WE’VE laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve celebrated and mourned… If nothing else, 2018 has been a true test of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

This was the year in which the Whites lost its greatest-ever benefactor, went to the very brink of administration, and saw the first player strike in the club’s long history.

It was also a year where Phil Parkinson’s side dug deep to secure a historic last-day escape from relegation, where the club rallied round for Stephen Darby and his family and – when push came to shove – Wanderers found results when they needed them.

There was outcry in January when Wanderers’ top scorer and attacking lynchpin Gary Madine was sold on to Cardiff City for an initial £5million, without a replacement coming the other way.

Parkinson has said it would be “crazy” to sell the player who had anchored his attack during a promotion charge and spearheaded the slow recovery from a disastrous start to the Championship season.

Nevertheless, Ken Anderson took full advantage of Cardiff’s persistence to command a huge fee for a player who had been signed on a free transfer just a couple of years earlier.

Two late deals were done to re-sign Zach Clough on loan from Nottingham Forest and bring in City Ground team-mate Tyler Walker. Sadly, neither deal worked out well.

Rochdale had enquired about taking both Adam Le Fondre and Aaron Wilbraham on loan but their advances were spurned when it became clear that Madine fancied the move to South Wales. Both would make the most of their stay.

Sammy Ameobi scored the first post-Madine goal in a televised Friday night game against Bristol City and a few weeks later Clough made his only lasting impression on his return with a winner against condemned Sunderland.

When Le Fondre netted the decisive goal against Aston Villa on an icy night in March, Wanderers were looking good for survival. Nobody could have foreseen the collapse which was to come.

Parkinson’s side took just one point from their next 21, including a demoralising defeat at relegation rivals Burton Albion. Angry fans rushed the dugout at the Pirelli Stadium during the game itself. And following a result which meant Bolton’s fate was not in their own hands on the final day, the manager could offer little reason why his side had failed to perform.

“I always defend the lads but I can’t here,” he said.

“We had some disappointing performances with so much at stake and I can’t explain it.”

Feelings were raw as the build-up began to the final weekend of the season. And when The Bolton News asked readers for their thoughts, we got a record-breaking post-bag for our troubles.

The permutations on the final day were complex – but the bottom line was Wanderers had to beat Forest and hope Burton and Barnsley failed to beat Preston and Derby County, respectively.

What promised to be a nightmare ended up as a sun-kissed psychedelic dream. All hope looked lost when Bolton lost a 1-0 lead to trail 2-1 but when David Wheater brought them level four minutes from time, something quite magical happened.

Over to Jack Dearden: “Adam Le Fondre, into the penalty area, THEY’VE SCORED! Bolton lead 3-2. Wilbraham with the header and the Macron Stadium has completely exploded.”

Burton and Barnsley failed to win. Aaron Wilbraham, the Championship’s oldest outfield player, had etched his name in Wanderers folklore. It would also be his last game in Bolton colours.

Celebrations went on for days. One fan, Mark Yates, who had joked he would get Wilbraham’s face tattooed on his body if he scored the winner against Forest, was cajoled into making good on his promise.

Back in March, Ken Anderson said he would be pursuing £30million of investment over the summer to try and push the club up to the next strata of Championship football. And while the chairman’s pursuit was ultimately unsuccessful, the purse strings were loosened to allow a huge overhaul of the playing squad.

A dozen new players came in, including Yanic Wildschut on loan from Norwich, Pawel Olkowski from FC Koln, Erhun Oztumer from Walsall, Jason Lowe from Birmingham and Jack Hobbs from Nottingham Forest.

Parkinson had not paid a single transfer fee in two years as manager – but that changed when Josh Magennis arrived for £200,000 from Charlton Athletic.

The Wanderers boss coveted Bradford City’s Charlie Wyke for much of the summer but also had designs on Joe Garner, then of Ipswich, Burton’s Liam Boyce and – briefly – Birmingham City’s Lukas Jutkiewicz.

In the end, another key target, Forest Green’s Christian Doidge, would be the man signed on a loan-to-buy deal which could ultimately cost £1million.

Heading in the opposite direction were players who had developed some strong links with the fans. Wilbraham joined Jem Karacan, Karl Henry, Darren Pratley, Mark Howard and Fil Morais in a mass exodus which left the Bolton squad with a very different look.

It was as Parkinson took his players to Scotland for pre-season that news emerged that all was not well in the camp. A dispute between the players and Anderson over bonuses owed for the previous season had erupted, leading the squad to take the unprecedented of going on strike, forcing the cancellation of a friendly against St Mirren less than 24 hours before kick-off.

The Professional Footballers’ Association was called in to mediate as a public spat rumbled on for more than a week. Normality was resumed – but sadly this was not the last time in 2018 the club owner and the players would appear at loggerheads.

Just four new signings were in the starting line-up at West Brom on the opening day of the season where Parkinson’s side produced the shock of the day. Two new boys got the goals – Wildschut and Magennis – and the good vibes continued through August with wins against Reading and Birmingham.

Wanderers hadn’t started a season in the second tier like this since Sam Allardyce led them into the Premier League at the turn of the millennium. A reality check was dealt out in a 3-0 home defeat to Sheffield United, however, and another high-profile exit was soon confirmed as terrace hero Adam Le Fondre’s contract was cancelled to facilitate a move to FC Sydney.

A few weeks later, we were back to finances. Late in the evening on September 10, Ken Anderson confirmed an offer to repay a debt owed to BluMarble had been rejected and that the club would enter into administration the following morning.

Insolvency firm Quantuma were poised to take over club affairs – and Wanderers faced the prospect of an instant 12-point penalty.

Frantic phone calls continued into the night and the following morning, with Parkinson even understood to have made a personal appeal to creditors.

And at the 11th hour, however, a deal was struck, the worst-case scenario avoided.

“I am pleased to confirm that the loan from Blu Marble Capital Ltd has been repaid,” said Anderson in a statement.

“I am also pleased to be able to confirm that the loans to both PBP (Michael James) and Brett Warburton have been extended on better terms for the club.

“I was also able to reschedule and reduce a number of other club liabilities which in all have reduced future costs and liabilities by circa £1.5m.”

On the same day, tragic news broke that former owner Eddie Davies had passed away during a family holiday in Portugal.

His incredible financial backing had helped propel Wanderers to four consecutive top-eight finishes in the Premier League, twice into Europe and allowed a generation of supporters to watch world class stars such as Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro and Jay Jay Okocha.

A few days later, The Bolton News learned Davies had agreed to fund a bridging loan to Anderson’s company, Inner Circle Investments Ltd, to allow the BluMarble loan to be repaid. Dates on documentation provided to Companies House showed the loan had been made a few days before the administration drama.

More bad news followed for Wanderers when full-back Stephen Darby announced he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The popular defender watched as his side beat Derby County 1-0 thanks to a Craig Noone header – the winger running over to celebrate with his team-mate in perhaps the year’s most iconic image.

The Rams victory on September 29 proved the last until Boxing Day. Goals dried up completely through October and November as Wanderers sunk to second bottom of the table.

To make matters worse, those ubiquitous off-the-field distractions reared again when problems with November wages once again led to PFA intervention.

Cashflow was the root cause of the problem, although club owner Anderson also laid blame at local media negativity and a drop-off in attendances during the poor run of one win in 19 games.

A resolution was eventually found, and wages paid on December 14, although exception was taken by Anderson to The Bolton News’ reporting of pay issues and a ban was issued to chief football writer, Marc Iles, which extends to attending home games and communicating with club employees.

To the eternal credit of Parkinson and his team, a response was found when the team needed it most. Rotherham United were beaten on Boxing Day and Stoke City held to a draw three days later to mean Wanderers were out of the bottom three at the turn of the year.

The immediate task of 2019 is to stay out of the relegation zone, perhaps even to show the investment in the summer can lead to some improvement in league position.

Financial challenges also lie in wait off the field as Anderson continues to seek investment or a buyer for the club with deeper pockets than his own.

Highs and lows, good or bad, The Bolton News will be there to cover every moment.