Aussie Mike pops in for some 70s Nostalgia…
As the 60`s were drawing to a close, I had grown tall enough to engage in what most other lads often did, wait until the stewards could not see you then scale the panelled wall at the back of the Burnden paddock to climb into the stands above. Access into the sacred sanctuary were the privileged watched the game was an adventure in its own right, I had always been puzzled as to why the seating area was called the stands, maybe I had missed something in translation? I quickly appreciated the benefits of observing a game from a sideline vantage point, giving equal dimension to the action in either goalmouth. Somehow the embankment end would never hold the same appeal again, other than watching the trains slow down as crew and passengers glimpsed the game in play as they passed by, before the railway gave way for the superstore redevelopment which permanently scarred the ground thereafter.
At around this time the club made a record signing in buying Terry Wharton from Wolves for £70,000 and great ex Liverpool players like Peter Thompson and Roger Hunt of 66 world cup fame ended their playing days with Bolton. The 1970`s beckoned, a new football era arrived, hallmarked with the feast of skills displayed by the Brazilian team on the international stage during the Mexico world cup finals, myself and others belief we witnessed something unique during that tournament, Brazil in 1970 where not only arguably the most talented team ever assembled, they played at a level of perfection never witnessed previously or repeated since, a once in a lifetime moment. How I wished for the Wanderers to learn some of the arts that Brazil showered on the game at that time.
Life changed in many ways with the onset of the 70`s as I entered my late teens, working full time, girls and young romance, previous countless evenings and weekends spent playing football with my mates on the local pitch until darkness descended and you could no longer see the ball were never to be repeated and my desired location at Burnden Park switched to the terraces. A fond memory that stands out from the winter of 69/70 refers to frosty Sunday mornings when myself and friends braved the frozen pitch above Heywood School in Great Lever to spend hours competing against each other, we used to welcome an elderly guy who regularly joined us for a game, he constantly displayed pace, energy and natural skills that defied his age, although none of us knew who he was when he turned up we all wanted him on our side. From questions asked of others, as we never directly asked the guy himself, it turned out he was Willy Moir, I was gob smacked, blimey, I had actually played football with one of the great players and a Bolton Wanderers hero of the past without ever realising.
Another important development to my support for the Wanderers at this time came from being able to travel to away games, either by car or occasionally by train, in fact much of my personal experience of our country centred around visiting the football grounds of opponents and what I observed en route. In 1973 when the club momentarily fell into the 3rd division I recall going to The Shay, Halifax Town, the ground had a bare grass embankment at one end and a dirt speedway track around the pitch, quite depressing and a signature of how far we had fallen in those days.
I recall watching good players such as Roy Greaves and Johnny Byrom, Greaves was combative and without nerve whenever he took a penalty, Byrom must have been the best striker of his generation who never played for England, probably the most naturally gifted goal scorer to adorn the Wanderers forward line for many years, he slotted home chances and half chances with aplomb, making it look so easy. In memory of Johnny Byrom and that era I recall a cup tie at the Dell against Southampton, then a top quality 1st division team. We were losing 3-1 with less than 10 minutes remaining, heavy rain had turned the pitch into a quagmire, many Wanderers fans had already made their way out of the ground, a combination of perpetual Southampton pressure who relentlessly attacked our goal at will and the taunting of home fans was hard to endure. With Southampton poised to score again me and my mate stood to leave, suddenly a desperately hoisted ball out from our defence landed at Byrom`s feet on the half way line, with 4 defenders between him and their goal he set off on a mazy run through the mud, past one, past two, past three and four, before burying the ball in the back of the net! We sat down once more lapping up the silence from the shocked Southampton fans around us, although such brilliance could never in our wildest dreams strike twice we believed that moment restored our dignity and pride. With mere seconds left as the ref was checking his watch and the home fans were screaming for the whistle, another final long ball out from our defence was chased down by Byrom on the half way line, alone against the odds once again he beat the centre half to the ball, skipped past two more defenders and on reaching the edge of the penalty area flicked the ball past the advancing keeper to make it 3-3. I remember dancing back to the train station, the pouring rain washed away all my previous disappointments, Johnny Byrom was my hero, that night belonged to him to Bolton and to supporters like myself, suddenly everything in life was worthwhile. We lost the replay 2-0 of which I have no memory.
As the 70`s developed a new generation of young players emerged, Peter Reid, Garry Jones, Paul Jones, Barry Siddall, Sam Allardyce, Neil Whatmore and others. Paul Jones was an extremely talented centre half good on the ground and in the air, Big Sam was superb in the air but woefully clumsy at ground level, Barry Siddall was a muscular powerful goalkeeper and Neil Whatmore epitomised the player that never quite fulfilled the natural potential he possessed during competitive matches. Peter Reid by comparison was ever the artful dodger in midfield who went on to England fame after moving to Everton. Ironically Peter suffered an horrific career threatening injury to his ankle during a game against Everton at Burnden Park, I think it was a cup tie abandoned midway through the second half due to a heavy snow storm, early in the game Peter lay prostrate on the pitch with his damaged foot turned out at an horrific 90 degree angle to his leg, if only the snow had come earlier to save him.