Part 3 of the Wanderers Project, featuring Richard McCormick and Harwood61
So, Part 3 of 3 of the Wanderers Project.
Richard McCormick runs The Manny Road Blog and is the former editor of a website called Vital Bolton. He writes about Bolton 2-0 Arsenal 2005/2006 season
For a Bolton fan with decades of service, picking the most memorable game isn’t easy. There’s little to look forward to right now, but drawing on the memory stores can still raise a smile.
The McGinlay era had many proud moments. Watch footage of Andy Walker slotting in that third goal at Highbury, without goosebumps and you’re probably already dead. Other fans might pick a Friday night at Hull, the season before. Yours truly missed that one. I was working a night shift in my final days for the Royal Mail, with the commentary coming via a transistor radio perched on one of the sorting frames.
Years before that, Jimmy Armfield and then Ian Greaves raised Bolton from the doldrums. There were cup victories over higher league opponents in front of bumper crowds, and a promotion clash against Sunderland on Boxing Day 1975 brought in over 42,000 fans, with Sam Allardyce heading an equaliser after starting his run from just outside Farnworth. The Macron is a fine stadium, but Burnden Park on the big occassions was magical, especially under the floodlights. Yet I’ve chosen another encounter, because it was played against the highest calibre of opposition in the top flight of English football.
When Arsenal pitched up at the Reebok on December 3rd 2005, confidence was not high amongst the home contingent. The Whites had played badly, losing at Fulham the week before and struggled to beat Championship side Leicester in the League Cup a few days after. By contrast, the visitors were on a seven game winning streak and had Sol Campbell, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas, Freddie Ljungberg, Robin Van Persie, Dennis Bergkamp and Therri Henry to rely on. Fortunately, they also had the giant walking thumb that was Pascal Cygan. The Frenchman was tortured so much by El Hadji Diouf that he needed therapy afterward.
The match started slowly and with little atmosphere. Then after five minutes Arsenal fairy queen Jens Lehman fell to the turf feigning death after a fairly innocuous challenge. This enraged the crowd and that feeling seemed to transfer to the players. It was game on and the Gunners were under siege – no pun intended.
It was said that Abdoulaye Faye could head a ball harder than most players kicked it. On twenty minutes he proved the theory, finishing after Stelios had dinked a Joey O’Brien cross back in to the middle. On thirty two minutes Gilberto Silva was so intimated by Kevin Davies that he gave up the ball without a struggle. Davies supplied Greek garden gnome Stelios, who nipped between two defenders to double the lead.
Only in the opening minutes of the second half did Arsenal look like they might get back into it, but Jussi Jaaskelainen was up to challenge, at one point taking the ball off the toes of Henry, whilst still lying on the floor after the previous save. But bar that, it was all Bolton. Ricardo Vaz Te missed a golden chance to put the home side three up, and Faye had the ball in the net, but only off his elbow.
Late on, after a surging run down the left, Ricardo Gardner crossed the ball to Stelios, but his attempted pass to Gary Speed in a scoring position was intercepted. Yet it was that sort of exuberance that summed up Bolton’s day. The final score was 2-0, but not even Arsene Wenger could have complained if the winning margin had been five or six. It was the finest performance of Sam Allardyce’s time as Bolton manager.
Next up is member of the Vital Bolton community, Harwood61 who writes about Bolton 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday 1963/1964
A friend had invited me to go along with him and his grandfather to watch a game of football at Burnden Park. “OK, thanks” I`d said, not having the faintest idea of the magnitude of the life-changing experience to come.
As a fairly naïve and insecure 11-year old, nothing had prepared me for what happened after we`d passed through the turnstile and entered the Railway Embankment. Wow, wow, wow??.One of our neighbours on one of the new estates outside Harwood was an old chap called Fred Higginson who was nearing retirement as a groundsman at Burnden Park. Old Fred kept a very neat lawn in front of his bungalow – here, spread out in front of me from the Railway Embankment was Fred`s lawn – magnified 50 times. The lush splendour of the green turf, the immaculate white of the goal posts, the black and white scarves and bobble hats, the enormous clocks above two of the stands.?..if that wasn`t enough to take in, there was the noise of the crowd: cheers, chants, songs, insults aimed at the away fans; the strange clacking noise made by the rattles; the whistles from the steam locomotives passing just above us, and the distorted booming tannoy announcements.
I was in a heightened emotional state with all sensory receptors fully engaged: part of a living, breathing, shouting, swearing organism. I was totally enraptured and the game hadn`t even started. Like your first kiss, or your first pint, it was a moment to treasure. I suspect that we have very few experiences like this in our lifetimes – I can think of a couple of others in my life: seeing Dudu Pukwana`s Spear at the Roundhouse (unbelievable sonic and visual energy), or heading from Madras airport towards the city centre (the physical impact of a cacophony of noise, traffic coming from every direction, and being assaulted by a bewildering array of mostly alien smells).
The memory of that day at Burnden Park over 50 years ago has stayed with me all my life. On the late and lamented Bolton 606 Message Board a few years ago there was a discussion about how and why we become – and stay – fans of a football club. One poster called Fat Burnden Billy said “because it gets in your blood and stays there”. How true. Bolton Wanderers Football Club entered my being that day in 1963 and has never left – despite the many years of doom and gloom since then.
Of the match itself I can tell you very little. We played Sheffield Wednesday and won 3-0. Was the result important? At the time, it probably was. But looking back now, compared to the overall experience, the score had no bearing on the overall impact of that day.