I talk to Chris Flanagan, author of ‘Who Put The Ball In Munich’s Net’
Reminiscing can sometimes be a very good thing to do. It allows you to see where you stand relative to where you were at another point in time. Chris Flanagan wrote ‘Who Put The Ball In Munich’s Net’, a book about Bolton’s days in Europe.
Q: What was the inspiration for your book and why did you write it at this time?
I’d been to all of the UEFA Cup matches as a supporter and I’d always had the ambition of writing a book one day.
I decided to give it a go and I also wanted to write something about the club while my grandfather was still alive. He passed away just as I was finishing the book, but he was a lifelong Bolton fan and the club meant a lot to him.
Writing something about the club’s two seasons in Europe seemed the obvious choice of subject for me really.
European football has always fascinated me so I loved every second of the UEFA Cup runs personally, and I think our journey in the competition was quite unique.
There are plenty of clubs who have a run in Europe that is largely uneventful and where many of the supporters aren’t all that enthusiastic about it.
I think we were different. We had two very good runs, pretty much every match seemed to have some sort of story behind it for one reason or another, and more or less every fan who went to the games has such special memories of it all.
I think we knew we were witnessing something pretty unbelievable for a club of our size.
It was just a case of writing it all down and speaking to other people who were there – players, managers, fans etc – to find out their memories and hopefully add some behind-the-scenes stories that people weren’t aware of at the time.
I think the timing of it seemed to work quite well in that respect. It’s long enough ago now that people feel a certain amount of nostalgia for that era, so pretty much everyone who I approached for interviews agreed to speak and you could tell they were speaking about a time that was special to them.
People also probably feel more comfortable now about talking about things like their views on the Sporting Lisbon away game for instance, but on the other hand that whole era is still recent enough for people’s memories to be quite vivid.
Bolton had a team then that fans look back on fondness even to this day. If you could pick one player from that era to play for us now in the Championship, who would it be?
That’s a tricky one, there were so many players in that era who would make any team better.
The likes of Kevin Davies, Kevin Nolan and Jussi Jaaskelainen played such big roles for the club at that time, and then you’ve got people like Jay-Jay Okocha, El-Hadji Diouf, Ivan Campo and Stelios who had such superb ability too. Youri Djorkaeff and Fernando Hierro didn’t play in the UEFA Cup, but they were the same.
But I think out of all of them, for me probably a peak Nicolas Anelka would be the player who could maybe make the most difference now.
Of all the signings we made, he was maybe the most incredible. Some of the other greats we signed were maybe in the latter stages of their careers, whereas Anelka was 27 and was every bit as clinical in front of goal as we all knew he could be.
How would you compare our current squad with those that played in the UEFA Cup?
The people we had playing for us in the UEFA Cup were incredible, players respected around Europe. It was just big name after big name.
When I spoke to Sam Allardyce he said he’d always told people to enjoy it while it was happening. While I think we all did do, that squad seems even more unbelievable now looking back on it a few years later.
I think we were probably realistic that it couldn’t last forever, given the finances of other clubs in the Premier League, and obviously everyone will admit that the difference between the squad we had then and the squad we have now is pretty large.
The main difference for me is that in that era, particularly under Allardyce, the team would very often find a way to get a result – even if it meant frustrating the living daylights out of one of the top clubs to do it.
The team had that resilience and confidence which has been lost in recent years. As much as that team had fantastic ability, it was also about the fearless mentality that had been instilled into them.
As fans, we would go and watch the team play
anywhere across England and Europe and feel quite confident that we had a chance.
Do you think Bolton can ever return to such heights?
I really do hope that it can be done one day, it would be a shame if we couldn’t experience Europe again at some point in the future, although obviously it’s a long road.
There’s quite a lot of rebuilding that might need doing and hopefully we have the man in Neil Lennon who can start to do that. Certainly I think he’s impressed most people with what he has done in the first couple of weeks in the job.
It could take quite a bit of time, just getting back into the upper reaches of the Championship and then the Premier League will be far from easy.
If we can get back into the top flight then maybe the cup competitions would be our best route back into Europe one day – we were only one game from qualifying via the FA Cup three years ago.
Finishing in the top six or seven in the Premier League would be even tougher now with the money that the top sides have, but I don’t think that should mean clubs of our size give up hope.
Right now it’s a very long way off, but hopefully we can at least start to move in the right direction again.
Thanks very much to Chris for his time. What were your favourite moments of that era? Do you think we can return to such success?
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