Wanderers have earned it

by Liam Hatton

This week for me has involved a lot of procrastination to hold off any nerves. 

As I am sure many of you did, you listened to what Sharon Brittan had to say this week about football governance in general, and especially about Bolton as a football club, what it means to the community and also Ian Evatt.

Brittan brought up the ‘pitiful situation’ she inherited in 2019, how staff were relying on foodbanks, people struggling to pay rent or mortgages and how the state of the club had destroyed the feel good factor throughout the whole community.

I also took time to look back at Evatt’s first comments after he joined as Bolton Wanderers manager in July 2020. The gaffer spoke back then about a brand and identity that people would enjoy watching. Furthermore, he mentioned how packing out the stadium and competing for promotion were amongst his main aims.

Call it wisdom or pure confidence, but it is no coincidence how many of those statements have come true. Evatt would never doubt his abilities, even if at times when some of the fanbase would call for this illusive ‘plan B’ when things were not necessarily going their way.

The football itself has been aesthetically pleasing, goals have indeed come aplenty, and a few occasions have seen the stadium at a near sell-out. So regardless of what happens on Saturday at Wembley in the League One playoff final, every season has witnessed continued progression.

That aim was never lost on Evatt, ever since taking over a League Two team which had no business being in that league, he knew that their stay had to be a short one. The jump to League One would see a step up in quality, which obviously meant that players had to leave, whilst new faces would have to replace the outgoings.

But the main ethos about ‘Brand Evatt’ have remained the same, and whether you agree or disagree with all of his decisions, he has remained rooted in his footballing psychology and his approach to the tactical side of the game.

I bring up these comments because it allows us to look back at where we have been. I know we are not the only club to be cast aside and left to rot by previous owners, but just being at Wembley this weekend with it all to play for, well that represents a huge win considering we could just have easily been wound up by HMRC.

I never take these moments for granted, and whilst two trips to Wembley in two years is something a lot of fans never get to witness, there is so much pressure on the game against Oxford as opposed to last year.

The stakes are much higher, but there is a saying that pressure is a privilege. The fact that this team even have the opportunity to compete in these games is a huge compliment to their abilities.

We know that on their day Bolton can beat any team in this league. They deserve to be here, not based off name value or how much their squad is worth, but because they have earned it.

I am confident that if Evatt’s men play close to their best level, they can win this game. But this is the playoff final, there are no second chances and it truly is winner takes all.

One thing is for sure, I cannot wait to see the mighty Bolton Wanderers back at Wembley.

A can of Carling Black Label, please

by Tony Thompson

The Bolton News:

I have cried on three occasions at Wembley, and I sincerely hope I don’t make it a fourth this afternoon.

In fairness, only two of those times have involved Bolton Wanderers. The last was in 2018 when my NFL team the Oakland Raiders were getting spanked by Seattle Seahawks, I’d paid £200 a ticket for me and my nephew, and he insisted on eating and drinking like he was on a mission to end the day bankrupt.

The first was in 1986. Me, a teenager, cocksure and proud to have sampled one of my first sips of lager on a special train down to London from Bolton, was sure that nothing could possibly go wrong in the Freight Rover Trophy.

It was the first time Bolton had been to Wembley since 1958 and all I can remember is my dad and two uncles then seeming to spend the entire journey crunching empty cans before the whole thing became a bit of a haze.

I came to when Tony Caldwell hit the bar early on but I kind of wish I hadn’t now. Bristol City went ahead and Bolton froze. There was a bit of aggro around us in the stands and my uncle ended up getting pushed down the stairs. To a young lad with a couple of cans of Black Label inside his stomach the whole thing got a bit too much, and I spent the last 15 minutes of the game sat on the steps outside.

The next time I shed a tear (at the football, at least, I sob at pretty much anything nowadays), was 2011. I had just lost my dad and the defeat in the semi-final against Stoke was just a bridge too far for the state I was in. I can remember the silent journey back and it wasn’t pleasant.

Honestly, you wonder why we do it to ourselves? Eleven guys that you have very little in common with kicking an inflated pig’s bladder around shouldn’t really matter this much.

The reason, of course, is that there are rare occasions (particularly following Bolton), that the rush of endorphins after a win make you forget all the bad times.

We win this game and we are back in the lunatic asylum of the Championship, the same division that chewed us up and spat us out five years ago. Again, I ask, why do we do it to ourselves?

It is a mad, erratic, upside down division that might not be financially a good idea at all but will it stop us celebrating? Will it buggery. Pass me another can of Black Label.