FOR much of Cameron Jerome’s time at Bolton Wanderers, the prospect of him becoming a cult hero on the terraces looked unlikely.

A player who had perennially been linked with the club in their Premier League and Championship days, he finally arrived at the age of 36 with many raising an eyebrow at the fact he had been given an 18-month deal.

Forward to last weekend at Wembley, and when he felt all other avenues had been explored, it was Jerome that Ian Evatt turned to as a second-half substitute trying to turn the play-off final back in his favour.

In that sense, it was a sad note on which to leave for the veteran, who had redeemed himself in the eyes of many supporters by coming to his team’s aid in similar hours of need.

Jerome was Evatt’s Red Adair. A physical presence sent on from the bench to see out a game by providing a platform to hold the ball up front, or even an extra bit of muscle in defence.

It was a mantle that probably didn’t sit that comfortably with the player himself – he often argued eloquently that given more regular game time his goal return would have been better – but by the time he had been namechecked in a terrace anthem, he had taken the backhanded compliment with a smile.

Jerome accepted the mentor role that he had been asked to fill by his manager, and barely a single team-mate did not discuss at one time or another some good advice he had imparted. This, after all, was a man whose CV had more than 200 Premier League and 300 Championship appearances.

At times during warm-ups on the touchline mid-game he would be offering out instruction like a second manager – so it is little wonder there has been a growing number of Bolton fans clamouring for him to be taken up in a coaching capacity.

What happens next after his release, or whether his 10th professional club will be his last as a player is unclear but people who know him well have said he wants to remain in the game in a more administrative role.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of sitting down and talking football with him will vouch for his knowledge of the wider game, and in this opinion of this writer, the moment he hangs up his boots he could easily pick up a microphone and try his hand at punditry, if only while deciding on his next move.

Though Saturday’s heartbreaking afternoon at Wembley was a down-note, and his first-ever defeat at the stadium, to see Jerome gradually winning over his doubters this season was a rewarding experience.

The Bolton News: Cameron Jerome celebrates a penalty from Aaron Morley in the win at Wycombe WanderersCameron Jerome celebrates a penalty from Aaron Morley in the win at Wycombe Wanderers (Image: Camerasport)

On signing from Luton Town in January 2023 he made 12 substitute appearances without scoring, and with such strong focus on Bolton’s attacking troubles after the play-off semi-final defeat to Barnsley, it made him somewhat of a scapegoat with a year remaining on his contract.

Evatt backed his strikers to come good, and one wonders if he would have been proven right if they had all stayed fit?

Jerome featured more prominently this season, making 43 appearances – and, yes, many of them were from the bench – but that figure represents his best return since 2014/15 when he had scored 21 goals in 45 games at Norwich City, including one in the play-off final to help them into the Premier League.

As the saying goes, there is life in the old dog yet, and when Wanderers’ injury issues really hit hard, Jerome, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and new recruit Aaron Collins helped steady the ship as best they could.

He never quite got his ‘Aaron Wilbraham’ moment, the opener against Accrington Stanley in the Bristol Street Motors or the penalty earned against Bristol Rovers probably as close as it came. But there is no doubt that he earned respect.

With Jerome and Bodvarsson gone, Wanderers lose a huge chunk of experience and know-how, and it will be interesting to see whether Evatt looks to channel that into other positions in his squad or chooses to go into next season with a squad relying more on youth.

Over time, Bolton have built stability in their squad, players becoming assets as their contracts are seldom allowed to wind down, as they may have in the past. And whereas that should be a strength – it does offer some challenges to Evatt if he wants to dig down into whatever aspects of this season’s disappointment that need to change.