ONE of the things you must accept covering a club like Bolton Wanderers is that it is practically impossible to express a view and have it universally agreed - unless it happens to be critical of Manchester United, of course.

Opinion is everywhere in football and bubbles fervently at the surface of a world where supporters cannot see their team in the flesh, are consigned to watching games behind laptop screens and debating every decision on social media.

Never before has there been such a captive audience as there is on iFollow, where the numbers watching home games almost certain exceed what they would under normal circumstances through the turnstiles. And that presents its own set of problems, both for the club and those in the press box.

Wanderers welcomed Bolton FM as a commentary partner for the streaming platform at the start of last season, when the majority of supporters listening were based outside of the UK.

Things have obviously changed since then, and the huge upsurge in listenership over the internet now means a lot more scrutiny of work carried out by a small and friendly local team, almost exclusively of volunteers.

At this point it seems right to explain that a previous agreement with BBC Radio Manchester could not be continued as – despite claims from Wigan, Rochdale, Oldham and the like – the station cannot guarantee live commentary at every game as they have a huge network of teams to cover, not least the juggernauts at City and United.

Though Jack Dearden and Co did manage to juggle a live iFollow feed at one point with live updates for his employers, the arrangement was difficult, and it was considered best that fans watching on the stream should have a devoted and uninterrupted feed (Fergal Sharkey allowing).

And so it fell on the shoulders of Bolton FM to talk fans through the pandemic. A tough gig if there ever was one.

Recent weeks have seen increased scrutiny of the commentary as opposition clubs, like Scunthorpe and Barrow, used Bolton FM’s feed to man their own iFollow platform. Accusations of bias and impartiality were perhaps inevitable, particularly as the protagonists had no idea at the start of the Scunthorpe game that they were commentating for both sets of supporters.

Travel restrictions imposed by the BBC on their reporters have caused a few issues for iFollow platforms up and down the land as some clubs – including Scunthorpe – rely on their local Humberside station for commentary.

Bolton FM’s main commentator, Derek Clark, has continued to travel home and away. And for my money, does a damn good job too.

At home games, Derek is often joined by a co-commentator – be it Gary Henshaw, a former Burnden Park winger who has been a regular in the press box for many years, or occasionally, Steve Eyre, a well-respected coach who has worked with the some of the best players in the land at Manchester City.

It must be underlined that neither man is paid for their services and do it more as a favour for Derek and the station. In Gary’s case it also enables him to publicise some of the good work he does with the Bolton Remembrance Group.

Last weekend, Bolton’s now customary late finish was supplied by Shaun Miller in a frantic final few minutes against Barrow. The goal arrived moments after a big penalty claim from the visitors’ bench and is the kind of incident that keeps commentators up at night with a cold sweat.

Within a matter of seconds, and WITHOUT access to replays, close-ups or an unobscured TV camera, the pair were asked to make a judgement call on the penalty shout and the validity of Miller’s goal, which some in the press box were claiming was offside.

Gary initially got the calls wrong in commentary and after summing up the performance he felt underwhelmed by what Bolton had done over 90 minutes, using a few phrases he probably now regrets. I do wonder if the listening audience in Barrow had prompted him to feel more sympathy for the Bluebirds than he would ordinarily have done, but his opinion was out there, and the game was done. That was until this week’s press conference.

As any commentator will tell you, it is great for your voice to be attached to a moment of celebration. Jacko (Dearden) will forever be associated with the Macron exploding when Aaron Wilbraham grabbed that winner against Nottingham Forest, especially if he keeps retweeting the audio clip every week.

When you get something wrong, however, it feels like a punch to the stomach. The late and legendary Brian Moore always regretted putting Kevin Keegan ‘on the spot’ as David Batty lined up to take a decisive penalty for England at France 98. On these fleeting moments a career can hang.

Gary’s words clearly riled Ian Evatt after he listened back to the highlights. The Bolton boss would have been aware of a slightly negative air among fans after the 1-0 win and associated it with the tone of commentary. The rant was not, as some have interpreted it, a direct attack on the Wanderers supporters.

Here, the argument gets more complicated. The first point – as I mentioned further back in the piece – is that you simply cannot please everyone.

As a representative of Bolton FM, neither Derek nor Gary are required to be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ with their output. 

Where the line is blurred, however, is that the iFollow platform is very much a club vehicle, especially when good money is being charged to watch. If Evatt does feel there is an overtly critical tone – and, again, he has the right to that opinion - then there is an onus on the club to find a solution which is better suited to them.

Evatt is also well aware that there is an undercurrent of negative sentiment among some Bolton’s supporters which may be a spill-over from the last few years at the club, the 12 months in society, or just a trait Northerners fail to shake off. Those complaints had been very much in the minority during this brilliant winning streak but – for a short while at least – looked ready to surface again after a frustrating afternoon against Barrow.

Getting rid of that is a long-term job. It is impossible to ask Bolton supporters to be completely happy with their lot while the club reside in the fourth tier but Evatt so desperately wants everyone on board for the final push, thus his decision to pounce on Monday afternoon.

Whether the manager of Bolton should wade into the debate is in itself debatable, particularly during a spell of good results. Where he saw a controlled game with umpteen final-third entries, a high percentage of forward passes, and 72.5 per cent possession, Billy from Breightmet will have seen his 50p bet on Bolton to win 4-0 go down and vented his anger on Twitter accordingly.

One thing is for certain, if Bolton do climb back up into the Premier League, the number of opinions rises exponentially. And there simply isn’t enough time to address them all.

For now, I’d like to view Evatt’s passion on the subject as a positive. He is fiercely protective of his group of players and has finally fostered the team spirit he has been looking for. If he wants to create the 'siege mentality' in an effort to keep focus on promotion, then go right ahead.

I think for the first time in months, Wanderers are looking like the real deal. But I’m also well aware there will be people out there who disagree entirely.