THE BIG INTERVIEW: Neil Whatmore
WANDERERS head to Sunderland next week hoping to earn a fourth round FA Cup tie at home to Everton.
One man who knows what it is like to beat the Black Cats on their turf is former Whites frontman Neil Whatmore.
In fact, to this day, the club legend is the only Wanderer ever to score a winning FA Cup goal against Sunderland – in a 1-0 victory at Roker Park in 1980.
Back then, it was the hosts who were the underdogs from the second tier against the top-flight Whites, who prevailed thanks to Whatmore’s 21st-minute strike.
The boot may be on the other foot this time but the man who came through the Burnden Park ranks to become one of the club’s big appearance makers is hoping the modern-day Whites can emulate his team’s result.
Now living in Nottinghamshire and working for Severn Trent Water, the 57-year-old still holds his first club dear.
Whatmore said: “I still have Bolton Wanderers in my heart. My wife is from Bolton and my son, daughter and four grandchildren – with another on the way – are all Wanderers fans.
“I don’t get back to see them as much as I used to but do try whenever I can. But I am always watching on from afar.
And he added: “I remember that win we had in 1980 up there.
“It was a good game and to get the winner, past my old team-mate Barry Siddall as well, was a good feeling.”
The team that Whatmore was part of, after graduating through the youth set-up, went from the third division to the first tier by the time of that cup clash 33 years ago.
The Ellesmere Port-born frontman admits he loved every minute of his time as a Wanderer and revealed his biggest mistake was leaving to join Birm-ingham the year after his exploits up in Sun-derland.
He continued: “We had a great team where a lot of us had come through the ranks together. It was a case of all being cogs in the wheel.
“When I first started, my aim was just to try and get in the first team and then when I had a regular place I wanted to achieve success with the team.
“I was lucky to do that – scoring a lot of goals in the process.
“I suppose as a striker, I used to get more of the limelight because people remember goalscorers and I loved scoring goals.
“Later on I dropped into midfield when Alan Gowling and Frank Worthington were paired together and I got fewer goals.
“I didn’t mind because I just wanted to play but when people look at my record they sometimes forget that and think I had a dip in form.
“Strikers are quite rightly judged on goals and I never minded that when I played in my preferred position.
“Things didn’t work out for me at Birmingham; there was a change of manager soon after I joined.
“I tried to get back to Bolton, and did on loan three times, because the club is in my heart, but it never really came off as a permanent move.”
Time may have moved on for the man who netted 107 goals in 294 league appearances but his love for Wanderers knows no bounds.
And he is praying they can somehow bounce straight back to the Premier League this season.
He believes a failure to do so could see a clear-out, something he feels may have happened during his playing days had the Whites not achieved promotion in 1978.
“We had two near misses by the time we got up as champions,” he said.
“In hindsight, I believe that good team would have broken up had we not gone up that season – it was all or nothing for us that year.
“I think it is a bit similar now with many of the players who stayed maybe looking at getting back in the top division if they don’t get back up this year. There could be a clear-out if they don’t.
“My observations are that there is not as much loyalty at the club or in football in general these days. The money is a big factor now and every player wants to play at the top and earn the big bucks.
“In my day we were all mates who came through together and while we were naturally happy to get good money, it was more about playing.
“Things have changed but my love for Wanderers hasn’t so I hope they can get back up sooner rather than later.”