ago, this football club was on the precipice. We often take for granted how close Bolton Wanderers Football Club came to extinction. We saw with Bury that football clubs don’t go with a bang. They slip away with a whimper. Of course, media outlets and talking heads express their rage and ask how this was allowed to happen on Monday. By Wednesday, they’re previewing that evening’s Champions League group stage fixtures. And just like that, Bolton’s relegation from League One was barely given an inch. The trapdoor of the Football League was looming. Another one bites the dust.
One fan that has seen and lived through it all is our very own Harry Brockbank. Brocky skippered the Baby Whites in the 0-0 draw at home to Coventry in 2019. It wasn’t the result, but the application of those young Bolton players, that made every Boltonian proud of their team. If this was the last XI to wear the shirt, they were the pride of the town. Yesterday, there was a very different sense of pride that Brockbank got to drink in. He could celebrate the promotion of “his club”. Our club. Thank you, Brocky. You were there when we needed you the most. You landed in a bittersweet spot: you were the captain of your team in the most difficult of circumstances. Alex Baptiste has every right to get your belly full of ale. Thank you, Harry. Embrace every second. You’ve earned it.
But Brocky’s isn’t the only thank you we need to hand out. Every member of our first team squad is deserving of their own, dedicated platitudes.
Thank you, Matt Gilks. We wouldn’t have had a promotion to celebrate without our leader between the sticks.
Thank you, Gethin Jones. Our very own Mr Reliable that chipped in with crucial goals and a key assist on the day that mattered.
Thank you, Ricardo Santos. You may not have made the League Two Team of the Year, but you’re a League One player now. And you’re ours. And you’re brilliant.
Thank you, Alex Baptiste. They say in football to never go back. I’m glad you did. A true story of redemption. You’ll be remembered as a promotion hero from now on.
Thank you, Declan John. Pure class from the moment you stepped on the field. We’d be privileged to watch you in a white shirt again.
Thank you, MJ Williams. You’ve anchored our midfield, protected the back four and stifled attacks with ease. Let’s go and show Blackpool what they’re missing.
Thank you, George Thomason. You’ve grown into a man this season. What a player you are turning out to be. The energy you bring to the field is unmatched. You’re one of our own, now. Treat yourself to a haircut over the summer.
Thank you, Antoni Sarcevic. The skipper. Yesterday was a real “captain’s performance”. When that ball hit the roof of the Crawley net, hope turned to belief. You came back into a team needing a final push. Your quality gave us that.
Thank you, Lloyd Isgrove. You’ve carved out a key role in this side and got better with every game. A well taken finish to cap off a wonderful team performance was the icing on the cake.
Thank you, Dapo Afolayan. At times, watching you embarrass full backs was almost unfair. You finally got your first Bolton goal, I hope it isn’t your last. Come back and help us win promotion next year.
Thank you, Eoin Doyle. You did exactly what you came here to do: score goals. Not only that, you pivot our attacks and create chances. 19 goals is an impressive return, but next year we want 20. We’ve got our eyes on another top of the table finish, and we need you to fire us there.
And now to the most important thanks of all:
Thank you, Ian Evatt. When we doubted you, you doubled down. When we fell to 17th, you still believed we could win promotion. January’s recruitment transformed our fortunes. It took time to embed your system, but you held firm. Performances improved. Results improved. And now we’re back in League One. If we continue on the path you’ve laid out before us, we might not be there long.
Thank you, Sharon Brittan. You have spearheaded the spectacular resuscitation of a football club. You’ve hired the right man for the job in Ian Evatt. You’ve backed him when he’s needed to bring in personnel. You’ve seen how much this club means to us fans. You’ve listened. You’ve led. We love you, Sharon.
Bolton fans, enjoy this moment. These brief moments of relief, joy and brotherhood are why we’re here. The darkness of the last decade is behind us. We look forward now to a new era. From the dark end of the street, to the bright side of the road.