When Does Bolton Stop Becoming Bolton?
Date: Wednesday 5th October 2005What would it take for me to stop supporting Bolton Wanderers? In 1958 Bolton won the FA Cup for the fourth time, with a team consisting of ‘home grown’ players. Every member of the team cost only the then signing-on fee of £10. The team did Bolton proud that day and this Townley’s baby has since supported/followed The Wanderers through the agony (Fourth Division, Scarborough, Sheffield Wednesday 5 - 0, etc) and the ecstasy (Europe, Youri, Big Sam) ever since. My earliest recollections were Bolton in the (then) First Division - my club my team - no doubt about that. Then after the end of the 1963/4 season the unthinkable happened - we were relegated!! No problem - the mighty Wanderers would return - nothing would stop me supporting my team. It was about then that the club bought some players for what then seemed like absurd amounts of money - in came Garth Williams (£65,000) and Terry Wharton (£85,000) but they did not stem the tide. We then did something no one would ever have considered back then - we bought a foreign player, in fact two! - Tadeuz Nowak (Poland) and Dusan Nikolic (I think that was the name - the lad from Yugoslavia) were pretty damn useless however and so the downward spiral continued. By 1971 we were kicking off in the then Third Division. But we had not hit rock bottom yet!! 1987/88 was the season the once proud Wanderers took to the field in the old Fourth Division to play glamour clubs such as Newport County, Hereford United, Halifax Town and (whisper it quietly) Scarborough. Strange as it may seem the heartache of our demise and my belief the club would rise again actually bonded me more to BWFC than send me away into the arms of the United’s or Liverpool’s - no glory hunting for me! It was about this time that another 'barrier' was crossed, that of Bolton signing and playing coloured players. I am ashamed to admit I knew many who took bananas to games and made moronic monkey noises to opposition black players - and now to them the unthinkable happened - Bolton signed Tony Cunningham, a big forward from (of all clubs!) Bury. Was I a racist in those days? I certainly wasn’t as informed as I am today, but no I don’t think I was. Did it put me off supporting Bolton? No way!! We were on the comeback trail - gradually we moved up the divisions. But life is not about football alone. My career in 1984 took me away from Bolton, to live from then on ‘down south’. Did I latch on to one of the local clubs? All the London clubs were in reach and ‘family clubs’ such as Brentford, Oxford (who were doing wonderfully well at the time) or Reading were in easy reach. No thank you not for me. Living down here just made it easier to see the Whites play at places such as Brisbane Road, the Manor Ground, the County Ground, and Roots Hall. Managers and players came and went over the years - stars, duffers, work horses, one hit wonders, club stalwarts - but they all pulled the white jersey on, so they were all OK in my eyes (some more than others though!). What about cheats - the Diouf dive against Blackburn (I was ashamed of what happened - but it was not enough to stop me supporting the team) or the unacceptable - the Diouf spit at De Zeeuw - again ashamed - but am still here. My parents died and my visits back to Bolton became fewer and fewer, my daughter was born and my priorities changed - no longer was it easy to shoot off at the drop of a hat and get to the game. But I followed them in the paper - or on TV if we were having one of our glorious cup runs. Bolton was still my team - there was no one else for me. In 1997 we were no longer at Burnden - we had a new out of town, state of the art stadium - not the same atmosphere for me - but no matter, this was still my club. At about the same time the ‘prawn sandwich’ supporters latched on to football - no longer was watching the game solely a working man's hobby, quite the contrary in fact - prices have risen so much that the amount of money you can afford to spend to watch the club is a significant factor for people like me. But hey, Bolton is worth it! Recently more overseas players have arrived at the club - last season Bolton fielded, for the first time, a team consisting of no British players! Does a group of Finns, Danes, Greeks, Spanish, a sprinkling of Africans and, God forbid Frenchmen constitute a true Bolton Wanderers team? You bet they do! Sky TV, together with forums like this, has also helped in the last couple of years to keep me close to the club I love. So in my time I have gone from a home town team of 11 local players to 11 players who my dear old mother had difficulty in pronouncing!! I have gone from a thirty minute stroll to the club to a 500 mile round trip car journey; From a couple of quid to get in to little if any change at all from £100; From a team I went to watch most home games and many away to MOTD highlights with the media friendly pundits (route one, physical team, blah, blah, blah!). Hand on heart, if you were to ask me those many years back if I would have followed a team of ‘Johnny Foreigners’ at an out of the way venue in Horwich and pay thirty odd quid a time for the privilege - I think you would have known what my answer would have been. It may have been so blunt that I would have had to use my own swear-box! What does that make me and the hundreds nay thousands like me? Stupid, gullible, passionate, leading sad and empty lives, fanatical… I don’t know. So is there anything Bolton could do that would stop me following them? The answer should be 'yes' - but I honestly can’t think what that would be. Dujon and Monty left the country years back and have been Wanderers free in all that time - but they still sought out the internet and international TV to come back to the club. I have followed Bolton through thick and thin and countless changes for nearly fifty years - they are unrecognisable now from what they were back then. I have no doubt that (irrational as it may be), God willing, I will be following them through all their twists and turns for the next fifty as well. For me the adventure continues…..