LIAM Gordon’s unique two-year journey with Wanderers has largely been spent out of the public gaze.

That the Guyana international never quite pinned down regular football under Ian Evatt is a frustration but not one that stops him acknowledging a debt of gratitude to the club as he leaves this summer.

Gordon arrived at Bolton in unprecedented circumstances. Part of a squad thrown together in the grip of a global pandemic which played its football to empty stadia and trained with minimal contact, you could barely imagine tougher conditions for a youngster to spend a first season away from his London home.

A harsh introduction to League Two football saw him dropped from a failing team and many fans writing him off completely as a player at league level as he was loaned back to his former employers Dagenham.

But 18 months on his CV boasts nearly 40 senior appearances in the EFL and cup competitions and he is able to look towards the future with optimism having earned his spurs as a Wanderer.

Gordon was one of eight players released by Bolton last week and he has spoken candidly to The Bolton News about the highs and lows he experienced during his time with the Whites.

His final appearance had been as a substitute in the 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday last month, before which he admits it had become difficult being on the fringes of the squad.

“I think for a time at the end, the last four months, it was difficult for me,” he said. “February was probably the toughest time because there were eight games that month and I wasn’t part of it. There were others in the same boat too, and it can be mentally harsh and draining.

“No player likes being out of the team but the results had improved and the lads were flying so I couldn’t complain but it made me think about what happens next.

“I will always be grateful for being a Bolton Wanderers player and representing that massive club. I have been through that now. I think the hard times made me stronger because I know I can deal with them – not that I want them to happen again!”

The Bolton News:

Gordon officially signed on August 1, 2020, the same day Arsenal lifted the FA Cup after beating Chelsea in an empty Wembley Stadium.

A few hours earlier, Ian Evatt had taken his first steps on the touchline as manager of Bolton Wanderers at non-league Atherton Collieries. The game had been deliberately kept out of the public domain to ensure supporters – still unable to congregate in public spaces – did not risk converging on the compact Skuna Stadium. That did not stop some enterprising folk applying to steward the match or hoist themselves up on wheelie bins and wooden pallets to get a distant view of the new team in action.

Gordon was one of only a handful of players the club were happy to name in their brief match report of a 3-0 victory and, as the embryonic effects of Brand Evatt took hold of the group, the young full-back was one of the performers who caught the eye.

A month later, however, an introduction to League Two football brought him crashing back down to earth.

There had been an air of unpredictability for lower league football, which had remained almost entirely in stasis since being placed into lockdown six months earlier, and there were concerns about how the break would affect players, physically.

“It was a shock to the system when the regular season started,” he said. “It was my first experience of league football and I can recognise now that I wasn’t ready for the demands.

“Fitness was a big thing. The gaffer used to say that if you are beaten by a team with possession, then fine, but we can’t let ourselves get outrun.

“It was tough. I was living away from home for the first time, out of that comfort zone, and playing for this massive club. But I wasn’t doing enough and I knew it.”

Gordon’s last league appearance of that season was in a 2-1 home defeat to Oldham. Cup appearances against Crewe and Newcastle United’s Under-21s followed but he knew something had to be done to break the cycle of disappointment he was now in.

“I remember the gaffer pulling me to one side after Cheltenham away and telling me straight that I wasn’t going to play,” he said. “I knew I had to go out on loan right away rather than to stay until the end of the season and see what happened. It would have been up in the air.

“I wanted to prove to people I could play at that level and so to go back to Dagenham, a special club where I knew everyone, just gave me that shot of confidence I needed.”

The Bolton News:

Gordon broke his hand shortly before the end of the season and was able to travel to Crawley with Evatt’s squad to watch them seal automatic promotion.

“It was hard to say I was a part of it,” he said. “Pretty much all the work had been done after I left so I would never want to take credit. I was happy for them, though, because the team had been through a lot.”

Even though Gordon had another 12 months on his contract, few Wanderers fans predicted he would push for a first team spot in League One, particularly once Declan John signed on a permanent contract.

Once again, though, the pandemic would affect Gordon’s status. With Covid infections rife and John’s fitness also fluctuating in the early going, the youngster found an unlikely route back into the team, starting victories against Barnsley, Lincoln, Port Vale and Ipswich Town.

“I’ll be honest, it felt good to prove a few people wrong,” the defender said. “Whatever anyone says, they know when bad things are being said about you, whether you’re checking your phone after a game or training. It just happens.

“And I enjoyed showing I could do it. I went away but only so I could fight for my place again.

“In the end it was after the Plymouth game that the gaffer pulled me to one side and said he wanted to take me out of the team and put the pressure on someone else. I probably knew then I would move on, but I respected the honesty.”

Gordon finished the season with 21 appearances, 15 of which were starts. He had suspected, however, that a new contract was not in the offing and by the time of last week’s announcement had made his peace with restarting his career elsewhere.

“I wanted to stay, of course, and I enjoyed everything about being a Bolton player but if I am honest, I think moving on is what is best for me.

“Declan deserves to be ahead of me. If I’d felt mistreated or I’d been doing better than him and felt I should have been in the team then I’d say so.”

Gordon is looking to take a short break as he weighs up his options. Already presented with a few different Football League clubs, he wants to make sure his next move has everything he needs.

“I spoke to the gaffer after our meeting and he said this move is important for me – it isn’t just about getting a club near to London to be near family,” he said.

“I’m going on 23 now and I think this will be one of the most important decisions I make. I want to push up that league ladder and build on what I did with Bolton.

“The experience I had there means I can make a good choice. It has to be the right move for me in a lot of different ways.”

The Bolton News: