IF ever there was evidence that the soul of Bolton Wanderers has been saved, it is with the news that Sam Allardyce has been welcomed back into the parish with open arms.

For far too long the bitter fallout from Big Sam’s departure at the Reebok in 2007 was allowed to fester, spilling over into years of divisive snipes and sideswipes between himself and the hierarchy he left behind.

The majority of Bolton’s fanbase still adored the man who had masterminded those glorious Premier League days of Youri, Jay Jay and Jussi, but that same success was also viewed as a threatening presence by some of the men who followed him into the hotseat.

In short, a man who remained synonymous with his time at Bolton wherever he went – from Tyneside to Goodison, Ewood Park to Wembley – was not made welcome in the club he still treasures as his own.

To bring him back to help Gethin Jones’s fundraising efforts on November 14 is a masterstroke, and the thought of him leading out a team of legends against Ian Evatt’s modern-day heroes is a mouth-watering prospect indeed.

The last time Big Sam was in a Bolton dugout, he left the ground with a huge grin on his face, clutching a bag full of Carrs Pasties which had been bought for him by staff and left in the Crystal Palace dressing room after a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup.

That was certainly a step up on the previous occasion, where Stu Holden’s famous late goal had earned 10-man Bolton a stunning win against Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers in 2010. Just 24 hours later, Big Sam was out of a job.

Back then, the wounds had yet to heal completely on that controversial exit, one which shook Wanderers to their core.

The animosity between himself and former chairman Phil Gartside continued for many years afterwards and it was a blessing that they were able to bury the hatchet before Gartside’s sad passing in 2016.

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That same year, Big Sam came back to a hero’s welcome as he joined the Bolton Wanderers Former Players’ Association at a reunion in support of Garry Jones, who was then battling against cancer.

The respect has always been there, and it is a wonderful thing indeed that fans will once again see him prowling the touchline at the Reebok (UniBol).

Likewise, there will be a chance for players of that same era to say a proper farewell, in a happier climate than they one they departed.

Kevin Davies, for example, walked around the pitch with tears in his eyes after Bolton’s failure to reach the play-offs in 2013 after being ushered to the exit door by Dougie Freedman – a sad way for his Wanderers journey to end.

For someone like Ivan Campo, that farewell had to come in letter form, as the Spaniard was all-but ignored on his way out of the door in the Gary Megson era.

Likewise, Ricardo Gardner’s 400-game Bolton career ended with a red card at Swansea and months stranded on the side-lines.

It is entirely true to say that their era was well compensated for their time at Bolton, when the club dined at the top table of the Premier League. But just as Allardyce found, there was an unwillingness on the club’s behalf to reach out after their departure.

It is still a mystery why Wanderers have not used those international connections to their advantage in the years where they needed every little favour they could get.

For that to have changed, and for the new era of legends to be welcomed back into the fold is ample evidence that Bolton Wanderers have also grown up.

And most importantly, it should guarantee that Gethin Jones, his family, and Motor Neurone Disease research, gets maximum reward.