IN the second of a two-part interview, former Wanderers midfielder Richard Sneekes recalls the pain of missing out on the play-off final and the differing approaches of two former Bolton managers.

The Bolton News:

IT is nearly 28 years since Richard Sneekes stepped foot on English soil to play for Wanderers and his Dutch accent is currently operating at about 20 per cent, masked by a warm Black Country brogue.

Back in the mid-90s at Burnden Park he was a continental caricature, the long blond locks, a touch that defied the heavy pitches of the Endsleigh League and a right foot that could open a tin of tuna.

Ask any Bolton fan to recall the Dutchman’s input for two seasons in Lancashire, and the chances are they will pick out a rasping strike that threatened to break a stanchion.

It might surprise them, however, that Sneekes never really had a reputation for spectacular goals before he arrived in the summer of 1994.

“It is weird, I didn’t ever really think that of myself, I was more of a third man runner,” he told The Bolton News.

“So, when a ball would go in, I’d sit off, burst through, and chip it past the keeper or go past him. That’s how most of my goals went in.

“But at Bolton that must have changed. I only found the Charlton goal a couple of months ago because I’d been looking for it for years and years.

“I think we won 2-1 and Alan Pardew was playing for them and I hadn’t seen it back. I am not really one for looking back and I’m a schoolteacher so when the kids come in they tell me they have seen me doing this and that.

“When you look at it, I think there were some piledrivers. My first goal in English football was at Luton away and I’d hit the post at Sheffield United the week before. That was great because the Bolton away support is amazing wherever you seem to go in England, they are great memories and it’s nice to unlock them and hear Dave Higson’s broad Bolton accent over them.”

The Bolton News:

To some of us, the mid-90s feels like yesterday. In football terms, however, the product on offer has changed dramatically, even outside a Premier League which was then in its infancy.

Sneekes wonders what today’s players would have made of Wanderers’ Christmas schedule, completed with just three changes to the side.

“I remember playing one Boxing Day, away at Sunderland, then Tranmere Rovers at home the next day. They complain about playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday but I think we did four games in seven days that season,” he recalled, with home games against West Brom and Reading added to the list.

“If you played well you stayed in the team, it was as simple as that.

“If course the game moves on and people will be able to analyse every aspect of someone’s performance but, no, back then you wanted to play every minute of every game. It was brilliant.

“And we played on some absolute bogs. Going to Roker Park or Ayresome Park in winter was something else, compared to now it is unbelievable.

“I always called Burnden Park ‘The Sponge’ because of the amount of water it could hold, and the fact it was a little bit elevated.

“But the place was amazing. When we started getting 20-plus thousand there as we got towards the top of the table.

“I remember beating Ipswich 3-0 away from home in the League Cup and then coming back to Burnden for the home leg and I scored the only goal, ran through from midfield put through by Mixu, or Big John, and the place was absolutely rocking. It was electric.”

Sneekes was in full flow but the 1994/95 season would only hit its pinnacle for Wanderers at Wembley, with a play-off final victory against Reading that had to be seen to be believed.

Unfortunately for Sneekes, he watched it from the side-lines, having picked up a nasty injury a few weeks earlier.

“I got hurt against Sunderland, a scissor tackle from Richard Ord, and when they took me to hospital my ankle ballooned up like you would never believe,” he said.

“When they X-rayed it, they saw my ligaments were just extremely flexible, so it was just a bad sprain. The play-off final came about a week too early, really, and Bruce had no choice. As much as he might have wanted to play me, or have me on the bench, he couldn’t. Maybe that’s a little regret but it was basically the only injury I had in my career.

“We had a great team, so I always felt a part of it. To go and beat them after being 2-0 down, it is a game that will always be brought up whenever the play-offs come around.”

The following season should have been a celebration in the Premier League but the departure of Bruce Rioch, the awkward experiment of Colin Todd and Roy McFarland in the dugout and a lack of ready cash made it an uphill struggle from the start.

For Sneekes, the ‘three foreigner’ rule – unthinkable in today’s multi-cultural top flight – also meant his final season did not go smoothly.

“It was difficult because there were lots of injuries going into the season, so Gudni (Bergsson), Sasa (Curcic) and Fabian (De Fretias) had to play,” he said.

“I missed quite a few games but I don’t sulk about that. When I got called upon I gave it my best shot.

“It was a difficult season dangling at the bottom of the table after Bruce had left, Toddy had taken over and Roy came in. We just lacked that little bit of quality to really get out of the relegation zone.”

Rioch spoke to The Bolton News last month about his decision to leave for Arsenal and whether things would have worked out differently for Bolton and himself had he stayed at Burnden.

Sneekes still believes his former boss made the right call and doesn’t regret a moment in his company.

“The money wasn’t there at Bolton,” he said. “I think you can look at it with hindsight and say ‘maybe I should have stayed’ but surely when Arsenal come calling it is an opportunity you can’t turn down?

“The way Bruce was, maybe he rubbed a few players up the wrong way and at that sort of club you do it to the wrong legend and then they have the strength to get you out in the end.

“For me, he was great. I have nothing bad to say about him.

“I saw him explode a few people but when I look back now at the hairdryer treatment I just laugh about it because you couldn’t really do it nowadays.

“I remember at home against Swindon in the League Cup semi-final we’d lost the first game 2-1 and we were 1-0 down at half time. He came into the dressing room and there was a big Lucozade tub in the middle of the room, you could see what was going to happen.

“Scott Green had a Lucozade cup in his hand and you could see it start to shake.

“Bruce absolutely smashed this tub all over the place. It was down the walls, all over our suits, everywhere. But we went out and won 3-1! It was good management in the end.

“He knew what to do and when. He was a hard taskmaster but he could be compassionate as well and made everyone feel important.

“If you are made to feel that way then when you cock up and someone tells you, you can accept it and hold up your hands, no grudges.”

The Bolton News:

Sneekes could talk all day about Rioch – but the schoolteacher knows he has just a few minutes before he has to get back into the classroom.

Just enough time, then, to ask about another of his former managers, who crossed paths with Bolton several years later.

“Oh no, you’re going to get me going now,” he laughed, at the mention of playing at the Hawthorns under Gary Megson. “There are a lot of things I could say and you couldn’t probably write much of it down.

“Let’s just say he killed my appetite for football, more or less.

“I didn’t like his style of play, training, he pretty much killed everything I’d gone into football for as a youngster. The least said about him the better.

“I just don’t know how people like that will want to be remembered when there was no need for it most of the time.”

Sneekes remembers being invited to Bolton for a game against Sunderland during Megson’s reign, where he said a little too much on stage.

“I was doing hospitality with 800 people and I absolutely destroyed him,” he chuckled. “A few of my ex-team-mates bore the brunt of it for weeks.

“It isn’t worth it. I just don’t understand why people have to be that way.”

Sneekes did bounce around a few clubs after leaving West Brom in 2001, including Stockport County, Hull City and Herfolge in Denmark, before settling down in Sutton Coldfield.

“Bolton and West Brom – I had such a great time,” he concluded, the bell soon to ring for the start of his next lesson. “Nobody expected me to come over here and do what I did. I had six good years there until a certain manager came along and I moved around a little bit after that.

“I finished just short of my 34th birthday and a few of my friends in the game I speak to now reckon I could have gone on to 37, 38. I was fit, but the willpower had gone and it is something I look back on now and regret a bit. There’s nothing I can change.”