Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers FC are one of the oldest and most traditional names in English football, having being originally formed as Christ Church FC in 1874 after the church that they played from. Bolton is a former mill town around fifteen miles north west of Manchester in Lancashire. After three years the club had a fall out with the church so they changed their name to their current title. Wanderers was a reference to the fact that they couldn't find a settled home ground for their first few seasons.

In 1888 Wanderers became one of the twelve founder members of the Football League. Within seven years they found a permanent home at Burnden Park in the Burnden district of the town near to the main railway line to Manchester. 'The Trotters' as the club are nicknamed were defeated in FA Cup Finals against Notts County and then Manchester City, before they reached the first ever Wembley final in 1923. Amongst the chaos of the famous 'White Horse Final' with up to 200,000 fans in attendance, Bolton defeated West Ham United 2-0 with David Jack scoring the first ever goal at the stadium.

Cup successes continued as they lifted the trophy after wins over Manchester City in 1926 and Portsmouth in 1929. In the league the side had fared differently with a couple of relegation's and subsequent promotions occurring. In 1935 the club were promoted to the First Division, where they'd remain for the following twenty nine years. Their hero of the time was local lad Nat Lofthouse, who was dubbed 'The Lion of Vienna' after a goal he scored for England in an away fixture against Austria where several players tried to stop him by foul play before he scored.

In 1953 Wanderers ended runners up in the FA Cup after a game referred to as 'Matthews Final' after Stanley Matthews the veteran Blackpool winger, despite centre forward Stan Mortenson netting a hat trick. Bolton led the game 3-1 before the dramatic fight back led to a 4-3 reverse. Five years later they returned to Wembley to lift the Cup for a fourth time when they broke the nations heart by beating a Manchester United side recovering from the Munich Air Disaster with two Lofthouse goals.

The sixties brought disappointment with relegation down to third tier for a short period. Managers came and went until Ian Greaves took the role and developed a fine young side with the likes of Sam Allardyce, Neil Whatmore and Peter Reid starring. They returned to the First Division in 1978 with Frank Worthington leading the forward line.

To see a great goal from this era, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sAZJtl6Qz0

Their spell at the top lasted just two seasons, before the club entered the worst period in their history. Money was tight so part of the Bolton End at Burnden Park was sold off leading to the terrace being cut in half to accommodate a supermarket. This spoilt the fine old aging ground that had once staged an FA Cup Final Replay, but had also witnessed one of footballs biggest disaster when thirty three fans were killed and hundreds injured in 1946 when too many spectators were admitted to a game against Stoke City.

The team were relegated all the way to Division Four by 1987 as a succession of managers failed to galvanise the side. Crowds also dropped to an all time low. The club kept faith with Phil Neal who manged to take Bolton straight back up at the first attempt. Lofthouse was made Life President of the club and Wanderers returned to Wembley as they lifted the Football League Trophy in 1989.

Bruce Rioch arrived as manager in 1992 and the team soon gained a reputation as FA Cup giant killers as they beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield with Andy Walker and John McGinlay netting. Another promotion was achieved and the club reached the last eight of the FA Cup after beating Arsenal in 1993. Bolton were losing finalists in the 1995 League Cup Final against Liverpool, but they won promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season, before Rioch left to take the hot seat at Arsenal.

Roy McFarland and his assistant Colin Todd took over as the club were relegated. Todd was put in charge and the side went straight back to the top flight at their first attempt in May 1997. At the end of the season Wanderers left Burnden Park and moved to edge of the boundary of the Borough of Bolton to the new Reebok Stadium in Horwich. The local shoewear company entered into a long term naming rights sponsorship. The stadium surrounds also gradually developed with an indoor arena, shops and a hotel being built.

In 1998 the club were once again relegated. Todd resigned the following season after they lost in the Play Off Final to Watford at Wembley to be replaced by club legend Sam Allardyce who was appointed by Chairman Phil Gartside. In 2001 Preston North End were defeated in the Millennium Stadium Play Off Final to take the club back to the Premier League. 'Big Sam' set about revolutionising the way the team played with emphasis being very much on statistics and sports science. Class signings were brought in on free transfers but big contracts such as Ivan Campo, Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Kevin Davies.

In 2004 Wanderers were once again runners up in the League Cup, this time to Middlesbrough, while the following season they finished in sixth place in the league and played in one of two UEFA Cup campaigns. In 2007 Allardyce resigned as manager after leading Wanderers to their four previous top ten finishes. Despite this, opposing fans and the media often criticised him and his team for what was said to be a direct style of football.

Sammy Lee had an unsuccessful spell as manger to be followed by the unpopular Gary Megson. He was replaced in January 2010 by former favourite Owen Coyle, who changed the style of football to something more pleasing on the eye. However, for all the aesthetic nature of the play, it wasn't enough to save The Trotters from relegation at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Coyle was acked in October 2012, with Dougie Freedman coming in from Crystal Palace to replace him. It took the new boss time to gel his own squad, but the 2012-13 saw Wanderers just miss out on a play off spot.

Freedman's side did not continue their development, despite investment in the squad, as they finished the 2013-14 campaign in mid table. After a poor start to the new season, Freedman was dismissed in October 2014 to be replaced by ex Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who immediately oversaw an improvement in results. He led the side to safety at the end of the season. 

Bolton Wanderers will play in the Football League Championship in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

Bolton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 0 (Wednesday 1st February 2012) FA Premier League (att: 24,371)

I had checked the fixture lists as I was to finish my night shifts on the Tuesday morning, with the following couple of days off. Wanderers were originally down to play The Gunners on Tuesday evening, but the game moved to the next night.

This meant a change of plan for me, meaning a stay in Blackpool before moving to stay in Manchester on the evening of the game. My ticket had been purchased online without any hassles, so I was ready for my evening out, looking forward to it with great anticipation.

I had a sneak glimpse of the Reebok on the train from Blackpool that lunchtime as we passed by. I was staying at the newly developed Salford Quays area in Manchester, and after a siesta I headed into the city for a few pre match beers. I knew there were no pubs around the ground, so this seemed the most sensible option. I popped into the quirky Peverel of the Peak and a Lloyds Bar around Oxford Road and then headed to Oxford Road rail station ahead of the direct train. The service was packed full of commuters and fans, but I managed through expression to convince three Orientals that the fourth seat around their table was designated for me rather than their shopping.

I got chatting to three youths from Leeds who'd travelled across for the game who reminded me of myself a few years back. They were really excited about going to a big game and commented on how much cheaper it was than going to Elland Road with the discount price that Bolton offered under twenties. As the train emptied the air was filled with singing from fans of both sides. I loved my non league adventures, but there was nothing like an occasional outing to a big game. I rushed around the stadium, buying a programme along the way, as I was keen to take a look and use the facilities.

The Reebok Stadium was everything I anticipated. It was a truly beautiful sight both inside and out with terrific views. I had a seat in the upper tier of The Nat Lofthouse Stand for £35, which was opposite where the cameras sit for screening games. Opposite was the West Stand, with the North and South Stands located behind the goals. Each stand was identical in design, with a conventional lower tier and a semi circular upper deck. Each stand met with another in the corners, where tall diamond shaped floodlight towers shone down on the arena.

After taking my photos I went back to the ample concourse for a drink and a 'meat n taty' pie. I also purchased a voucher to collect a beer at half time. There were good sized toilets, TVs showing BWTV and a betting stand. I'd already put on a bet on my iPhone, with a highly improbable treble of wins for Bolton, Blackburn and QPR being laid. I figured all three were separate for wins and the odds were very tempting.

I settled into my front row seat amongst the locals who weren't slow in criticising their own players. Arsenal were passing The Trotters to death but as in so many games, they were lacking a finish. Wave after wave of attacks were somehow kept out by the home side, while they resorted to the occasional break away at the other end. Robin Van Persie was orchestrating along with some excellent work from the young Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. However their back four didn't look as steady when required, with Per Mertesacker looking particularly dodgy.

Despite the first half consisting of Arsenal dominance apart from the last few minutes, the teams went back down their separate tunnels for their break with the scoreline blank. I headed back to the warm for my half time pint. I was amazed how easily the system employed worked. I went to a separate door where a man dispatched pre poured beers with lids on, so that there was no waiting. Another plus point was that if you paid in advance, it was around twenty pence cheaper. Yet remarkably fans still stood in the queues.

The cold increased in the second half as I got talking to the man next to me. He was a Blackpool fan who'd been at the same game as me the previous evening. His son was a Bolton season ticket holder, so he went along when their fixtures didn't clash. He said he'd been a Bloomfield Road regular for fifty years and we had a good chat. He had a laugh when I mentioned how demanding the home fans were despite them beating Liverpool in their last home game and they were holding Arsenal in this match.

Van Persie hit the bar with a majestic chip, but the Arsenal pressure was diminishing with Wanderers giving it a real go. The home fans then found their voices and created a great atmosphere, which unsurprisingly seemed to inspire the team. They could well have been awarded a late penalty as Mertesacker made yet another clumsy challenge, but as it was both sides had to settle for a point. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable game despite me seeing no goals.

I ran around the stadium as fast as I could and headed for Horwich Parkway station in the hope that there may have been an extra train laid on to get fans back to Bolton and Manchester. The police had everyone queueing up outside, which was a good way to keep things in order. However, I was dismayed when we were told there wasn't a train for twenty minutes. I was cold and wanted to get back for a pint and something to eat before bed.

I heard a conversation taking place between an astute taxi driver who had driven to the station and two blokes. They were getting inside when I shouted and asked where they were going. They said Manchester, and ushered me over. I was followed by and Arsenal fan. It turned out it would cost £40 for the journey between us, with the driver wanting payment up front. The two lads were from Norway and were over for a week of football, music and socialising. They'd been at the Everton v Man City game the previous evening and were going to Man City v Fulham game at the weekend as well as a gig in the city. One was a Sky Blues fan, with the other supporting Leeds. The Arsenal fan lived in Manchester, and despite being a little fond of himself and being a typical fan of the bigger clubs (nothing was good enough for him), he was handy for chivvying the driver along.

Our chauffeur did the business as we were getting out in Piccaddilly Gardens by 10.30pm. I went for a couple of pints and then a take away before catching the last tram back to my Travelodge room.

It had been a really good night out as I was surrounded by decent folk, I went to some good pubs and been to a cracking stadium and seen a very decent game. I wasn't upset to hit my pillow in my lovely warm room though!

Some of the images of Burnden Park have been taken from the internet.

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