From t'local rag.
TWENTY years ago, Bruce Rioch was appointed manager of Bolton Wanderers, a decision that would spark a revival and change the face of the club for years to come.
They became known as the White Hot years and helped elevate players such as John McGinlay and Andy Walker to legendary status.
Today, we begin a three-part series in which chief football writer, Marc Iles, talks to the man who guided the club to two promotions, a League Cup final and memorable FA Cup nights in three years in charge IT’S difficult for fans under a certain age to imagine what life at Bolton Wanderers was like just 20 short years ago.
Long before the plush metallic arches of the Reebok, perfectly manicured training pitches at Euxton and purpose-built Academy at Lostock there stood a club that in Bruce Rioch’s own frank admission “needed a lick of paint.”
The famous old Burnden Park was showing its age, and a squad assembled by Phil Neal lacked something to truly capture the imagination of the Bolton public.
“It’s safe to say when I joined in 1992, the club had hit the crossbar a couple of times,” recalled Rioch, now living with his wife in Cornwall.
“They had come close to promotion under Phil Neal and Mick Brown and I remember watching the team get beaten in the play-offs by Tranmere. They just couldn’t get over the line.
“Of course, there was no money at all at the time, so when I agreed to go into the club I knew before we even looked at the squad, we’d need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.
“The whole place needed sorting. Everywhere was scrubbed, we put new paint on the wall. It felt like a fresh start.”
The next step was to address the squad, and with little cash to spend, two of Rioch’s first decisions were to snap up players deemed surplus to requirements at his former club Millwall.
“The chairman Gordon Hargreaves told me early on that if I made money, then I could have it to spend on the team, and he was true to his word,” he said. “We had to be very, very selective.
“I knew Keith Branagan from Millwall and that he wasn’t wanted there, so he came in right away. He was a top-class keeper who I knew would get us clean sheets.
“John (McGinlay) was the next one and I wanted to give him an opportunity to settle. Almost from the first day you could see him brighten the place up.
“Right away there we had the two most important positions on the pitch - your goalkeeper and a goalscorer. It was the backbone of everything from there on in. It just took off.
“We tidied up the whole stadium. Swept the floors, painted the seats, the door frames, cleaned every inch of the place and all of a sudden I felt like something good was happening.”
Results took a short while to go completely the way Rioch liked, although a goal inside a minute of his first game against Huddersfield Town by Andy Walker, the first in a 2-0 win, was a nice way to start.
Discussions had also started about a permanent training facility, which paved the way for the state-of-the-art facility Wanderers now own just off the M61.
“We had been training in Bury but it was at that point we started to look towards a training ground, and that’s when the land at Euxton came up,” Rioch recalled. “It seemed gradual at the time, but when I think back now it all moved very quickly.”
Defeat at home against Hartlepool United in October left Wanderers just three points above the relegation zone but there was a distinct sea change in the next game against Chester City when things suddenly started to click, sending the club on a long unbeaten run into the New Year.
Rioch was finally getting things his own way and though there was a slight wobble in February, the Whites won their final five games of the season to clinch promotion behind champions Stoke City on the final day of the season.
The game, a 1-0 home win against Preston North End, was played in front of the biggest Burnden crowd in a decade. McGinlay’s penalty proved the difference and at that point, Rioch knew “something special” was happening.
“We were the talk of the town again,” he said. “We had players that people wanted to see and the fans responded accordingly.
“It was a great unit. I had Andy Walker, David Lee, Julian Darby, Mark Patterson, Alan Stubbs and Jason McAteer were breaking through, you had Phil Brown in his prime and David Burke on the other side, later Jimmy Phillips.
“Then there was Tony Kelly. When we arrived he was out of condition but we whipped him into shape, kept him motivated and he rewarded us by being one of the best passers of the ball anywhere around. He had all the talent, it was just a case of keeping his head right.
“The noise in Burnden when it was full was quite something. It was a wonderful place to be in at the time.”
Walker and McGinlay had shared 55 goals between them and Wanderers were suddenly upwardly mobile. Rioch looks upon that season as the start of his most treasured spell in football.
“My brother asked me a few weeks ago what moments stand out in my career and three unbelievable years at Bolton were on top of my list,” he said.
“Two promotions, a league cup final, the development of the team and the club as a whole, and the relationships I had. It is a time I will never, ever forget.”
On Tuesday, Rioch discusses legendary FA Cup victories over Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool and the real story behind some of his best buys.
Ian Ayre, who suggested that the leading clubs should receive a larger slice of the money from overseas TV rights, as the average fan in Kuala Lumpur “isn’t subscribing… to watch Bolton.”