For the firewalled
Dear Bolton Fans,
I’m writing you this open letter because I never had the chance to say farewell to you all following my last match at the Reebok. I really want to say thank you for all the great years that you’ve given me: and believe me, I feel you gave them to me, rather than I to you. It’s been a marvellous experience and I am going to miss the build up to the games when my hands would get clammy at the prospect of putting in a good display and a great afternoon’s football for you all.
I always imagined another kind of farewell: in the stadium, together with you, wearing that white shirt and feeling the affection of all those voices that have cheered me on throughout the years at Bolton Wanderers. I’ve always felt that you guys had a special bond with me. I am, after all, just another foreigner in your land and I know that, when I first arrived here, many people thought that I’d come here from Madrid looking for an extended holiday. I think that, very quickly, you all saw that it was not like that for me: that I had come here to work hard and earn my crust. Maybe that was why many of you chose me as your favourite player so soon afterwards: something that I shall never, ever forget. I cherish with all my heart the times you chanted my name.
The time has come to say goodbye and I would like to bid farewell to every single one of you but, especially, I wish to convey my warmest and most affectionate wishes to Sam Allardyce. He came and found me in Madrid; he had faith in me and taught me how to be a better, more mature player. He played me in a position where I’d never played before in my life and that enabled me to see the game in a completely different light. I truly appreciate the faith he showed in me, in what was otherwise a tough time. I spoke with Sam recently, and who knows, maybe our paths will cross again before too long.
I have no desire to harm the image of Bolton Wanderers Football Club in any way, and I do not want this to end on a sour note. However, I must add that it is a bit sad that I had to find out from the coach, in a two minute phone call, four days after the final game of the season, that he no longer wanted me: thanks for everything but you’ll need to find something somewhere else.
I can fully understand that the coach wants to play a different style of football and that there is no room for a player like me. That’s fine, but I would have liked to have been given the chance to say goodbye to you all.
There is one more thing: one of the saddest things to have happened to me in my entirely unforgettable time at Bolton, and that is the fact nobody from the Football Club has been in contact with me to wish me good luck in my new adventure. At the very least I expected a phone call from the Chairman, Phil Gartside. I’m very upset that it has ended this way.
Nevertheless, there are so many other great memories that will always bring me joy. I remember when we lost the Carling Cup final – one of the toughest moments in my career in England – and a boy of about 12 years old came up to me and said something like this: ‘The thrill of watching you play, that’s what makes the fans happy.’ He told me that it was a real pity to have lost, but at least he knew that next season he’d be watching Campo again. That was like winning a trophy for me.
It’s been an unusual year, and things haven’t been done the way that they were in previous seasons. The dressing room has had to really pull together and work hard to overcome a situation that none of us was used to. The key to our salvation has been the players themselves, side by side with the inestimable support of the Bolton fans. The club’s greatest asset is the unity of the players who have all pulled together to save the club.
After being knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Atlético, we hit a real low and went in to a downward spiral. That was until the win over Boro at their place. I wish you could have seen the inside the dressing room that day! Before we took to the field we were all looking at each other saying ‘we must win, we will win.’ And then, when we got back in, it was as if something had clicked and we were all hugging, singing and dancing: we suddenly rediscovered how to enjoy ourselves again and we felt like a team once more. Diouf was hugging everyone; Nolan, Davies as well. Right up to the Sunderland game at home we had to maintain that team spirit and keep hold of that belief that we would avoid going down: and we did.
Yet something strange also happened: we didn’t celebrate with the fans, there was no special dinner like there always is every year, and I would have loved that. It felt as if there was some kind of dis-connection between the club and the supporters: a real shame.
I’m going to really miss all of the players who have come and gone at the club over the last six years: guys like N’Gotty right up to the latest arrivals, Mikel Alonso and the rest. However, if one character stands out above all the others, it’s Djorkaeff: a wonderful guy and when he left it really upset me. I got on phenomenally well with him.
I’ve received a lot of messages in the last few days, not so many from team mates. They are on their holidays and while they may have found out, I’m sure they are all just thinking to themselves that that’s just the way football is. I’m not concerned. I know what I did and I what I achieved at Bolton, and I know that you all know as well. And that’s what I shall take home with me; that’s what I shall remember while I’m enjoying my break in Mallorca, waiting for the phone to ring with an offer from a club.
I’ve had offers but, for now, nothing all that interesting. Let’s hope that after the European Championships the transfer market will pick up and I can continue playing in England, Spain or even somewhere outside of Europe.
I know that I will always be welcome in Bolton, the place that I have called home for the last six years. I would have liked to have stayed for another year or two at the club and hung up my boots wearing the white shirt of Bolton Wanderers. I’ll definitely be back to watch Bolton at the Reebok and, who knows, maybe even return to work with the youth team one day. I love to watch those kids play football: so happy and innocent. They called me ‘The Legend’, but what they never realised was that when I watched them play they reminded me of my own beginnings on the football field, when the most important thing was that you enjoyed yourself. I could even work as a scout for Bolton, maybe bringing Spanish players back to the club.
I’ll always treasure two memories that are, in fact, the same moment: the Carling Cup final where I discovered the meaning of both sadness and greatness. It was a moment of real sadness in defeat, but also something truly great to be in that stadium, in a final, full of the supporters of my team: Bolton Wanderers.
I also have very pleasant memories of my debut at Old Trafford, even though I only played for a minute and the goal I scored against Liverpool in my second game. Ah! And I’ll never forget the blow to the face that Gary Speed gave me: never in all my life have I been hit that hard. They had to give me six stitches in my eyebrow along with twelve on the inside, and twelve on the outside, of my cheekbone. The club doctor stitched up my eyebrow, but I’d also like to thank his boss, a Chinese doctor, who put the rest of me back together, even sorting out a torn facial muscle.
In the end it was all part of the ups and downs of what had been one of the most special and happiest periods of my life.
My Bolton friends, you must know that you will always be with me and have a special place deep in my heart.
My warmest and most heartfelt regards to you all.