By Matt Rowson
I had a friend once who didn't understand football. She's not unusual in that; lots of people don't get it, don't see the attraction. But this girl was particularly unreceptive to the idea, once even scoffed at me when I told her that a friend and I had spent an hour in the pub talking about the game.
"Don't be silly", she said, "you can't talk about football."
She came to a game once. At home to Derby at the end of one season, a fairly meaningless victory in the sunshine. She hated it, turned her nose up at the whole thing. She now lives in Exeter, I think, and almost deserves it. She has also vanished from my consciousness, which is a similarly good thing.
Stop. Now. Just stop. Think back. May 31st 1999, 4:43pm. Allan Smart's goal. Glorious. Not just joy, not just excitement, but uncontrollable all-encompassing waves of emotion. That wasn't a goal, it was a bloody revolution.
The passion of that whole day and the night that followed was memorable and magnificent, but all of it could, conceivably, have existed without football. Hard work and a lot of experimentation it would have taken, but a combination of music, hallucinogenic narcotics and ambitious sexual positions could have recreated the same intensity, all of it. Except the response to that goal. That tremble, that millisecond before the yellow half of the stadium exploded. I'll never forget it. And she turned her nose up at this? Ha.
The events of that day have been discussed and replayed endlessly on video recorders in the seventeen months that have passed since, but probably not in Lancashire. Not much. If riding the crest of that glorious wave was magnificent, it's hardly surprising that some have developed unfortunate personality disorders as a result of being crushed beneath it.
Per Frandsen, Wanderer's Danish midfielder, was the first to display the signs. With an indignation that has always somewhat characterised Bolton, he snorted "well, let's face it, that first goal was pure luck". Ha ha ha. Frandsen promptly departed to sulk at Blackburn for a year, provoking the resignation of glum Wembley manager Colin Todd, before returning this summer.
More dramatic was the impact on "When Saturday Comes" correspondent Gary Parkinson who wittered somewhat incoherently at the start of the next season about the unfairness of it all, Watford playing the game the way it shouldn't be played and being in love with his mother before claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte and retreating, gibbering, into a corner. Well, that's how I imagine him, anyway. In fairness, he had the honesty to concede that Bolton hadn't deserved promotion either, but after being beaten twice by the Hornets in the league that season, finishing below us in the table and, crucially, being beaten and comprehensively outplayed at Wembley, I should say not.
One can only wonder at the effect last season's sequel will have had on poor Mr.Parkinson and his ilk, the play-off dream crumbling at the semi-final stage thanks in no small part to a farcical refereeing performance by Barry Knight of Orpington at Portman Road. Since then the summer departures of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Claus Jensen have not augured well for the Trotters making it third time lucky, but Sam Allardyce's men have started well enough, still in fourth place despite Saturday's defeat at Stockport.
In goal for Bolton will be Finn Jussi Jaaskelainen, who impressed in the tepid goalless draw with Nottingham Forest in the week. He replaced the injured Steve Banks last season, and the former Blackpool stopper who played a blinder to keep the score down in this fixture two seasons ago is now his deputy.
On the right is likely to be John O'Kane, a former Manchester United and Everton fullback more comfortable attacking than defending. On the left, in the absence of long-term groin injury victim Mike Whitlow, will be Simon Charlton, who moved to the Reebok from Birmingham in the summer. In the centre will be the formidable South African Mark Fish, linked with Charlton on several occasions recently and still to sign a new contract. He will probably be partnered by Icelander Gudni Bergsson, who threatened to retire to a legal practice in the summer but was talked out of it. He deserves respect for inflicting yet another defeat on Wolves last weekend.
In his recent absence due to injury, the venerable Ian Marshall has filled in; Marshall has played up front and at the back for the Trotters since arriving from Leicester, and is playing for a contract. Other defensive options are the tough-tackling Leam Richardson and the versatile Anthony Barness, another summer arrival from Charlton. Meanwhile Dean Holden is recovering from a broken leg sustained in March, and Paul Warhurst has been suffering from a hamstring strain but is back in training.
Alongside Frandsen in midfield will be Irishman Gareth Farrelly, imposing himself on the team this season following a dodgy start to his Bolton career. Robbie Elliott, one of five survivors from the starting eleven at Wembley, is a no-nonsense option whilst the gracefully harmless Ricardo "Bambi" Gardner has recently returned from a career-threatening ligament injury.
Bo Hansen, though signed as a striker, has more frequently been employed as a wide option this season, whilst youngster Kevin Nolan has worked hard during his limited appearances so far. Experienced Frenchman Franck Passi is another option, although his retention on a short-term deal was only intended as cover for the current injury problems.
Up front Dean Holdsworth appears to be finally winning the fans over despite a high-profile miss at Wembley in the FA Cup semi. He has had off-the-field problems that led to him temporarily being linked with a return to London; he has picked up a hamstring injury but may be available on Tuesday. In his absence youngster Michael Ricketts, recruited from Walsall, has been most impressive when introduced as a second-half substitute whilst another loanee, Bradford's Isaiah Rankin, tends to fade from games early on. Marshall and Hansen can also be used up front, whilst Italian teenager Emmanuele Morini waits in the wings.
Bolton's impressive results have not been mirrored by their performances, and the direct style of play employed by Allardyce has come in for some criticism. In contrast, it has been heartening to see the national press waking up to the possibility that a Graham Taylor side is actually passing teams to death at the moment. One only hopes that Mr.Parkinson doesn't have Sky in his padded cell; this one could be enough to send him over the edge....