THE debate as to who is Bolton Wanderers’ genuine local derby – or whether they really have one at all – has rolled on for generations.

If you believe the song, then Whites’ supporters only ‘hate’ Manchester United, although it has now been a decade since the two clubs competed at the same level.

Historically, there was a reciprocal rivalry between the two clubs. As the story goes, Bolton’s team bus was pelted with fruit by United fans during the 1958 FA Cup victory parade which, for whatever reason, took in the City Centre and Salford outskirts on its way towards the Town Hall.

In recent times, however, it has been rather more one-sided. Almost every side feels some type of rivalry against the Reds, and though Big Sam’s Wanderers dealt Sir Alex Ferguson’s elite a few bloody noses at the turn of the millennium and even Gary Megson can count a win against United on his Bolton CV, it would be fanciful to suggest the rivalry goes both ways.

For most of the Premier League era, and a few years thereafter, Blackburn Rovers became chief foes. More comparable in terms of club size, Wanderers have had some ding-dong battles with the Ewood Park men, as recently as 2019.

Sadly, one of the unwritten rules of football derbies is exclusivity. And while Rovers maintained a healthy competitiveness against Bolton and have fought out 170 games in three different divisions down the years, it is not as fierce as that held for Burnley, their East Lancashire neighbours.

The same logic applies – or, sadly, applied, to Bury. Before the Gigg Lane club was dragged into the financial mire by poor ownership the Shakers had revived their local rivalry with Wanderers in the third tier.

The two clubs had spent large spells of their history in different divisions and so that necessary competitiveness only appeared in bursts through the mid-sixties, mid-eighties and early nineties. As such, Bolton folk always looked elsewhere for their main rivalry.

It will be a grand day indeed when Bury bring a team back into the Football League to test the theory again.

Those seeking an alternative derby may be tempted to look down the East Lancashire Road towards Birkenhead.

The mutual animosity between Tranmere Rovers and Bolton Wanderers has not been difficult to miss in the last 30 years or so, born seemingly out of gamesmanship stemming from the 1991 Play-Off Final.

Celebrations for Chris Makin’s winning goal and those after the game irked then-Bolton boss Phil Neal and paved the way for an illogical rivalry over the next few decades.

Whether it was Lee Jones spoiling the 100 points, 100 goals target for Colin Todd’s promotion winners in 1997, or John Aldridge achieving the impossible and getting under Sam Allardyce’s skin in the during the two-legged Worthington Cup semi-final in 2000, there was something bitter brewing.

Allardyce even refused to let his players change at Prenton Park in a league game in 2001, as the feud between the two clubs got even more personal.

In recent years the games have proved feisty, not least when a Tranmere team managed by Keith Hill edged past Bolton in January – 90 minutes which proved somewhat of a turning point for everyone involved. When the next chapter will be resumed is anyone’s guess.

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Which brings us on to the contemporary candidate to be Bolton’s main local rivals, Wigan Athletic.

It is a fixture that has only been played 47 times, the first of which was in 1983, so lacks anything like the storied history of other teams mentioned above. But even the diehards who still point indignantly towards United must concede that for the modern generation, the Latics tick all the right boxes.

Firstly, the rivalry feels mutual. Anyone who has dared step into the battleground of social media since the Carabao Cup draw took place will see no love lost.

Both clubs have been through the ardour of administration in recent years but the experience does not seem to have dulled the passion, especially among Bolton fans who snapped up their 4,700 allocation for Tuesday night’s game with ferocious speed.

Bolton and Wigan have competed in the same division in 10 of the last 17 seasons, going back to the Premier League era. And taking into consideration just that run of results, the outcome has been almost dead level.

In all competitions since 2005, Bolton have won seven, drawn eight and lost 10 of the 23 games played. Saturday's game at the DW Stadium gives them a chance to make amends for one of their poorest results of the season, a 4-0 defeat against the Latics in October.

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* This article has been updated from one which appeared in The Bolton News in August 2021.