Result: Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Chesterfield (EFL League 1)
Venue: Macron Stadium (Saturday 1st April 2017, 3pm)
April Fools Day arrived with a trip over to Bolton’s Reebok (it will be referred to this name throughout, go away Macron) for their community day fixture against Chesterfield. With it being only £5 to watch the game, it would have been a little rude not to take advantage. The only thought in my mind as I set off was I hoped I wouldn’t be one of the fools of the day and pick a poor, boring match.
Upon getting the train to Manchester, I met with Eagle Sports’ Stuart (who I hold somewhat responsible for the Glan Conwy antics) and a couple of his mates who were heading into town for some event. One of the trio had the Wanderers on his accumulator, though I did warn him that this game had all the hallmarks of a “Bolton bottlejob”, with a full stadium usually, in my experience anyway, a bad change for most teams in their position. He hoped I was wrong; hell I hoped I was wrong!
Soon enough, it was time to switch to the train to Bolton, arriving around 20 minutes later into the town. After heading over the signature bridge and through the town centre (where I was pulled up for something, before being told I looked “too young” for it which makes a change!), I eventually arrived at my first stop of the day, the Old Three Crowns.
The Crowns was a old-style pub, but having been slightly modernised through the medium of food becoming a more important factor, but for me it was just the bar that had my attention, a bottle of Heineken being my choice to begin with. I soon bored, however, and decided to head over to the 11th-century Ye Olde Man and Scythe, whereupon I continued my Dutch beer adventure with a pint of the same beer. To be honest, I felt a bit uncomfortable in here. Whether that was brought on by the ghosts or not, who knows?! Wooooooooo!!
It was at the point I was about to leave that I thought ‘I don’t really want any more’. Yes, that’s right, I’d had enough of the taste. See, I’d had a fairly heavy week leading into the game (the issue of frequently working in a bar) and so I had had my fill, somewhat, of alcohol. But with a good 45 minutes until my train, what else was there to do than visit just one more place? That place was to be the Dragonfly and it proved a little different from most.
Upon entering I was immediately struck with two TV’s right in front of the door. Both were showing different matches, the mounted one the Merseyside derby, with the other apparently having Dortmund vs Man City on. Now, this seemed a little strange and it turned out that the pub offers free X-Box to punters! This game was very one-sided, though, and ended with a rage-quit, with Dortmund four-up.
Finishing off my fairly cheap pint of Hop House Lager (just over £3), it was time to head back to the station for the short hop over to Horwich Parkway, the gateway to the Macr…er, Reebok. Phew, that was close. Anyway, the train was, shockingly, delayed by ten minute and when it eventually arrived, the rush was on. Packed up to the doors like sardines we set off, leaving a number of stranded fans on the platform, awaiting the next train in and, probably, missing kick-off in the process. Northern’s term report: could do better.
Luckily, it only takes five minutes or so to reach Horwich, in the shadow of the stadium, and after a short walk up and over the footbridge and up the road, you arrive at the statue of Nat Lofthouse, which stands proudly outside the main entrance. Unfortunately, this meant a traipse round to the far side of the stadium, where I was sat having bought my ticket in the week leading into the game. So, after navigating the crowds and buying a programme from one of the small stalls outside the gate (£3), I was into the concourse and heading straight for the food bar, where a Holland’s peppered steak pie (£2.60) was quickly purchased. Your average pie, really.
Before long it was up into the seats and, once again, I’d been afforded a good view of the game, being not far off half-way. The Reebok is one of the better breed of the “new-builds” in my opinion. All stands are largely similar, though it’s just been built in a more interesting to the eye way, with the curved stands still affording enough gaps to not feel like a soulless bowl. Maybe those who were brought up with Burnden may feel different, but I quite like it. As I say not much to report on the ground, all stands are, of course, all-seater and a scoreboard sits in the corner of the East and South Stands. Bolton’s history? Well, since you asked so nicely…
Bolton Wanderers Football Club was formed in 1874, under the name of Christ Church F.C. and first played on ground where the University of Bolton’s Innovation factory now stands. They left here after a disagreement with the vicar, taking on the name of Bolton Wanderers in 1877, due to their inability to find a permanent home, having used three different venues in their first four years of existence.
Becoming one of the twelve founder members of the Football League in 1888, Bolton have remained within the league system ever since, spending more time in the top-flight than out of it. However, they had to wait through until 1923 for their first silverware, which arrived in the shape of the FA Cup, beating West Ham United at Wembley in the famed ‘White Horse Final’, with David jack scoring the first ever goal at Wembley Stadium, in front of 127,000 fans. This first success was followed in 1926 and again in 1929 (vs Man City and Portsmouth respectively), before financial issues forced the club to sell Jack to Arsenal for a then world-record sum of £10,890, more than double the prior record and the club were relegated to Division 2 in 1933, returning to the top-flight two seasons later.
Following this promotion, the club continued to do well and they remained in the top-flight through 1935-’64, the team’s figurehead being Nat Lofthouse. Of course, WWII would be fought within this timeframe too, with 15 of the Bolton side seeing active service. Sadly, skipper Lt. Harry Goslin became the only pre-war pro-footballer to lose his life in the conflict, of the 32 (of 35) that served. Further tragedy followed immediately after conflict ceased, with the Burnden Park disaster claiming the lives of thirty-three Wanderers fans.
1953 saw Wanderers continue their historic FA Cup final appearances, as they were vanquished in the “Stanley Matthews Final” which, of course, saw the achievements of another Stan: Mortensen, largely forgotten. They put this right in 1958, when two Lofthouse goals saw the Whites overcome Manchester United in front of 100,000 fans, though this is still the last major trophy the club have lifted.
Unfortunately, a dip in form followed and, after relegation to Division 2 in 1964, they dropped to Division 3 for the first time in 1971. However, they remained here for just two seasons, before returning to the second-tier as champions. 1978 saw the Division 2 title secured, but they were back in the division just after a two-season stay in the top-flight. Following this, Wanderers signed up Brian Kidd for £150,000 to spearhead their attempt to return to Division 1.
This wasn’t successful, though, and they were, instead, relegated by the time the ’82-’83 season came to a close. 1987 saw fortunes get even worse, the club finding itself in the Fourth Division, though this only lasted a year before promotion. The Football League Trophy was won in 1989 before the club reached the 1991 play-offs, losing to Tranmere in the final. However, the Cup held good memories, including a win over holders Liverpool in 1993 and 1994 saw them repeat the trick against Arsenal.
1994 saw the club return to Division 1 and the following year saw Bolton reach the top-flight after defeating Reading in the play-offs. The club was also beaten finalists in the League Cup the same year. Their initial stay lasted just a year, though they soon bounced back after a further year in Division 1, securing the title. This success tied-in with the club departing Burnden Park for their new ground: the Reebok Stadium.
’98 saw the club drop back to Division 1 and they missed out on an immediate return in the play-offs, though 2001 saw them achieve the rise back up. They remained through to 2012, when they suffered relegation back to the Championship, with highlights of their stay being finalists in the League Cup and featuring in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2008. They also had to go through the mill along with Fabrice Muamba, following his near-fatal incident.
Back in the Championship, the club narrowly missed out on a spot in the play-offs at the end of their first season back, but fortunes turned against them and ended with 2016 seeing Wanderers finish bottom of the Championship, thus meaning the drop to League 1 for this season, where they currently stand in good stead for a swift return, sitting in the second automatic promotion spot.
Onto the game now and, oh boy, what a whole load of nothing. Honestly, bar a couple of half-chances, absolutely nothing of note occurred and it was, by far, the worst game I’ve seen this season. Yes, it started off brightly enough, with both sides sharing half-chances: both respective ‘keepers being forced into comfortable saves, but from there it was all downhill. A nice moment came on 17 minutes with applause in support of Ivan Klasnic soon morphing into a chant for the former #17 shirt-clad Bolton striker, who is still battling illness. Hopefully he turns the corner soon.
The only chance that followed in the remainder of the half came right at the end and was courtesy of a ‘keeping error by Mark Howard in the Bolton goal. Howard spilled an initial low drive that was followed up by Spireites striker Kristian Dennis, but he, somehow, could only force wide from around ten yards. So, the half came to a close with the score-line reading nil-nil and me being resigned to it staying that way.
After being treated to a drum-based march around the pitch at half-time in support of housing for all (I think), the game was back underway and….it was, indeed, even worse than the first half. Chesterfield ‘keeper Thorsten Stückmann performed a “one for the cameras” save to deny a weak header by Wanderers skipper Darren Pratley. This wasn’t one to get the season-high crowd going.
After Jon Nolan saw a late red for the visitors, the final action of the game saw, arguably, the best chance as a goalmouth scramble Adam Le Fondre, David Wheater and the impressive Filipe Morais all denied by flying Spireite bodies within the area, before the ball was cleared to deny promotion-seeking Wanderers the points and give the battling visitors a well deserved one to go towards their, very unlikely to succeed, survival bid. As the whistle went, one Bolton fan near me commented “Well, that’s a point gained, in a match like that!”. Sums it up really, doesn’t it?! Full-Time, 0-0.
After the game, the station was, as expected, rammed and so it was to the nearby Harvester for a quick pint to allow the crowds to disperse. As I waited, I got talking to a Chesterfield fan and his first question was to ask if “…(we) would catch the Blades”. I quickly said I was neutral but probably not, though we both agreed on how bad the game was, but that Chesterfield’s left-back Dion Donohue looks a really good player. As he moved on to get his pint from his wife, I was then joined by a Bolton fan who, also not enamoured by his side’s performance, got talking before inviting me onto his round, before escalating this further and just buying me a pint anyway. After making sure he was fine with this and thanking him for it, I realised I had wasted most of my time in hand queuing, so swiftly drank up and made haste for the platform.
A quick journey back into Manchester was made all the better by the fact my possible connection had been delayed, meaning an earlier arrival home than expected. Cheers Northern, your term report will be amended as such. All in all then, a decent day was had. Can’t complain with a fiver for the game (I’d have been less happy had I paid £30 for that), and the tour of Bolton was a decent, if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could. Anyhow, next up is a trip to a capital. But which one? Well, it might do your Edin if you can’t wait to find out…
Value For Money: 6