LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Bolton Wanderers

Football Ventures (Whites) save Trotters from the chop

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

In 2016, Bolton Wanderers came within five minutes of being wound up by the tax authorities. Cavalier with runaway debts, the club was rescued by a motivated consortium but relegated to the third tier. Bolton duly headed back up to the Championship.

In 2019, the same scenario played out, staff unpaid, more than £1 million owed to the taxman and liquidation on the cards. This time, Football Ventures (Whites) stepped in to save the day, and the club duly headed from the fourth to the third tiers in 2021.

Few clubs, even in Lancashire, are steeped in such football tradition. If Wanderers had folded, they would have been only the second to do so of the original 12 members who formed the inaugural Football League in 1888. The first club to score a league goal, Bolton were later involved in three of the most dramatic finals in FA Cup history.

Bolton Centre/Tony Dawber

The first came in 1923. Bolton, formed as Christ Church FC in 1874 and breaking away as Wanderers three years later, had reached two previous finals in 1894 and 1904.

Goals in every round by Bolton-born David Jack took the club to another in 1923, the first game at Wembley Stadium, completed only days beforehand. At least a quarter of a million people swarmed to the new arena to see West Ham take on Bolton – but the game would not have taken place had mounted PC George Scorey not pushed back waves of spectators from the pitch beforehand.

When action began, in front of an official crowd of 126,000, it was Jack who scored first and Bolton who won 2-0 – but the event is remembered for the white police horse, Billie, and the iconic image of its orderly stewarding of the masses.

With ten of the 1923 XI, including Welsh winger Ted Vizard and Scottish centre-forward Jack Smith, and with David Jack scoring in every round including the final, Bolton again won the cup in 1926. The 1-0 win over Manchester City reversed the scoreline of 1904.

Despite selling Jack for a world-record five-figure fee in 1928, Wanderers returned to Wembley in 1929 to beat Portsmouth 2-0. Exeter fisherman Dick Pym played in all of Bolton’s three winning finals that decade.

Nat Lofthouse statue/Tony Dawber

The next great Bolton-born forward emerged during World War II. Unlike Jack, Nat Lofthouse stayed at Bolton’s long-term home of Burnden Park all his career – even taking managerial and boardroom roles in the 1980s. On the pitch, he was fearless, depicted by his strident statue outside today’s Toughsheet Community Stadium his nickname of ‘The Lion of Vienna’ after a typically heroic goal for England against Austria.

For Bolton’s return to Wembley for the FA Cup final of 1953, Lofthouse opened the scoring, repeating David Jack’s feat of a goal in every round. With Wanderers 3-2 up over Blackpool, Stanley Matthews turned the tables in the dying minutes, virtuoso wing play winning the day to climax a legendary final later named after him.

When Lofthouse did win his cup medal, five years later, the circumstances could not have been more different. Close to retirement, Bolton’s captain scored the two goals that beat a makeshift Manchester United decimated by the recent Munich Air Disaster. For the second, Lofthouse bundled over the hero of Munich, United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, to earn public rebuke. The next day, Bolton’s team bus was pelted by missiles as it victoriously trundled through Manchester.

The silverware the team was carrying would be the last major trophy Bolton would win to date. Managers not players have dictated the modern era – steering Bolton to the Premier League, Europe and major finals, but also leading to financial ruin.

Toughsheet Community Stadium/Tony Dawber

First, in the early 1990s, Bruce Rioch reversed decades of underachievement, gaining Wanderers two promotions in three years and notching memorable wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton in the FA Cup. Bolton also reached the League Cup final in 1995, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool.

Rioch’s last game in charge was the pulsating 4-3 extra-time win over Reading for Wanderers to reach the Premier League.

Colin Todd ensured that Bolton’s move in 1997 to a new-build stadium outside town, first called the Reebok, would be as a top-flight club.

Unable to keep pace with the big boys, Bolton brought in ex-Wanderers defender Sam Allardyce as manager in 1999. In his eight rollercoaster years at the Reebok, Big Sam brought in crowd-pleasers such as Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff, nurtured younger players, such as teenager Kevin Nolan, and reignited the careers of Kevin Davies and Iván Campo.

Bolton Wanderers tickets/Tony Dawber

Big Sam’s Bolton quickly reached Wembley, for a play-off final defeat to Watford and an FA Cup semi-final loss on penalties to Aston Villa. After reaching the top tier in 2001, Bolton under Allardyce made the top eight of the Premier four seasons running.

Losing another League Cup final, to Middlesbrough in 2004, Wanderers made their European debut a year later, gaining tricky draws at Besiktas and Sevilla to earn a tight knock-out game with Marseille. Two years later, Bolton drew at Bayern Munich, beat Atlético Madrid and lost narrowly to Sporting Lisbon.

The club’s wage bill hit the roof as Allardyce brought in El Hadji Diouf and Nicolas Anelka. With Bolton a highest-ever fifth but unable to leverage any more significant cash to push the club into the highest bracket, Allardyce controversially left before the 2006-07 season had concluded.

Ironically, a year later, Bolton spent a club record of £8.2 million on Swedish flop Johan Elmander.

Following Big Sam’s flit, the fallout was not only been a decade-long descent from mid-table in the Premier to League One, but run-ins with the taxman and horrendous interest on debt.

Toughsheet Community Stadium/Tony Dawber

In 2016 a consortium headed by ex-Bolton striker Dean Holdsworth stepped in to save the club from doom. Equally crucially, previous owner, locally born philanthropist Edwin Davies, was willing to waive the £125 million he was owed. On the pitch, the dire 2015-16 campaign ended with Bolton a full 19 points from safety.

Motivated by the excellent Phil Parkinson, Bolton gained promotion to the Championship in 2016-17 but were soon back down again. By 2019-20, Bolton were close to liquidation, unable to even provide hot water in training ground, let alone pay people. 

Destined for the fourth tier and almost certainly worse, the club was salvaged by the Football Ventures (Whites) consortium, headed by experienced entrepreneur Sharon Brittan. A first move was to snag manager Ian Evatt from overachieving Barrow. His first move was to buy experienced Irish striker Eoin Doyle from Swindon, before picking up quality Portuguese defender Ricardo Santos from Barnet. After a string of poor results, Bolton put together an unbeaten run from January to April. 

With automatic promotion back to League One, former England C striker Oladapo Afolayan was offered a permanent contract, his goals spurring a bright start to Bolton’s 2021-22 campaign.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

One of the most impressive of the many new-builds over the last 25 years, the Toughsheet Community Stadium is strikingly visible from both motorway and train as you come in from the M61 or by direct rail from town. This is not Bolton but Horwich – or rather the Middlebrook retail estate, Horwich itself another 2km away on Chorley New Road.

Opened in 1997 as the Reebok, originally a Bolton firm, the stadium replaced Burnden Park, the club’s home over the previous century. Around the new ground has since grown a railway station, Horwich Parkway, a hotel, Bolton Whites, and several chain eateries.

Inside, the ground holds nearly 29,000 in four two-tiered stands – although the 25,000-plus average gate of the Allardyce years is now a distant memory.

Home fans occupy the North Stand, away supporters the South. Depending on demand, home fans may also be allocated some segregated sectors here – and, depending on weather, some may get wet as it’s not completely covered.

Press boxes line the sideline West Stand while the East Stand is named after club legend Nat Lofthouse, whose statue stands in the south-west corner.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The stadium is served by purpose-built Horwich Parkway station a short walk away. Trains run from Bolton (£5/£5.50 off-peak day return, 10min journey time) every 30mins (every hr Sun), and with lower gates these days at the University of Bolton Stadium, post-match platform overcrowding isn’t so bad.

Of the various buses coming in from the surrounding area, the main one from Bolton Interchange is the Diamond 575 Sapphire (every 15-20mins) to The Beehive (15min journey time), the main pre-match bar a 10min walk from the stadium.

The sat nav code for the Toughsheet Community Stadium is BL6 6JW. It may still be referred to ‘University of Bolton Stadium’ on some applications. Parking is available at the stadium (£8), car park A nearest the South Stand dedicated to away supporters and accessed from the A6027/De Havilland Way. As it’s pretty gridlocked post-match, some choose the cheaper option of parking around the industrial estate around Lostock Lane/Cranfield Road (BL6 4SB), just the other side of De Havilland Way, almost as close to the ground. Most spaces charge around £3-£4 and have someone watching over the vehicles for a couple of hours. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office is part of Bolton Central (current opening hours Wed-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm, Sat 9.30am-5.30pm), through via car park A.

There are also sales by phone (01204 328 888) and online. For all information, email ticketsales@bwfc.co.uk.  General sale starts around 2-3 weeks before each home game. Pay-on-the-day is usually the case.

Prices are usually set at £23 (£18 over-65s, £8 under-12s) but you can matches as cheap as £10, £5 discounted. Around the ground, there’s little variation in pricing.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Merchandise is found at Bolton Central (current opening hours Wed-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm, Sat 9.30am-5.30pm), the current home kit of white with red-and-navy trim, away tops of yellow with black sleeves and third choice of red and navy stripes.

A standard range of scarves, T-shirts and bobble hats carries the BWFC acronym.

stadium tours

Explore the ground inside and out

When they restart, stadium tours (£7.50, £4 discounts) take place at 2.30pm Mon-Tue & Thur, and non-match day Sat at 11am. They can be booked from the Bolton Central outlet or over the phone on 01204 328 888.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The stadium is surrounded by a retail park, and mainstream chains which only allow home fans on match days. There’s also a Harvester by the Premier Inn alongside the stadium. 

Away fans are best advised to use the Bee Hive, a former hotel now next to the Premier Inn on Chorley New Road, a 12min walk to the stadium. It’s part of the family-friendly chain, with a play area for toddlers, sport on TV, meal deals and car parking.

The other convenient choice, slightly further across De Havilland Way, is Barnstormers, a stand-alone pub on the corner of Lostock Lane and Cranfield Road, is currently awaiting new owners.

If you’re with the car, there are two atmospheric pubs a short drive from the stadium. In Horwich itself, the Bridge Hotel on Church Street exudes tradition and offers live sport as well as seven guest rooms.

CITY

AWAY DAYS