Bolton Wanderers: The Fans Forum
Afternoon to you. We will continue with the pre season preview tomorrow, leading us nicely into the match preview for Saturday. However, as you'll be aware, last night saw the Fans Forum in the Lion of Vienna Suite in which Phil Gartside and Owen Coyle answered questions, both normal and, quite frankly, weird. Yours truly was there and popped his hand up for a question to the manager. Unfortunately, it wasn't the one that I wanted to ask, as that had already been taken.
Let me set the scene. I arrived at about 7:20 and bypassed the raffle run by the BWSA. Nothing against the BWSA, but I just didn't fancy winning breakfast with the team as there was the possibility I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut. I meandered to the bar, ordered a pint of a caffeine based drink (diet version) and was charged the princely sum of £3.70. Apparently, this was less than the price of a pint of a former sponsor of the League Cup. £3.70! For that kind of price, I would have expected at least some ice. And if they can charge that amount for a diet cola, surely they can reduce the price of the shirts?
But, I digress. With everyone seated, it was only then that the purpose of the group of serving staff in the corner of the room was divulged. Apparently, tea and coffee were free with your free ticket. A mad rush of ten people made their way to the table. Luckily, the chairman and manager were running late.
Eventually though, they appeared. Jack introduced OC to applause, but PG was so close to him in coming onto the stage that his announcement was lost in the clapping. A smart move on PG's part, as you never found out what kind of reception he would have got.
Question one came from a lady at the front. She may have been a plant to get the question out of the way or may have just been picked first for being at the front. The question was about the sale of players and whether, if any were sold, would the money go to OC or be used to pay off some of the debt. OC answered first, stating that no player was for sale, that Swansea had been in for Mark Davies but that if they thought they could sell Joe Allen for £15million and get Mavies for £5million then they were whistling in the dark and that Mavies doesn't want to leave anyway. He also confirmed that Fulham had been in for David N'Gog but that he definitely wasn't for sale. He thought that the squad was stronger than last season and pointed out that, of the senior players released at the end of last season that the club didn't want to retain, none have yet found clubs. He also took full responsibility for last season.
For my part, OC answered this question well. He makes a fair point about the released players (we will get to NRC later) and also about Swansea wanting Mavies on what he considers to be the cheap. He did say that he considers Mavies to be the best player in the country with the ball at his feet running at people, which did seem a bit fanciful. I can understand his reluctance to sell Mavies when he considers him to be on Joe Allen's level, but we are in the Championship and Swansea are not, so Allen's price was bound to be dearer. That is just football economics.
PG then took over on the club debt. We have a £10million overdraft to Barclays and the rest of the money is owed to Eddie Davies or, at least, Eddie Davies inc. He then wandered off into finance speak, about Eddie owing money to Eddie and if Eddie wanted to take the money that Eddie owed to Eddie then Eddie would have to pay Eddie. Hey, it made sense at the time but, as is often the way, it makes no sense now. I think I nodded once. It all seemed at bit plausibly inplausible.
Then followed the first comedy moment as someone asked the reasoning behind winning the coin toss and attacking the North Stand in the second half. I think the basis of this was that we have all seen away teams scoring at the South Stand end in the final few minutes as their fans suck the ball in.
OC said he would have a word with SKD and there was a general rumble of laughter across the room. Don't get me wrong, I'm as sick of conceding goals in the past few minutes as anyone, but whichever end you attack doesn't matter. Stretford always tend to attack the Stretford End in the second half, as do the Scousers with The Kop and Chelsea with The Shed. Bolton attack the North Stand as that is where our supporters are. Unless there is a wind or sun factor, I can't see how that matters. And the majority seemed to agree with me.
The next question was to OC as he was asked what the bare minimum was this season. Whilst the answer was obvious, it was pleasing to hear that he intends to get promotion at the first time of asking. He believes that we have the squad to do it and that failure would be not achieving it. This was a pretty no s**t sherlock moment, but gratifying to hear nonetheless.
A bug bear of supporters was asked next. Why do we bring everyone back at corners? OC said it was horses for courses and that most teams in the Premier League did last season, with a few exceptions. He then used Guardiola as an example of managers who do this, which was a mistake in my mind. Bolton are not Barcelona and whilst we tend to boot it up the field and wait for the next attack, Barca move the ball out of the box. OC felt that we would be light in the box if we didn't have everyone back. He's entitled to this opinion, but I still tend to disagree. Teams, including Bolton, tend to leave at least one defender on the half way line, with another player half way between the centre circle and the penalty area. This leaves a defending man free. Still, OC did say that they have been experimenting with leaving a man up front in the pre season, and if those are the kind of results that you get with leaving a man outside the area, then bring them all back.
The next question was aimed at PG and brought the first real teeth sucking moment of the evening. In a reasoned question he was asked about the lack of ambition that caused Allardyce to resign, the appointments of both Sammy Lee and Gary Megson, the reluctance to sack Megson and did he think he was the common denominator in the club's demise.
PG gave a one word response. Yes. This was greeted by laughter amongst the masses.
At this point, Jack Dearden came to PG's defence and pointed out the semi finals, the eleven years in the Premier League and the trips to Europe and said that PG was the most successful chairman in the club's history. Whilst the ghosts of chairman past, especially those of the 1920's and 1950's may have something to say about that, if you consider the club since the 1970's, Jack has a point. Naturally, you can argue against that with the debt (yes, the debt) and that the success has come at a price and we are now reaping what we have sowed in that. But that wasn't asked.
PG then spoke up for himself, accepting responsibility for some of what the questioner said, and that it hurt as a fan and as the chairman to see us relegated. He said that in hindsight, some wrong decisions were made (Jack came back in about Sammy Lee, slightly unnecessarily with Little Sam's return to the club) but he did not agree with some things the questioner had asked, pointedly saying that there are two sides to every story when it comes to what Big Sam said. This was a real moment of frisson, akin to George Michael pointedly refusing to answer questions about what Andrew Ridgeley did in Wham! as he had said it all before. And PG went down the same line.
Apart from Jack leaping in for reasons known only to himself, PG answered the question well. Now, we all know he has his opinion on Big Sam and whoever is right, we will never know how that would have turned out. But it was interesting to hear him admit to making mistakes when it comes to managerial appointments. Most chairman have made mistakes in managerial appointments and PG won't be the last one. The question remains, if we are mid table come January, will he have learnt from his mistake?
OC was the next to answer a question, being told by the person giving it that he had no issues with where we had finished last season and had OC himself learnt anything from last season. To this, OC gave a pretty stock answer, bringing in the injuries to key personnel, especially Stuart Holden who can hold up the ball, defend and attack (there's only one way to beat them, get round the back.....) and was, essentially, irreplaceable. He admitted that he was disappointed in the first part of the season but if you looked at the back end of the season we were eighth in the form table. Because of these factors, he didn't believe that we ended where we deserved.
Although we patently did. Other teams have to deal with these factors and if he had thrown in the fixture list from the beginning of the season at that point, we would have had a full house. A Premier League season is run over thirty eight games, not the eleven at the end of it. I can appreciate that Stuart Holden was a massive miss, but teams adapt to play around this. Bolton didn't. And that's before we get to Darren Pratley.....
Next question brought up Stu again, as OC was asked if he would be fit and, if so, when. To answer this question, OC brought out a prop, a writing pad, to demonstrate how Holden's knee should have looked and how it actually looked. It wasn't exactly E.R., but if anyone was of the opinion that OC doesn't know his knees, they have now been dissuaded. He went on to say that he hoped Stu would be back and playing by the end of October. He did mention that the American did run the show in his one game last season, proving just how crucial he is this season.
OC then took another question, as he was asked if he knew who his strongest line up was. He replied that he had two for every position, excluding centre back although Sam Ricketts could play there and David Wheater is due back in December. He also mentioned that he has tried to get everyone to play the equivalent of four matches worth of playing time in pre season. Bolton would be a scalp in the Championship, he continued, and the onus is on us to impose ourselves on games.
To be fair, when he rattled off the names for each position, it was hard not to be encouraged, with one notable exception (and we'll get to him soon enough). He then cleverly mentioned Holden and Wheater returning during the season. Of course, we had most of these players last season......
The next person initially wanted to applaud PG for the way that the club conducted itself around the Fabrice Muamba issue....
....cue spontaneous round of applause....
.....but....what happened to the lap of appreciation at the end of the West Brom game? OC apologised for this. He said that the team had spent 15-20 minutes dissecting the game after it had finished and that it wouldn't happen again as he wants the club to be a family club and for the players to have an affinity with the fans, mentioning that they do more in the community now than they ever have done.
Of course, we can't change what happened after the West Brom game and if OC says it won't happen again, I believe him. Maybe when it comes to the Blackpool game on May 4th, there could be something in the programme and an announcement before the game or at half time? Just a thought.
The next question concerned Marvin Sordell and his lack of game time last season. OC answered this by saying that Sordell is an outstanding talent, probably the best finisher at the club, and that that we had difficulty fitting him in last season due to the cup run and his non eligibilty due to have having already played for Watford. He did show, however, when he came on what a talent he was.
This answer confused me. The previous season we had no difficulty fitting in Daniel Sturridge despite him being cup tied and if he is the best finisher at the club and an outstanding talent, how about dropping someone. And don't ask me who. Managers make these decisions, that is what they are paid for. Drop N'Gog. Drop SKD. Don't bring Klasnic on. Whatever. A mis step of an answer from the manager there.
Fabrice Muamba's trip to see a Belgian heart specialist was next on the agenda. OC replied that he couldn't say much but that we should have a better idea soon as to whether Fabrice will be able to play football again. They haven't yet been able to pinpoint the cause of the arrest but this visit should give a better indication. Fair enough. OC isn't a doctor like the rest of us aren't. Unless you are and you are reading this, in which case you are a doctor.
Lifeline was next on the agenda, the questioner reminding OC and PG that Nat Lofthouse used to go door to door and into pubs to drum up interest and, with that in mind, why there were no current players at a do in January. OC apologised, said that he wasn't aware of this and that it would be looked into. I'm not a lifeline member so cannot really comment on this and will have to take the manager at his word.
OC was then asked about the transfer market and whether we were looking to loan or buy anyone else before the end of the window. OC started by giving us the story of the transfer of Carlos Sanchez, his change in agent and then the agent wanting four times what had been agreed. OC got on well with Sanchez and wanted him to come to the club and Sanchez himself had put on his Facebook account that he was joining Bolton. Apparently his agent had told him that everything had been sorted out but had fed him the wrong information. So, the deal collapsed. The wages asked for would have been more than any Bolton player had ever been on.
Fair enough. As I've said before, if a player or his agent messes you around, it probably isn't worth signing the player. It may or not be player's fault himself, but you get the associated baggage of the agent along with them. If the agent wanted more money than even Anelka was on, then cancelling the deal was the only way forward. As for any other transfer deal, OC didn't say anything else that I heard.
Next, Twitter policy. I was going to ask this but a gentleman behind me got it in first. Whether this comes from PG's Tweets or Josh Vela's over the weekend, OC said that players have responsibility for what they put on social media and that he was aware there were issues with certain tweets. They have an obligation to represent the club in the best light at all times and, if they say anything detrimental about colleagues then they would be hammered.
He didn't go as far to say that anyone has actually been hammered, but if the club are looking at the players tweets then that is a step forward. OC appears to be aware that there is an issue here and must also be aware of the abuse that certain players have received over the past year and a bit. All joking aside about the communications department. As long as the club are on top of it, I'm happy with that.
There then followed a comfort break, with just enough time to take a photo of the pitch, which is looking fine, drain the main vein and then buy another pint of overpriced diet caffeine based drink, before Jack called us all back, telling us that we had about ten minutes left.
The first question back concerned Bibi's testimonial. PG said that he was allowed one but in all honesty he didn't know where we were with it. OC then chipped in to say that Bibi was training with the club and was getting fitter.
Obviously, we would all like Bibi to have a testimonial, and the sooner the better. The fact that he remains at Euxton would suggest that he is happy with the club. Hopefully, something will be announced soon.
Another former player was the focus of the next question to OC. Nigel Reo-Coker is still without a club. How did he leave the club and would Bolton be in a position to offer him a deal if he was still without a team in the near future was the focus. OC began, as he did when talking about any player, present or past or future, by describing NRC as a fantastic person but that he wanted to play at the highest level and he respected that decision. As far as OC was concerned, he had to bring in someone else as he couldn't wait for four weeks for NRC to make a decision about his future and that he did not envision offering him a deal to return.
Naturally, when it comes to the midfield I feel that we are top heavy as it is so offering NRC a deal wouldn't make much sense. Holden and Andrews are both defensive midfielders who can do the job that NRC can do. Plus, the probability of him wanting to step down to the Championship is slim, as that is the reason why he left in the first place. Whilst it is nice to think it may happen, you just cannot see it doing so.
The next question was for OC and, whilst I did not see the person who asked the question, I understand he was a good looking chap, well presented and looking young for his age. His question was well thought out and brought into play his well known feelings about a certain central defender who he feels should play no part in our future. Or, so I'm told. The question was that as OC had spoken of reducing the wage bill and reducing the average age of the squad, could he explain the thinking behind retaining Zat Knight whilst releasing Mark Connolly.
To be fair to OC, I understand he holds your gaze when answering your question and whilst I do not agree with the response (Connolly hasn't the requisite pace whilst Knight has the experience and has had a good pre season (in an alternate universe)) the answer appeared to be appreciated for the way it was framed. However, I will not be swayed from the belief that offering Knight a new contract will come back to bite us and that there will come a time when he will cost us points. Connolly is young and is good enough to be playing for a team that many consider to be upwardly mobile. This is something I just cannot get my head around.
Anyway, moving on, the next question asked if tickets could be given to primary schools as a drive to get children interested in Bolton Wanderers and not Citeh or Stretford. PG answered that the club already run such a scheme. Which seemed to take care of that.
The second comedy moment of the evening arrived then when a lady to my left, eschewing the microphone as her voice was loud enough (her words) asked OC why he paced up and down every ten minutes. OC seemed a bit thrown by this, and wasn't the only one, but came up with a story of the LCY fan club sending him some powder (I think it was powder) to rub on his legs to keep him warm as he looked cold. He joked that he still had some if anyone wanted to buy it.
This was followed by someone asking if anything had been done around the back room staff to develop OC has a manager. He replied that we had been caught a lot on the counter attack last season and were looking to address that but that he was always learning. He had had offers from other clubs but loves Bolton. He was focused but was determined to get Bolton back to the Premier League (not the Barclays Premier League, you will notice). He said that it was easy to duck things like the forum but that he wouldn't do that. It was at this point I think that Jack mentioned a former manager who used to duck events such as these, which raised a murmur of appreciation amongst the four hundred people in the room.
Obviously, OC still has things to learn, you don't get relegated unless you do. I still believe that he needs someone next to him who is more than a yes man, which Sandy Stewart and Steve Davis only ever appear to be. He has, however, appeared to take on board the constant calls for him to stop mentioning sponsors names.
Super John McGinlay was the focus of the next question as his recent visit to the country, and his being seen with the likes of Tony Kelly have raised assumptions that he will be brought onto the coaching staff. OC quickly knocked these rumours back, saying that it was something that could be looked at in the future but that Super John is still based in the States and whilst it was good to see him, there is nothing on the table at the moment.
PG then turned to OC and asked him a question of his own. OC had been seen playing in a charity match in Atherton recently, although he had said that he wouldn't be playing again. How was this. OC replied that he had recently played in a charity match at Oldham where he had been asked to play for a celebrity side against an Oldham Athletic legends side but that he had made the off the cuff remark after being substituted for EastEnders Ian Beale 'who is about twenty stone'.
This is the thing about OC that even his toughest critic can respond to. He has a sense of humour and knows how to take the mick out of himself. Long may that continue.
The last question of the evening was for PG and was about the questionnaires that are sent out, how many responses they get and if the club take notice of them. PG said that about 3,500 were sent back in last time and that the club reads them all and takes all responses seriously, whether positive or negative.
All I can say to that is that, positive or negative, they still haven't taken into consideration my ideas on having twice the staff on the beer counter at half time.
You have to give kudos to both OC and PG for turning up. I may disagree with a lot that PG says and does, but some chairmen would have made excuses to come to this kind of thing after being relegated. OC was forthright and spoke with conviction, but we will only know if what he says is true once the season starts. As for the night itself, it was well attended, even if the soft drinks prices are ridiculous. One down side, to me, was Jack Dearden coming in to defend PG at times. I know that they know each other well and that Jack is a fan of the club, but the press are there to be neutral and to allow the fans their say. It was for PG to respond to the fans words, not Jack. Other than that, it was an enjoyable night.
Maybe I'll go to the next one.
Naturally, I was writing this as the news about Fabrice Muamba came in. I've done a little bit about his announcement below and will do more when looking at the midfield tomorrow. I was also doing it when the draw for the League Cup was made and we were given Crawley Town away. Little did I know when that fine looking gentleman was asking his question that we may find out sooner than expected whether retaining Zat Knight and letting Mark Connolly go was a good thing.
I would like to thank the invaluable service run by @mervynthepanda who was live tweeting from the forum and who helped fill in some of the blanks that I hadn't written down. Give him a follow.