RELEGATION to the Championship doesn’t bear thinking about for one of the men who helped put Wanderers on the Premier League map.
A loyal servant as player and coach, Phil Brown has seen the best and worst of times at Bolton, and that is why he is willing on his former club to make a late dash for safety.
As right-hand man to Sam Allardyce, Brown helped propel the Whites back into the big time at the turn of the millennium, and looked on with pride as they racked up 11 unbroken campaigns at the top table and twice qualified for Europe.
So when the notion is put to him that a backward step might not necessarily be a bad thing for Owen Coyle’s side, the former full-back, who made more than 300 appearances at Burnden Park, didn’t mince his words.
“It isn’t even worth contemplating,” he said, with a rueful shake of the head. “Absolute nonsense.
“When I joined Bolton they were playing in the fourth division, when I left they were in Europe.
“I’m not for one minute saying that was down to me – but while some supporters like it down there, for whatever reason, a lot more of them like it up here. They would rather be trying to knock on the door of Europe than knocking around at the bottom of the Football League.
“Bolton aren’t just established now, they are respected. They have earned their reputation as a top-flight team and you can’t just chuck that away without knowing the consequences.
“Relegation is not an option.”
Despite Wanderers’ struggles, Brown speaks highly of the job done by Coyle this season in trying circumstances.
Fabrice Muamba’s collapse, the loss of key players such as Stuart Holden, Chung-Yong Lee and Ricardo Gardner to long-term injuries and some quirky runs of fixtures against the top clubs have all made life difficult for his former team-mate.
“For me, Coyley has handled himself impeccably this season and long may that continue,” he said.
“He’s got four big cup finals to come but he doesn’t need me to tell him that.
“He’s faced more adversity than any other manager this season, yet all the praise will only matter to him if he’s a Premier League manager next season.”
But oddly enough, Brown believes a largely disastrous campaign can still be salvaged if the club can build on Tuesday night’s victory over Aston Villa at Sunderland this afternoon.
“They had a rough start to the season, in terms of the fixtures, and that in itself has put Bolton in the situation they are in,” he said. “But they are more than capable of winning all four games they have got left, and if they do that, they’ll probably forget that they have been in a relegation battle since the seventh game of the season.
“As late as it is, there is still a chance to put this season right. They have been in the quarter finals of the FA Cup - and very nearly the semis when you look at how the game went before Fabrice Muamba collapsed because they were the better team.
“If you finished, say 16th, and consider the cup, it doesn’t turn out to be a bad season.”
Victory at the Stadium of Light would see the Whites climb out of the bottom three for at least 24 hours, and Brown is convinced that Coyle’s team do have the gumption to stay out of trouble for good.
“Bolton have the game in hand, and when that has been the case in the past, they get the job done,” he said. “Hopefully that will be the case again.
“It has been 12 years of great work to get this club into the Premier League and established.
“It’s absolutely vital now that those players go out there and show people in the area that they are not going to throw that away, that it means something.”