DARREN Pratley laughs when he is asked to describe his relationship with the Bolton Wanderers fans, and my pen is poised to scribble down a riposte seven years in the making.

No-one has divided opinion quite like the industrious midfielder since he first stepped foot on a pitch for the club in a 4-0 win against QPR on the opening day of the 2011/12 Premier League season.

That victory promised so much but the season, which lurched from one disaster to another, would send Pratley into purgatory.

Two relegations, one promotion, a financial crisis, two well-paid contracts, a captaincy and umpteen jeers later, one could only guess what grievances he had to get off his chest, given the freedom of his contractual release at the Macron.

But that is not Pratley’s style. The Londoner is a rarity among modern footballers in that he shuns all social media sites. The little press he does digest comes from family members passing on a match rating, or a bit of transfer gossip.

At some stages of his Bolton career, the Twitter blackout has been a blessing. Wanderers’ failures have often rested heavily on his own broad shoulders, especially since he took on the captaincy a few years ago.

Ties now severed, the 33-year-old is offered a blank canvas to air his disappointment at having been made the scapegoat in some people’s eyes. His response typified the player I have come to know pretty well during the bad times and worse.

“Whether people have booed me, cheered me, it doesn’t matter – I want every one of them to know I wish them well,” he told The Bolton News.

“There are no hard feelings. I have had seven good years at Bolton, made some very good friends and I would love to see the club push on after last season. I just hope they have a bit of an easier time than we did.

“I feel like I’m leaving on a positive. It hasn’t always been that way and if we’d gone down maybe people would feel differently, maybe I would?

“But I want to see Bolton do well. I’ll never think anything different.”

Pratley did get a song of his own a few years ago – sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ – but his battle to win over the fans completely was one he knew he was never going to win.

“It’s strange because Bolton has been almost the reverse of what I had at Swansea,” he said of his former club. “I was a fans’ favourite there, couldn’t do any wrong, but at Bolton we’ve had some tough times. It hasn’t been easy but I don’t have any bitterness at all.

“When Bolton fans have come up to me when I’m doing my shopping in Tesco, even when we’ve been losing games, they have been polite and just want the best for the club.

“That’s football. I hope they get back to the top of the league and those fans get some good times again.”

Pratley has experienced his share of anguish in a Bolton shirt – and it was he who memorably stepped forward on behalf of the dressing room at Fulham when Wanderers dropped meekly out of the Championship in 2016 to implore the new board to “get things sorted”.

He points out, however, that problems on the pitch pale into insignificance compared with the kind of life-changing experience he witnessed at White Hart Lane in 2012.

“That night where Fabrice (Muamba) collapsed was the hardest thing I have ever been through,” he said. “I struggled with that for a long time afterwards. It was horrible.

“But then I’d say the best thing I have seen is when he woke up. It was incredible.

“We’ve lost some good ones in my time here. Phil Gartside, the chairman, Brian (Ward) the chef.

“I have made so many friends, though. I used to go into the stadium every day for an ice bath, so I know everyone from the receptionists who’d let me through to the cleaners. They are good people. It’s hard to say goodbye to them – but I want to wish them well.”

Pratley made 212 appearances for Wanderers in total but never quite captured the same free-scoring form he had shown at Swansea, finishing his Bolton career with 17 goals.

Both Neil Lennon and Phil Parkinson preferred to use his physicality and work-rate as a shield in-front of the back four and his return from a broken leg at the end of the 2016/17 League One campaign was a major catalyst to promotion.

He suffered the same injury in March, initially limping out of the 1-0 win against Aston Villa with an injury which was exacerbated in a training ground collision with Antonee Robinson.

As a result, Pratley was restricted to just three training sessions between March 17 and the end of the campaign.

His final five starts for the club were only made with the help of a large painkilling injection, not that he knew of his departure when he walked off against Nottingham Forest on the final day after an hour with the game still delicately-balanced at 0-0.

“I honestly didn’t know it was going to be my last game,” he said.

“I have heard a few people say I was thanking the fans as I went off, but I really didn’t know. Obviously I was out of contract, so it was possible. I wasn’t looking to leave but you never know what will happen at Bolton.”

Since having his card marked by Bolton, Pratley has been shuttling between Manchester and the south for check-ups from the hospital but hopes now to be in shape for pre-season at a new club.

Where that might be is still in some doubt.

“I’d like to get somewhere down south, that would be ideal,” he says. “But I haven’t got anything lined up at the minute, I’ve been concentrating on sorting my leg out.”

What next for Wanderers? Fans are eagerly-anticipating a potential change in style after the departure of the old guard this summer, Pratley included.

The player himself was glad to see Ken Anderson stand behind manager Phil Parkinson as he enters into a third season in charge.

“I’m glad he is staying on and I have to thank the gaffer – and people might think ‘hang on, he’s just released you,’ but he has been good to me and I have a lot of respect for him,” Pratley said.

“I hope the fans can get behind him next season. I look at the job he did, with what he had to work with, no money, and wonder if anyone else could have done it?

“It’s a brilliant changing room but there’s discipline too.

“And I’ve seen what it is like when you are down the bottom of the league and there isn’t the same togetherness. He never let that happen.

“Even the chairman deserves a pat on the back, for me. I know there have been things with wages and bonuses but I look around the place now and it seems a lot more stable than when he walked in there. If he can get some investment, who knows?”

How history treats Pratley will be interesting to see.

On one hand, a workmanlike midfielder and a quietly effective captain who led the club through some choppy waters, on the other, a player whose industrious style just never clicked with the Bolton faithful.

“Maybe after seven years it’s the right time for me to leave, the right time for the club,” he added, pragmatically. “It’s probably best for everyone.”