THE BIG INTERVIEW: Tony Philliskirk - 'My happiest times were at Bolton'
“I LOVED Burnden Park because, if you missed the goal at the Embankment End, the ball bounced back off the Normid wall.”
Not that former Whites striker Tony Philliskirk, who cracked that joke as he looked back at his goal-laden three years at Wanderers , missed the target often.
The North-Easterner, who was recruited from Preston North End for £50,000 in 1989, may not have been with the Whites for a sustained spell – but what a spell it was, with 75 goals in 185 appearances.
And it’s a career high point for the man who bagged a brace on this very day 23 years ago – coincidentally in a 2-1 home win over Watford which mirrored the scoreline in Wanderers’ match last weekend.
Philliskirk remembers the heady days alongside David Reeves in the Whites attack under Phil Neal’s management, the pair inspiring the side to consecutive play-off places – albeit both ultimately unsuccessful.
And despite experiencing Wembley heartache in 1991 against Tranmere in the Division Three play-off final, it is mainly happy memories for the 47-year-old Philliskirk said: “What great days those were – easily the happiest times of my professional playing career.
“Bolton was where i enjoyed most of my success as a goalscorer – it was prolific really, getting something like 25, 28 and 20 in three successive seasons.
“I loved my time under Phil Neal and Mick Brown.
“Team-wise we didn’t have that much success, and the Tranmere defeat still hurts now, but individually, it was great for me.
“We had big games like cup matches at Old Trafford against Manchester United and just as many happy days at Burnden Park. It was an old-style ground – even with that Normid supermarket at one end.
“We enjoyed a lot of success at home and made it into a fortress; it was so difficult for the opposition.
“We had a good team and I had a great affiliation with the fans.
“Reevesy did all my hard work up front. I just hung around in the box waiting for him to set me up – that’s where I did my stuff.
“I still have old videos of those days. One day I’ll have to get them put on DVD.
“I sometimes put them on and watch them back – they bring a smile to my face, though it seems really strange, like I am watching someone else.”
Philliskirk is now head of youth at Oldham Athletic – an area he has worked in for past 14 years.
But he still looks for Wanderers scores after his home-town side Sunderland when the Latics game is over.
“After Sunderland, it’s Bolton next,” he went on.
“They were my happiest times as a player and what a fantastic club.
“It’s very well run and that is the key for me.
“Phil Gartside was on the board when I was there and he is chairman now so they have had that longevity and stability.
“I know they are down now but I am sure they will be back.
“I know Steve Davis, Owen Coyle’s number two, very well and I am sure they will put it right given time and patience. I certainly hope so.”
He may be in the Latics camp but his job still sees him helping out his old club with the transfer of youngster Tom Eaves from Boundary Park to Wanderers.
Philliskirk, whose son Daniel plays for Sheffield United, admits he loves working with blossoming young talent and developing stars of the future.
He does, however, admit it’s a job that is harder than ever at lower league level.
“It’s harder these days,” he added.
“I love my job and have been at Oldham for 14 years – going up to work with the first team before returning to be head of youth.
“I love it. Developing players is what gives me great satisfaction and Oldham has a proud tradition of that.
“It’s very rewarding but the new set-up makes it a real challenge.
“We want to develop players for Oldham and if they are good enough to move on to bigger clubs, all the better for us.
“We sell players now at the ages of nine and 10 and can survive in that way.
“I would never stand in the way of a youngster going to a bigger club because you never know when that chance will come again.
“We had Tom Eaves here before he joined Bolton – it’s the way of the world.
“But if he goes on and has half as good a time as I had at Bolton then it will be a great move for him.”