Friday, April 25, 1997, Burnden Park Championship WANDERERS 4 (Thompson, Taggart, McGinlay 2 (1 pen) CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1 (Kinsella) Attendance: 22,030 Referee: Kevin Lynch (Derby)
NO one could have scripted a better send-off.
Players, supporters, the young and the old had a thrilling win to savour as they wallowed in a night of nostalgia that rang out the old and rang in the new.
The curtain came down on 102 years of football at Burnden Park and Colin Todd’s Wanderers signed off in style.
Already promoted back to the Premier League as champions and looking forward to a new era in their new, state-of-the-art Reebok Stadium on the outskirts of town, the Whites served up a performance that was a fitting finale at the famous old ground.
A satellite TV audience witnessed the historic scenes as Charlton played their part in ensuring Wanderers didn’t have things all their own way. Indeed, the Addicks threatened to spoil the party that kicked off with a parade of former players when Mark Kinsella fired them into a half-time lead.
But this night belonged to Bolton – the town, its team and its supporters – and when the running order was planned to end with one of Wanderers’ most famous fans – the legendary commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme – delivering the immortal line: “They think it’s all over . . .” it would have been a poetic injustice had Todd’s record-breaking Whites not signed off with a victory.
And they did just that, serving up a second-half performance that blew Charlton away and ensured the Whites’ supporters went home with more than just tears for souvenirs of that famous last night.
John McGinlay, who stole the show with two late goals, revealed how the players’ will to win had inspired their second-half fightback.
“The lads sat in the dressing room at half time and we were all determined that it shouldn’t end this way,” said the Scot.
“We had to win our last game at Burnden. That determination helped us step up a gear in the second half and we couldn’t have stage-managed it any better if we’d tried. This has to be the best night of my life.”
Emotions ran high from start to finish. Roy Hartle, one of the so-called “hard men” of the 1958 FA Cup-winning side, wept unashamedly as he joined the many old favourites in the pre-match parade on the hallowed turf where he played for 18 consecutive seasons.
And Alan Thompson, the young star of Todd’s Championship-winning side, choked back tears as the final seconds ticked away.
“I had to try to stop myself crying in the last couple of minutes,” said the Geordie, whose equaliser early in the second half had turned the tide Wanderers’ way.
“But there were tears in a few of the other players’ eyes in the dressing room, just as I’m sure there were tears shed by a lot of supporters.”
Sentiment reigned at the end too, when Todd, who had steered Wanderers back to the Premier League at the first attempt, sent out three players to receive the 100-year-old League Championship trophy – club captain McGinlay, team captain Gudni Bergsson and Gerry Taggart, who had also skippered the side with distinction during the season.
The big Ulsterman, who had volleyed the all-important second goal and defended magnificently alongside the imperious Chris Fairclough, spoke of his personal pride and the collective satisfaction that the team had provided a fitting, winning end to the Burnden era.
“This is a proud night for us all,” Taggart said. “It’s great for the players to mark the last game on the ground with such an exciting win.
“No-one could have asked for more. This is a night that’s going to go down in history and that in itself was always going to be something special. But to win 4-1 ... well, it’s something I’ll never forget and it will probably take a long time for it to sink in.”
It was no surprise that Wanderers should end the night in celebration, for nothing that incredible team did ever surprised anyone.
They had dominated the division from start to finish, smashing records along the way, and provided some of the finest footballing entertainment ever seen at Burnden Park.
It was appropriate that on that night of all nights they became the highest scoring Bolton team of all time, and fitting that McGinlay – who in five seasons had joined the ranks of the Burnden legends – should be the man who got the goals that eclipsed the 1933-34 team’s 96 mark and left Wanderers just two short of a century for the season. The first came from the penalty spot after John Robinson had fouled the influential Scott Sellars, and the second came after Mixu Paatelainen, one of three late substitutes, upset the Charlton defence with his first touch and Jimmy Phillips, the home-town hero, supplied the cross that left McGinlay with a trademark tap-in.
They were priceless goals since, even at 2-1, Charlton were far from beaten and it took two important saves by Keith Branagan, from Paul Mortimer and Carl Leaburn, to keep Wanderers in sight of their twin target – a century of both points and goals.
The Republic of Ireland keeper, enjoying his third promotion in five seasons – had no hesitation in declaring: “That’s the best yet.
“It’s been five fantastic seasons and it’s got better and better every year.
“We’re leaving the ground in much better shape than we were when I arrived and I’m proud to be a part of it.
“But I don’t want it to end here – nobody wants it to end.
“What is coming up is the start of something new and I want to be a part of that too.”
How they lined up: Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson (McAnespie 84mins), Fairclough, Taggart, Phillips; Johansen (Sherridan 79 mins, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; McGinlay, Blake (Paatelainen 86).
Charlton (4-3-3): Petterson; Robinson, Rufus, Balmer, Barness; Kinsella, Mortimer (Nicholls 66), O’Connell; Allen, Bright, Lisbie (Leaburn 66). Not used: Chapple.