May 142012
Bolton Wanderers 1920s

“I’m Bolton till I die,

I’m Bolton till I die,

I know I am,

I’m sure I am,

I’m Bolton till I die!”

A rather dramatic title perhaps but I suppose that is the point and I do not think a more gentle way to describe my feelings regarding Bolton Wanderers Football Club would be appropriate.

There are two kinds of football. There is the football you play and then there is the football you watch. This second kind of football really makes very little sense and it is the sort of football that I am writing about.

I am not sure that I like football. In many, many ways I don’t understand football but I love Bolton Wanderers with all my heart and I think always will.

What is Bolton Wanderers or any club for that matter? A name? 11 players? A stadium and some supporters? Well it really isn’t any of those things, although they are all requirements. Perhaps it is simply – history. The celebration of every goal and every fan who ever dreamed that this day may be our day.

Some people laugh when they find out that I am a Bolton fan or think that it is somewhat strange – why not support another team, a more successful team? I find this a bewildering attitude.

You don’t choose a football team to support! Your football team chooses you! It’s not a calculation or a decision. One day, you realise that you support a team and that is that. I can think of few deeds worse than that of changing which football team you support (with a possible exemption for children).

I admire and respect the dedication and heart that people put into supporting their football team. I never think, ‘really?’ I take my hat off to them and wish them well, unless they are playing Bolton Wanderers that week.

My first memory of supporting Bolton Wanderers is from January 1993. We were in the third tier of English Football. We hadn’t been in the top flight since before I was born. We were to play the FA Cup champions, Liverpool, the most successful club of recent years, certainly before the soon to take place rise of Manchester United.

We were written off. No chance, no hope, the result a mere formality.

I listened to the match on the radio. We were 2-0 nil up at half time! I can recall the unbelievable feeling of exhilaration as the goals went in. I think, and could well be wrong, that it was John McGinley and Jason McAteer who scored. In the second half Liverpool got two back and the game finished 2-2. We went to Anfield for the replay and miraculously, won. This would set the bar for my expectations rather too high for the years that followed. But we did have the odd few moments of glory in the FA Cup over the next few years. We would rise to the dizzy heights of the Premier League in 1997 after coming down from 3-0 in the Play Off final to win 4-3.

I think the hardest day for me as a Bolton fan was losing to Aston Villa in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. It was the last final to take place at the old Wembley Stadium before it was demolished. Bolton won the first FA Cup final that ever took place at Wembley, way back in 1923, and what an idea, that we might be in the final of the last FA Cup final to be held there. And who knows – we might even win…

But it was not to be. Bolton came desperately, heartbreakingly close to winning. The ‘golden goal’ system was in operation (the next team to score would win). But no-one did and it went to penalties and Villa won. Bolton weren’t in the premier league at the time and I remember the commentator saying how great it was that the final would have two premier league teams in it and he added that it would be a final, ‘worthy of the occasion’.

It wasn’t so much that we lost that bothered me (though it did, enormously), it was the idea that we didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. We weren’t just defeated. We were dismissed from the right of even competing.

To those people that laugh at the idea that someone would support Bolton Wanderers, I have a rather simple message: go fuck yourselves! To hell with your ridicule and your mocking.

It’s not just about winning! It’s about your team winning! If it was just about winning everyone would support Manchester United and in many, many ways that would not be a world worth living in.

Bolton Wanderers got relegated yesterday after 11 years in the premier league. I remember when we got promoted back in 2000, there was no sense of entitlement, we had earned it and we knew that we would have to earn it each and every year. We half expected to get relegated the very next season as we had done just a couple of years previously.

Some people support what they consider ‘big clubs’. Some club’s supporters believe that they have a right to a place in the premier league, even a right to success. If there is such a thing as a ‘big club’, you earn it, one tackle, one goal and one match at a time. No football club has a right to anything.

As a Bolton fan, I will never complain that we are not where we deserve to be (though of course, I reserve the right to complain about horrendous refereeing decisions). For better or for worse, we are exactly where we deserve to be, and I am right there with them. There is only one kind of victory in football that means anything to me and that’s a victory for Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton Wanderers is my football club and it always will be. God forbid that it should cease to exist one day, but if it did, well then I would have no team.

So here’s to next season, to the heartache and disappointment of defeat and to the ecstasy of victory and to the sometimes too cruel hope that this year may be our year.

To those of you that do not understand why I support Bolton Wanderers – I pity you. To quote Thomas Paine, ”What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” That it so hard is what make it worth doing. Though sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so hard.

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