Bolton Wanderers: 1966 And All That
There was a picture in the Times sport section the other week, before the England Brazil game, of Pele taking a turn in goal during a training session with the Brazil squad on Wanderers Bromwich Street training ground during the 1966 World Cup, watched by a healthy turnout of locals.
Ι was there. I was only three at the time so I only know this because my Dad, who took me, told me the story later on. I was too young then to be interested by Brazilians of a footballing or indeed any other variety! This reminded me of some of the great players I've been lucky enough to see in a white shirt over the ensuing years at Burnden and the Reebok - from Peter Thompson and Franky Worthy to Okocha and Campo. And also made me reflect on where we have been over those years, both up and down, to where we are now and why I and quite a lot of us of a BWFC persuasion feel so gloomy about the current situation.
Depending on how old we are, I guess we all have our own image of the Wanderers; what it means to support them and what we expect them to be. When I first watched them, Bolton were on a depressing slide from being a once ever present First Division team (in old money) towards the Third. Since that initial decline, it's been the cliched roller coaster going from third up to first, then all the way back down to fourth; only to rise back again to the heights of Premiership stability and Europe, with a load of Wembley finals along the way, to now, three quarters of the way through our season and down to three points off the Championship drop zone.
Back when I was a young boy watching Wanderers, I dreamed of and wished for us to be a big first division team again, with games on the telly, big crowds and all that. And we eventually got there, and even with all the ups and downs, nearly half of my Wanderers watching life has seen us in the top division. Which is why I suppose it seems so rubbish now. A come down, and a team constantly failing to deliver on expectations. Someone wrote in these columns a while back that we needed to remember that we don't just deserve, because we are Bolton, to be in the top flight. That like the Leeds's and Forest's and Leicester's of the world we need to acknowledge that we are where we are, sadly on merit, and so to speak, get over it.
But it's not that easy. Just as it was heartbreaking to see us collapse away from the first division in the early eighties, so it is now to see what seemed such a solid and potentially longstanding tenure in the top flight fall apart; and all the more so because of this season's passionless and impotent attempt to get back. It's easy to get frustrated and angry about this but we shouldn't be booing during games however much it might be deserved. That can't help, though the performance on the pitch will always be the catalyst for the atmosphere at Bolton and rarely vice-versa.
The problems at Bolton lie ultimately in the direction of the club, not with the current manager who has just picked up a torch that was very much going out. I can't say I am massively confident he can reignite it but I am ever hopeful. If Wanderers are to turn it round, momentum needs to be built quickly now in order to build confidence, and also hopefully keep some sort of a decent squad in place to mount a proper challenge next year.
We don't deserve to be in the top division, but with all that's been built up over the last fifteen years or more, we should be in it. It would be shameful if the club let that slip and settle for a life in the lower divisions.