Not a single Bolton Wanderers fan will forget the day their club beat relegation on the final day of the season by beating Nottingham Forest – but for Jem Karacan the occasion was tinged with sadness. 

He had watched from the bench as his good mate Adam Le Fondre crossed for Aaron Wilbraham to head home one of the most replayed goals in recent Bolton history, earning a breathless 3-2 win. 

It would be the last time he wore a Bolton shirt, released at the end of his contract in a summer where things would start to go drastically wrong. 

Celebration continued long into the night as a team of free transfers and loanees looked forward to the future with some degree of optimism, especially with former owner Ken Anderson saying his chief task of the summer would be to find extra investment to help improve the club’s chances in the future. 

“I don’t think you can underestimate how big an achievement staying up was,” said Karacan, who had made 14 league starts that season. “Considering what was happening in the background, the pressure people were under, and it’s a big club, it should be at least at Championship level. Nobody wanted to be associated with a relegation. 

“They got there in the end, and I was delighted for the lads even though I hadn’t played as much as I wanted to and felt disappointed. 

“I was just coming at it from a player’s perspective because I wasn’t getting enough games and I wasn’t happy but there were lads in that team who deserved massive credit.” 

The Bolton News: Aaron Wilbraham celebrates after scoring the winner against Nottingham ForestAaron Wilbraham celebrates after scoring the winner against Nottingham Forest

Parkinson had achieved what he set out to do, keeping Bolton in the Championship, but Karacan admits the manager’s relationship with some of his displaced players did suffer – and his own isolation from the team had a knock-on effect, affecting his own career in the years to come. 

“I am not one to hammer a manager but I’d say I was one of a few lads through the course of that season who had problems,” he said. 

“Look at how Alfie (Adam Le Fondre) was treated, for someone who will probably go down as a club legend even though he didn’t have a long time there, he scored goals that got them up and kept them in the Championship. 

“Me and Alfie are very tight, still are, and there were times when one or both of us were not involved where we’d be looking at each other and thinking ‘what’s going on here?’ 

“You can go through the team – Craig Noone was in and out, Luke Murphy had similar, even Wheats (David Wheater), it was a running theme, I could go on. 

“I think you can read between the lines some of the issues there might have been. And I admit it has affected my career not playing as much as I wanted to because I then went into the same situation at Millwall, where I went in late and didn’t have a pre-season to get my space in the side. 

“Communication at Bolton – and you have probably heard this from a lot of the lads – well, to say it was non-existent is a bit harsh but it was pretty close. 

“I will say, I think I was treated unfairly at times. Even when I went away to train hard and get my way back in, I’d have to train with the young, young kids. The professional I was, I did it, kept my head down, and I was probably my own worst enemy not forcing the issue.”

Karacan left Bolton as the real problems started to emerge, and watched as the club slid into administration, and eventually down to League Two for only the second time in its history. 

Now back on the rise under Ian Evatt, he is happy to see the Whites restoring their reputation in the game. 

“What happened after I left was a crying shame and fingers crossed after a solid season last year they can go again,” he said. “Ian (Evatt) has done an incredible job and I always look out for how they do. 

“I really hope they can get back to a level where they belong because the good times that I had there meant a lot to me and I still get messages from Bolton fans saying thanks, so I have always held my head up high, regardless of how frustrating it was.” 

From Wanderers, Karacan had an offer to join Le Fondre in Australia but decided to try a short-term deal with Millwall instead. 

“I got approached right at the end of my time at Bolton about going over to Australia and Nick Montgomery, who used to play for Sheffield United, got in touch and sold it to me straight away,” he explained. 

“I spoke to my wife and basically convinced myself it wasn’t the right time to go over there. 

“I had an offer from Millwall, and Neil Harris who I am quite close with, said to come in for six months to see how it goes. All the time I was there but I was watching more games because Alfie (Le Fondre) was involved and I just felt I’d enjoy getting away from it because of some of the times I’d been having in England. For my mind, and for my family, it was probably the best thing we’d done.  

“I’d found it really tough all through that season but now I look back on that season in Australia and I even played against Alfie. I brought him down in the penalty area so that he could have a cheap goal on me. People kept saying he’d paid me to do it, but I couldn’t believe he went down. 

“He has been on fire since he went there. And I keep saying to him now: ‘Get yourself back to Bolton and help them go up’. He’s got a year left so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when he comes back home. I’ll get in his ear to get him to Radcliffe.” 

Karacan’s new home is the Neuven Stadium, Radcliffe. Having returned to the UK with his family in 2021 during the pandemic he signed a short-term deal with League Two Scunthorpe United, helping them avoid relegation. 

Other offers followed but the 33-year-old said he had fallen out of love with the game, and had started to consider retiring for good until meeting with the Northern Premier League club to hear about their plans for the future. 

“I guess it is a shock to a few people,” he said of his move into non-league. “When I finished at Scunthorpe I had a few options and could have gone to play in League One but at that point in time Covid was going on and I’d been spoiled, really, being at home with the family. I had been with my little ones that long that I didn’t really want to leave them to go and play somewhere. 

“People might hear that and say ‘really?’ but it was just enjoying family life so much that it would have to be the right thing to come up. I was happy just looking after myself and seeing what options opened up. 

“I probably got to the point where I could have either officially called it a day or gone again, there were options out there in higher leagues and abroad. But I agreed to meet the manager, the chairman and the owner at Radcliffe to speak about what they were doing and they sold their dream to me. They felt I was someone who could help them start that. 

“They are good people, the type you want to work for. So, I thought to myself ‘why not?’ Let’s do it.”