IN the second of a two-part interview Gudni Bergsson looks back at his eight-year Bolton Wanderers career, how the club changed and his one great regret.

WHEN Gudni Bergsson hung up his boots in May 2003 he felt that keeping Wanderers in the Premier League had been a job well done.

The Icelander had helped Bolton reach the top flight on no fewer than three occasions – 1995, 1997 and 2001 – and as he entered into his late thirties he started to consider life after football.

Sam Allardyce had managed to convince the defender to stave off retirement for one more season but after safety was secured so memorably at West Ham’s expense on the final day of the 2002/03 campaign against Middlesbrough, the Bolton boss had one more go at changing his player’s mind.

What Wanderers fans might not know is just how close Bergsson came to saying yes.

“It took me three or four years to finally retire,” he told The Bolton News, 25 years after first signing for the club. “But looking back now, I wish I had stayed on for one or two more years.

“My family had gone to Iceland and I felt like I’d finished on a high note but then in the first couple of months of the following season the team was struggling a bit and Sam asked me if I would come back.

“The team got going again and I felt there was no point – but I am grateful for every minute I played at Bolton. There’s no sadness there.”

Bergsson arrived at Burnden Park in 1995 and made a debut in the Coca Cola Cup Final against Liverpool. His move to Bolton had not been planned – indeed he had been trialling for Crystal Palace until Colin Todd decided to drop by – but ended up staying in the North West for eight years and raising a family in the town.

“I was contemplating going for two or three years,” he said. “Then I got going and my experience grew. At Tottenham I had been playing amateur football so it was a really big step and I don’t think I ever felt entirely confident but I did gain that valuable time on the pitch.

“As I got older I just wanted to play as many games as I could and if anything as I went on I probably played better football.”

Going into the final few weeks of the season in 2003, Wanderers had done well to keep themselves ahead of an improving Hammers side, losing only once in their last nine games.

The Middlesbrough game came into sight with the national media firmly on the side of the Londoners’ quest for survival compared to ‘Little Old Bolton’.

Such was the pressure that Bergsson shelved plans to jet his family and friends in for the match to devote his entire attention to preparing for the game.

History shows he was right to do so. Per Frandsen’s 10th-minute goal was doubled by Jay Jay Okocha and though old boy Michael Ricketts came off the Boro bench to score his first goal for Steve McClaren’s side and set up a nerve-jangling finale to a remarkable season, Bolton had enough in the tank to see the result out.

“We had worked so hard in that season,” Bergsson recalled. “The very last game was so important against Middlesbrough that I didn’t want my family around, I needed to keep my focus and not let anything else in.

“The game was a fantastic occasion and just to stay in the Premier League was such an achievement for the club.

“But they really took off after I left – and maybe that is why? I had a fair innings.”

The team he shared a pitch with that afternoon comprised of a Finn (Jussi Jaaskelainen), three Frenchmen (Bernard Mendy, Youri Djorkaeff and Bruno NGotty) two Danes (Per Franden and Henrik Pedersen), a Jamaican (Ricardo Gardner), a Spaniard (Ivan Campo), a Nigerian (Jay Jay Okocha) and an Englishman, Mike Whitlow.

It was a far cry from the Coca Cola Cup final side he came into which contained just two foreign players – Dutchman Richard Sneekes and a Finn in Mixu Paatelainen.

Just as football had evolved in the eight years he was at Bolton, so did the dressing room. But Bergsson notes that the strengths in the successful teams under Allardyce, Colin Todd and Bruce Rioch were all along similar lines.

“Bolton Wanderers had developed differently with the foreign legion that came in,” he said. “At one point I felt more like someone from the UK because I’d been there for quite a length of time.

“When I first came in there was more of the old English style banter and camaraderie with the Bruce Rioch team. There was a lot of quality but there were some lifestyle issues which wouldn’t have been accepted in modern football. But it created a lot of laughs and that is part of the reason that the team was so together. We enjoyed each others’ company.

“We kept that element even after we started signing a lot of foreign players.

“The family element stayed in and so did the link to the supporters. It was very strong.”

Part one of Bergsson's interview can be found here.