After yet another abysmal season, Bolton Wanderers found themselves in 23rd place in the Championship, thus signalling their continued descent down the ranks of the English Football League. It is truly a tough time to be a Wanderers fan, with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel, the future for BWFC is looking very bleak indeed. The recent appointment of administrators will see the Whites start next season on minus 12 points; a deficit which may prove insurmountable should current form and misfortune continue. With the way things are going, it is hard to remember a prosperous time at The University of Bolton Stadium. So let’s rewind to a brighter time, at The Reebok Stadium…
In the 2004-05 season, Bolton were embarking upon their fourth consecutive year in the Barclays Premiership. Lead by charismatic captain and fan favourite, Jay-Jay Okocha, the future was bright for the Wanderers. Starting the season with a 4-1 demolition of Charlton Athletic gave fans lots of reasons to be encouraged. Were it not for a dreadful December, which saw a six match losing streak for Bolton, a Champions League berth may have been an extremely attainable goal. Sam Allardyce’s men managed to come out of the gates fast in January 2005, winning seven straight in the Premiership to reignite their season. The Wanderers ultimately finished in sixth place, tied on 58 points with Liverpool (how times have changed). This was enough to grant them qualification into the UEFA Cup for the first time in club history.
The following season may not have been quite as successful for the Whites, finishing 8th in a challenging 2005-06 season, however, their perseverance in the UEFA Cup was quite the achievement in its own right. Bolton managed to progress through the qualifiers as well as the group stages (alongside eventual winners Sevilla), although ultimately fell short to Marseille in the knockout rounds. Shortly after, Bolton were able to improve upon this feat, by going all the way to the last-16 of the UEFA CUP in 2007-08. This had been a pretty bleak season for the Whites domestically in the Premiership under new manager, Gary Megson. Yet by managing to best quality teams like Atlético Madrid in European competition in a truly valiant effort, fans could hold on to some sense of hope for the future of the club. For now.
Retrospectively it seems clear that this period was Bolton’s peak, and unfortunately it was all too brief. Allardyce’s departure and the subsequent appointment of Gary Megson ushered in a wave of mediocrity that would come to define Bolton for the next few years. Whilst Gary Cahill had proven to be a strong signing who was developing into one of the league’s most trustworthy defenders, the club’s record-breaking signing, Swedish striker Johan Elmander ended up being incredibly unreliable and ultimately underwhelming. Being in the stands on opening day as the Wanderers trounced newly promoted Stoke City, a match which featured a rare goal from the aforementioned striker, I can still remember feeling an undeniable sense of optimism for the season ahead. It was adrift through the entire stadium. Clearly, the players could feel it as well as the fans. Unfortunately, this was dissipated long before season’s end. Even when Bolton were playing at their worst, there would occasionally be moments of magic, or at least the feeling that a moment of magic could arise. However, this hope has long since been extinguished – taking its toll on the loyal fanbase of BWFC.
Three seasons later and Bolton Wanderers were finally relegated from the Premier League, and thus ended their eleven year run in the top flight division. Naturally, this makes signing top talent far more challenging, not to mention putting a financial restraint on the club. To make matters worse, the club would be competing this season without Gary Cahill and Johan Elmander, who left for Chelsea and Galatasary respectively. Although, to be fair to Elmander, he did leave Bolton with one of the all-time great goals in club history. So there is that.
With the Wanderers narrowly missing out on Playoff contention in their first season in the Championship, it became apparent that they were here to stay. After two disappointing seasons in the second division, the immortal Reebok Stadium was eventually rebranded as the Macron Stadium in the 2014/15 season. By this time, average home attendance was at a measly 15,000, compared to 25,000 just nine years prior. Things went from bad to worse the following year, as the Whites finished dead-last in the Championship, sending them tumbling into League 1. Of course, at this point European competitions were a thing of distant memory. What’s more, Bolton’s performances in the domestic cups were nothing to write home about during this grim period of league success. Wanderers fans have had very little to cheer about in recent years. In yet another bleak turn of events this March, it became apparent that the players had not been receiving wages from club owner, Ken Anderson, leading to an ultimatum from the squad to refuse to kit-up against Brentford earlier this month. In an unprecedented turn of events, the match ended up being cancelled, with Brentford taking 3 points by way of forfeit. With Bolton already relegated back to League 1 at this point, a sense of apathy seems to have pervaded the club.
Unfortunately, for the Wanderers’ players it’s abandon ship. For the fans, it’s abandon all hope.
Bolton’s plight has been arduous since the glory days of the mid-2000s, where the Reebok Stadium was regularly home to thrilling matches. The club’s subsequent self-resignation to mediocrity backfired worse than many may have predicted possible, and with the Wanderers starting next season with minus 12 points, things may very well get worse before they get better. Bolton’s run in the mid-2000s was one of the most interesting stories in the Premiership. It provided a much needed shake-up to the run of the mill affairs which had begun to characterise the league. Bolton’s status as a working man’s team, and a true underdog naturally added to the narrative and made it even more compelling. I can not imagine seeing Bolton in the Premier League for a very long time. So, when times seem bleak for the Wanderers, I’ll just try to remember the good old days at the Reebok.
[Thumbnail credits @ SkySports.com]