Premier League Flashback: The Bolton Wanderers Have Shocked the World
Bolton Wanderers 2-2 Arsenal
It is a game that is always foremost in my mind when I think of Premier League classics.
Yet despite enjoying some truly wonderful moments in the Premier League, few matches have brought me as much joy and emotion as this one on Saturday, April 26, 2003.
To give you an indication, the match didn’t even feature my beloved Manchester United but alternatively, my second team – the Bolton Wanderers.
Growing up, my mum and I joked that her dad (my grandad) had never put us to bed with the usual bedtime story or fairy tale. Instead, we were reminded of and therefore have always remembered to this day, the Bolton Wanderers side of 1923.
It was the first-ever FA Cup final at Wembley – ‘The White Horse’ final. Bolton beat West Ham and even now, just like so many of my family, I can instantly recall the starting XI which made history (and the scorers in Bolton’s 2-0 win).
Looking back, I am sure that triumph cemented my grandfather’s affection for the Wanderers. His memories of that time certainly evoked mine.
Fast forward to 80 years, and Bolton versus Arsenal at the Reebok Stadium meant so much to me for two reasons.
First, I was desperate for Bolton to survive. And second, there was one thing I was even more desperate for – for Manchester United to win the title.
The contest was played on a Saturday lunchtime when Arsenal had the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, making them the favourites to retain the title.
Bolton had departed the famous Burden Park nearly six years earlier. And while my grandad had passed away little under two years before this encounter, I’m sure he was looking down proud at what followed.
Highlights of the game
After a closely contested first half, goals from Sylvain Wiltord and Pires early in the second half put the Gunners firmly in the driving seat and heading back to the summit with three very winnable final games of the season to come.
At that point, virtually everyone felt the contest was over.
Bolton, however, were giving it their all and refused to give up against the champions.
Their determination was also matched by more style than they ever received credit for.
After all, the Trotters were not supposed to stay up against the Premier League odds as they were the whipping boys against far wealthier and bigger clubs.
Instead of appreciating what Sam Allardyce was achieving, much of the sports media had long since branded Bolton as a long-ball side and made no secret of the fact they wanted West Ham — comprising young English talents Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, plus Paolo Di Canio et al — to stay up at Bolton’s expense.
To brand Bolton a long-ball team, however — a side comprising the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo — was simply insulting and as it proved, it was completely inaccurate.
The trio simply helped inspire Bolton and the French World Cup winner pulled one back when David Seaman beat away a 20-yard shot from Per Frandsen and Djorkaeff showed a cool head to score.
I celebrated with relief and joy upon seeing these Premier League highlights. Why? Perhaps I subconsciously realised a stirring comeback was on the cards.
Even my dad was rather surprised at my reaction to the goal – Arsenal were still very much in charge of their own destiny.
However, Bolton would not stop working and believing. My reaction to what followed just over 10 minutes later was on a completely different level.
A home player was fouled on the left-hand side. Then as Djorkaeff delivered a curling free-kick from the left and under pressure, Arsenal substitute Martin Keown could only flick the ball beyond his own goalkeeper, a stunned Seaman.
My joy, my emotion, my relief was simply immeasurable. This meant so much.
With my stomach in knots, Bolton held on. To a man, they were simply magnificent.
What happened next?
I can still recall the magical Okocha who was so good that they named him twice juggling the ball as if we’re in his back garden keeping possession, forcing frustrated Arsenal to foul him.
I want to give ode to the classy Frandsen and Djorkaeff contesting every ball as if their life depended on it and to on-loan Florent Laville being simply superb at the back, even if he picked up a second yellow card in stoppage time.
The Frenchman had joined the club at the end of January and was as key as anyone in ensuring the team survived.
He wasn’t just good, he was brilliant. To give you an indication of how impressive he was, Laville played just 15 games for Bolton and yet was voted into the club’s all-time 50 top players in 2005.
He returned the following season on a permanent deal. But just five games in, he ruptured his cruciate ligament and never played for Wanderers again. He will always have a place in my heart though.
And then there was Sam Allardyce, a managerial marvel who showed his delight at full-time.
The point proved decisive for both Bolton and United.
They had to win at White Hart Lane against Spurs the following day and duly did, but the feeling this was the defining moment for both clubs in their respective quests was unavoidable.
How ironic that it was many years after I started supporting United and following Bolton before I realised that the fans of these clubs actually don’t like each other very much!
But I always have and always will, and this moment was one of the greatest in my life.
It is because this was the day which made not one but two of my dreams come true.
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This message was edited by SBOBET on 27-Apr-2020 at 3:29 PM