Anyway, this blog is about Bruce Rioch's first season in charge of BWFC and boy wasn't it a corker? In fact the first hint that this season was going to be incredible and very different from what had happened over the previous eight or nine years came in the very first match of the season. Our opponents were Huddersfield Town, a side that was well respected in the Division (now known as Division Two rather than Three thanks to the newly formed Premier League) and were seen as genuine promotion contenders and play off certainties. While the game was at home (Burnden Park) it was expected to be quite a tough start for us and I for one would probably have been happy with a point.
However we didn't just win, we dismantled Huddersfield. The end score was 2-0 but honestly it could have been 4 or even 5. The goalscorers were Julian Darby and the now legendary John McGinlay. While it wouldn't be true to say it sent shockwaves through the division it did surprise me, not just the win itself but the manner of it. We'd played fast, attacking football and done it not just well but with real style and flair, something we hadn't seen since the heady days of Ian Greaves and Frank Worthington. We quite literally brushed Huddersfield aside and made them look positively ordinary in doing it. The crowd had been around the 8,000 mark but in the second half especially you could have been forgiven for thinking it was three or even four times that thanks to the sheer volume of our delighted singing. Even so we didn't get carried away, we'd seen false dawns before and so when we went home we were delighted but we still didn't really think we were going to keep up that level of display for the whole season. And the next match, a defeat at Brighton by 2 goals to 1 (our goal came from Walker) quickly brought us back down to earth with a bump. But even there we'd played pretty well and been unfortunate to leave with nothing. However it's impossible to be a Trotter without having a certain amount of pessimism and so there were plenty of us who felt the Brighton result was a more realistic indicator of where we actually were than the Huddersfield result. As it turned out the doomsayers weren't just wrong, they were miles off the mark.
Back to back wins against Reading and Blackpool at home (2-1 and 3-0 respectively) followed by a goalless draw away at Stoke City showed Rioch had not just used the summer well but had actually brought the team far further forward than any of us had dared to think was possible. We continued to perform well in the league despite the occasional losses but the first indicator that things had really changed came in the FA Cup. In the first round we faced Sutton Coldfield Town and won 2-1 with goals from Super John and Andy Walker. In truth while the scoreline looked close we never really got out of second gear and never looked in serious danger despite a valiant (and well applauded by both sets of fans) effort from the part timers. However in the second round we really took the brakes off. We faced Rochdale and the Bolton Evening News, the fans and even Bruce Rioch himself expected it to be a tough encounter. We had home advantage but Rochdale, another North West side had some pretty good players and we expected a rugged, blood and thunder game against our neighbours.
It wasn't. We annihilated Rochdale 4-0 and I can still remember my jaw dropping when I watched that game. The way we passed the ball around on a pitch that was already half mud half sand and basically breezed past Rochdale players as if they weren't there was a joy to behold. Jason McAteer, Andy Walker and John McGinlay (twice) found the back of the net and by the end of that one sided massacre even the most pessimistic Trotter realised this season was something special. I honestly think that until that day we'd hoped we'd be there or thereabouts at the end of the season but now we knew it. And when the third round draw was announced and we heard we were facing the mighty Liverpool (still a major force to be reckoned with despite it being four years since they'd won the league) we actually believed we had a chance, we weren't at all afraid of the 'Big Team'.
The first match was at Burnden Park and the result was 2-2. Bolton and Liverpool had fought hard but the Premier League outfit had basically underestimated us and the goals from Seagraves and McGinlay had very nearly been enough to put us through to the fourth round at the first attempt. However a replay at Anfield now lay ahead and I think it would be dishonest to say we thought we'd win there. In fact most sports writers and most neutrals were of the firm and perfectly understandable opinion that we'd blown our chance and Liverpool would put us out handily. Honesty compels me to admit that I privately agreed with them. Ten days later I (and Des Lynam among others) were proven to know nothing about football.
The date was January 13th 1993 and it should live forever in the memory of any Trotter who was there. Liverpool fielded a full strength side and the Kop was full, a sea of red, white and yellow with thousands upon thousands of the Liverpool faithful singing “You'll Never Walk Alone” loud enough to be heard from Lime Street Train Station (where I and a few friends got off the train). I'd never actually been to Anfield before and as we approached the ground I could hardly hear myself think let alone anything my friends said. The atmosphere inside the ground was electric. There was a small pocket of White and Blue banners (about 2,500 of us travelled which in those days was a lot but still dwarfed by the better than 30,000 Liverpudlians) and when the players took the field it looked like the Christians (BWFC) vs the Lions in the colliseum. It sounded like it too although we sang ourselves hoarse in a futile (initially) bid to be heard. It took exactly three minutes for that to change and you win no prizes for guessing who changed it.
Until then why not check out the Bolton Nuts forum. It's the place to be for all BWFC related chat and opinion and also features awesome sections like 'Wandering Minds' where you can talk about literally anything, football related or not. To join the conversation and make your voice heard click the link below and follow the simple steps to become a member.
I hope to see you there. Until next week this was Piper's Piece. All the best to everyone.