Words By Neil Boardman

About five minutes in a car. Forty minutes (ish) on foot. And too long by train. That’s how far I grew up from the home of Bolton Wanderers – the, as it’s currently known, University of Bolton stadium.

Considering the ground is, by road, about 3 miles away from mine, you’d think the train wouldn’t actually take that long but you’re looking at, including the wait in town, about an hour. The reason behind going on about all this is because the older generation of people round these parts, will try and claim that the day Bolton moved away from their spiritual home of Burnden Park to the Reebok (that’s what it’s called, don’t debate it), was the day the club lost its soul.

Burnden Park was located in the centre of town. An appropriate place for such a ground to be located as it wasn’t only defined as the centre of a town geographically, but also spiritually. Bolton Wanderers Football Club is the heart of a town. The heart of a town that isn’t the home of riches or strong government investment. Bolton is a town that has had it’s strong heart broken time and time again; it’s not the nicest place nor is it my favourite place in the world but it is the home of good people, friends, family.

For years, living in Bolton, there wasn’t much to look forward to, nothing much at all for the average, working class family. Apart from Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Although I don’t have any memories of Burnden Park, I have been told stories of the days, there, by countless fans. The town being a sea of white shirts from early morning to late at night, with ninety minutes being taken out of the day to witness a John McGinlay masterclass.

This was the soul of one of the Football League’s founders. The 4 times FA cup winners. However, despite what some might say, this soul did not rest in peace at Burnden Park. In fact, the Bolton Wanderers that this town loves carried on for so many years. This was a club that held its own against the European big boys, pulling top notch results off against Bayern Munich, Athletico Madrid and Red Star Belgrade. The club was the home of some footballing icons. Anelka. Djorakeff. Campo. Hierro. And, of course, the man so good they named him twice – Jay-Jay Okocha.

The days at the Reebok, with Big Sam and Little Sam is the Bolton Wanderers that I and many others will remember. This wasn’t a team without a soul, this was a team that young kids in the town believed were the best in the world. And isn’t that what football is all about? A bit of optimism? A bit of belief?

It pains me to say, but the Bolton Wanderers that so many of us grew up with no longer exists. This is a club where the supporters think relegation is the best option, some are convinced the club should pack up and start again – this is a club that has had its soul ripped to shreds. It wasn’t the move from Burnden Park, Sam Allardyce leaving or, even, relegation from the Premier League – it was money.

As great as some elements of the modern game are, and as much as I hate to moan, Bolton Wanderers are a victim of modern football. Debts and unpaid wages are two elements of business that circle the ‘UNIBOL’ (awful that, init) everyday, the statue of Sir Nat Lofthouse being the club’s guard from the vultures of the footballing world. Corrupt guidance from the crooks that call themselves the Anderson’s have ripped the beating heart straight from the chest of this town.

It’s mad, isn’t it? How the dark arts-esque actions of football’s money men can change the lives of the people that make the sport – the fans. Within ten years the devils of the football world can turn Nicolas Anelka into Chinedu Obasi. It is time for the footballing gods to sort this mess out and restore the heart and soul of one of football’s most historic clubs.


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