WEARING the captain’s armband at Wanderers proved to be both a blessing and a curse for David Wheater last season.

Having picked up the mantle from Darren Pratley last summer, the big defender had no clue of what problems were in store for Bolton and a dressing room which would be pushed to breaking point.

From the summer strike which forced the cancellation of a pre-season friendly against St Mirren at short notice to the high-profile and history-making boycott of the home game against Brentford several months later, this was the season when players hit back against ownership which had failed to pay them properly.

Opinion is divided among supporters on whether players fully appreciated what consequences their actions may have – and until the EFL’s independent panel decides upon a punishment for failing to fulfil fixtures, all the evidence cannot be considered.

But speaking for the first time about his role as captain, Wheater admitted there was a heavy burden on his shoulders through a campaign which ended in relegation.

“It was non-stop,” he told The Bolton News. “Every week it would be something else. We weren’t talking about football anymore. It was just a mess.

“It was tough to keep lads calm because everyone had their different ways of dealing with it.

“Some of them would want to train and use the football as a distraction, others didn’t.

“Keeping them motivated was a difficult task at times because you could understand those who were having problems.

“And for me, as captain, it was difficult. I’d captained Boro for a bit as a youngster and done it a few times at Bolton but this was my first proper season, so it was a big job.

“I’d be the one going into the manager’s office and asking questions but I knew he didn’t have the answers. Nobody did.

“I had some good players around me, the likes of Gary O’Neil and Andy Taylor, experienced ones who had been through it. But it was a difficult season to wear the captain’s armband, even though it’s an honour to do it.”

Wheater is now at a crossroads in his Wanderers career. Keen to speak with new owners about their plans and the possibility of staying on, he is also realistic that after eight-and-a-half years with the Whites, it may be time to leave.

Looking back on the extreme highs and lows, a touch of melancholy creeps into the conversation with the normally jovial defender. Injuries have played a significant part in his time at Bolton – from the torn cruciate ligament suffered against West Brom in the final weeks of the club’s Premier League run, to the fitness issues he experienced in the last relegation from the Championship.

Speaking with remarkable candour, Wheater conceded that – at times – he has been his own worst enemy. “If I hadn’t got injuries I’d be sat here having made 600 appearances, maybe more, but I’ve just got past the 400 mark,” he said. “The truth is, I’ve spent too much time playing when I shouldn’t have done.

“Sometimes, If I’d have got myself sorted rather than trying to play on, I think I’d have played more games overall.

“I think that’s why fans say I move like a carthorse. When I haven’t been fit I probably have been doing – but when I’m injury-free, like I have been for quite a while now, I’m perfectly fine.

“I admit at one stage I was stealing painkillers out of the medical department. That’s how bad it got.

“It was a tough time for me because we’d been relegated about March-April and I did my hamstring but I tried to play on for the last three games. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Now 32, Wheater feels fitter than ever. No longer plagued by back and hamstring pain thanks to a corrective insert placed in his boots a few years ago, he has started 79 per cent of Wanderers’ games (109) over the last three seasons under Phil Parkinson.

Putting that into comparison, Wheater managed just 103 league starts in the previous five-and-a-half seasons with the club.

As such, he feels he is still making up for time lost on the treatment table, and even though injury is an almost unavoidable pitfall in his line of work, Wheater feels he has a better understanding of his own body than he did in his twenties.

“I’ve got plenty of miles left in me yet,” he said. “Football isn’t a steady line of work and there have been times when I felt like if I’m not out there playing, that would be it. But I’m more experienced now and I know how to handle myself.”

Arguably Wheater’s finest hours for Wanderers came in the successful League One promotion in 2016/17, where his nine goals also helped secure a string of personal awards.

He is well prepared for a different set of pressures this season, if a deal can be agreed, but believes that Bolton will continue to be a big scalp for anyone in the division.

“We had a great year in League One, even though we should have been promoted a couple of weeks earlier than we were. But to clinch it on the last day against Peterborough, I suppose there’s nothing better than that,” he said.

“Just knowing we were favourites to win every week was a good feeling.

“You’d have teams celebrating in the dressing room if they took a point off us. And that made you think ‘we’re a massive club at this level’.

“It will be harder this time. A lot of players have moved on and the points thing will be tough but if the club gets sorted then anything can happen.”

As Wanderers fans wait with bated breath for news of an ownership change, the situation is no different among the players on their summer break, counting down the days to pre-season.

Unpaid since February, the squad and coaching staff will only have some sense of closure on 12 months of madness when there is a new name above the door at the University of Bolton Stadium.

After that, an unprecedented rebuild will have to be done in double-quick time.

Whether Wheater carries the captain’s armband into next season or moves on to pastures new, the centre-half hopes some stability can be restored at a club he holds dear and in a town he calls home.

Fed up with finances dominating the agenda, the centre-half would dearly like the next few years to be focussed on the football.

“I hope that day comes soon,” Wheater said. “I’m surprised it has taken this long for someone to buy it, because of the face of it there’s so much going for Bolton. It’s still a Premier League club in a lot of ways.

“Obviously we don’t know the accounts or the background behind it all but different people have found different things they didn’t like and it has dragged it out.

“We all just want to see an end to it now, get things back in order.

“It is going to be very difficult with the 12-point deduction.

“Pre-season is going to be vital and that’s why you are looking at this takeover and just hoping it gets sorted as quickly as possible.

“Whether I am there or not, I hope the club can get back to where it should be.”