Unhealthy Rivalry

Date: Sunday 20th February 2005

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19th October 2004

Grown men knock a ball around a pitch for an hour and a half. Each team tries to put the ball into one of two large nets at either end of the pitch. One team wins. Or neither team wins. People watch. A basic description of football perhaps, and one that definitely does not stir the passions. Yet football itself rouses the emotions unlike any other sport. Boys in the park (jumpers for goalposts…) pretend to be their heroes, scoring the winner in the FA Cup. Fathers give their newly born sons eleven middle names in honour of the greatest squad their team assembled; and sliding into darker territory, there are those prepared to spill blood in the cause, or rather use it as an excuse. Football violence is, fortunately, a rare thing these days (at least off the pitch). However supporters maintain a fierce rivalry – Man U and Arsenal, Celtic and Rangers, Wolves and West Brom, even Coventry and Leicester for goodness’ sakes. The strong feelings often seep into the attitude of the club itself. So where have Bolton’s rivals come from? Manchester United We all know the chant ‘we only hate Man United’ at Bolton matches. Once upon a time that (distasteful) song about the Munich air crash was often heard. There is a section of Bolton support that considers our club to outstrip even Man City, Liverpool and Leeds in the extent of dislike for the ‘Red Scum’. A lot of United fans would consider it to be jealousy; and to them, Bolton hardly figures high in their irritants list compared with the aforementioned clubs. Bolton will respond by referring back to the 1958 cup final, when the Bolton bus had bricks thrown at it by United supporters, after we had just ruined the newspaper headlines by beating the Munich devastated Man U side, who seemed to have all neutrals behind them. To be honest, whilst Bolton has every right to be annoyed by the bigger, money swathed goliath down the road, getting all the local attention, we are just one of many clubs put off by United’s arrogant, above the rules of football swagger (personified by their manager and a certain Irish midfielder) and so to claim them as our ‘main rival’ is difficult to justify, especially as the teams hardly played each other prior to 2001. Blackburn Rovers A recent addition and possibly the one with most resonance for Bolton fans. Bolton and Blackburn, for the most part, kept out of the same division for many years, and so Blackburn remained, out of sight out of mind, in ‘hillbilly country’. Then the clashes became more frequent, starting mainly around the mid 1990s. We beat the then champions in the season we were genuine cannon fodder, and the meetings became more frequent as both clubs yo-yoed between the Premiership and Division One (as was) and the games would be close, terse affairs mainly because both would usually be gunning for promotion or fighting relegation, and given Blackburn’s millions they often found it hard to accept that poor ‘little Bolton’ were as good as them. Given these circumstances, and Blackburn’s denial of frequent clashes with their first choice rival, Burnley, a rivalry has developed. There’s always some controversial talking point of note in a Bolton – Blackburn game, and given the similar size and fan base of each club it is a battle likely to continue for some time… Manchester City A rivalry of sorts here – the media love City, City love City; they think they are one of the greatest clubs in England but can’t accept that they have under-achieved so much. Often, given their role as the ‘other big Manchester team’ we have delighted in bursting their pompous bubble, last season excepted. But this rivalry, while intense surrounding each game, never really breaks into anything major. Bury Lord they hate us. Even after we let them beg with collecting tins at the Reebok and put on benefit games for them. But do we care anymore? No. Tranmere Rovers There would seem to be no reason whatsoever for a small club at the fag end of Merseyside – hell, where is Tranmere exactly – and Bolton, with a great history and tradition, to have a rivalry. Yet it exists, even now. It began with the infamous play off final of 1991, where they scabbed a goal in extra time and wasted no time in gloating, manager downwards, and kept this up for years to come. Then John Aldridge arrived and things went stellar. A game was called off minutes before kick off; fans sent Bolton players razor blades in the post; they celebrated stopping Bolton get 100 points in the league in 1997 like they had won the FA Cup; and then there’s the 2000 League Cup semi final. Often we have beaten them of course, and there was Sam’s infamous ‘no shower’ game a few years back. Like Bury, they can narrowly beat our reserves in the cups if they want. It means nothing to us now. Middlesbrough A new and welcome addition. There was always a bit of a rivalry when both teams pushed for promotion from the First Division in the 1990s, and the always close, always tense games between the sides reached its apex at the 2004 League Cup final; with controversial refereeing decisions, Boro’s desperation through lack of silverware and both clubs being of a similar fan base and size (though not solvency) there was always going to be an edge, but they have done nothing but gloat about it since, even though Bolton have finished above them in the league and moved on, and now of course the new ‘style’ kings of Europe are all hot and bothered because we didn’t roll over for them, instead we ‘clogged like Wimbledon’. Aww. Still we sold them Michael Ricketts. This show is, like with Blackburn, set to run, if only because we both feel a bit pushed out by two bigger rivalries (United – City and Newcastle – Sunderland) within the same region… When things boil down to it, it is just a game. Why fall out over a silly sport? Golf and snooker fans don’t. But those sports are different. Rivalry help keeps football’s adrenalin pumping. Long may it continue!

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