In the meantime here's a very brief recap of what they say for those who already did read them or for those who want to read this one first. I've covered the arrival of Bruce Rioch and the 1992/93 season, the beginning of what would later become known as the “White Hot” years. In that first season we gained automatic promotion from the 2nd Division (League One to our younger readers) and got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, dumping Liverpool (the then holders) out at Anfield in one of the greatest single displays of football I ever saw from a BWFC side along the way.
It's almost impossible now to try and explain what that season felt like and meant to those who weren't there and didn't see it but I'll try. A few years previously we'd been on the absolute brink of extinction, down in the Fourth Division (League 2) and seemingly one step away from oblivion. We'd stepped away from that abyss thanks to some luck, some incredible loyalty from the fans and some true generosity from the board, notably the Warburton family and Gordon Hargreaves. However we were just about alive and while we'd got out of the bottom tier no one expected us to set the world alight anytime soon. When Bruce came in and suddenly we were beating Liverpool and spanking everyone in our own division (see my last blog for the record of the run in from January to May) it created a sort of euphoric sensation for fans that normally only comes after imbibing illegal substances. But even the most optimistic (and possibly under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol or other substances I won't mention here) fan didn't really expect that to continue. We were wrong, it had barely gotten started and the ride was about to get even more sensational.
In 1993/94 we went into the Endsleigh Insurance League Division One (The Championship) and had a solid (albeit slightly disappointing) League campaign, finishing 15th in the table but we were never in danger of going down and never really challenging at the top. In simple terms that season from a League standpoint was about consolidation and that's what we did. But while the league campaign might have been a little average the FA Cup most certainly wasn't, in fact this was the season when Premier League clubs truly came to fear seeing our name in the draw.
Because the entire Football League had been reorganised in the wake of the advent of the Premier League we actually had to play in the first round of the FA Cup despite being a second tier team. We faced Gretna, a non-league outfit who had done extremely well to get through the qualifying rounds and while we were of course favourites we certainly didn't take them lightly. It's a good job too because Gretna would have put us out in a giant killing of their own if we hadn't taken them seriously. In the event we won a very hard fought battle 3-2 with goals from John McGinlay (a penalty) and two from another soon to be familiar face, a Scottish striker by the name of Owen Coyle. The match was as close as the scoreline suggests and deserved better than the 6,500 attendance it got. However we had managed to avoid slipping on the banana skin and Gretna went home with some fairly useful funds for their club and a well deserved sense of pride in their players efforts.
Round Two was a much more routine affair against Lincoln City. We were away for that but we were utterly ruthless. Unlike the Gretna game where there had been some genuine battles in various parts of the pitch (Gretna's centre-backs in particular managed to keep Super John quiet for most of the match and not even David Lee could do much about their exceptional full backs) we bosses this one from start to finish. We won 3-1 (Thompson, Brown and Coyle all hitting the target) and never really let Lincoln get into the match. Bruce Rioch was unhappy we let them score but in truth it was a scant consolation for a team that was never really able to compete with their higher league opponents.
In Round Three we drew Everton and having disposed of Liverpool at the same stage the previous year we felt quietly confident that we could do a “Stanley Park Double” by beating the blue half of Merseyside as well. No one thought it would be easy, only that it could be done if we played to our very best. Like Liverpool the season before we had drawn Everton at home and in a match that was full of passion and commitment from both teams but (surprisingly) a bit shy on quality the 1-1 draw was a fair result. Once again we would have to go to Merseyside for a mid-week replay. Lightning surely couldn't strike twice could it? Yes, it most certainly could. Once again more than thirty thousand Liverpudlians created a wall of noise and this time a sea of Blue rather than red engulfed Goodison Park while about three thousand Trotters took their places in one corner of that famous old ground.
What followed was 120 minutes of football that had absolutely everything good about a cup competition in it. Both sides went for every ball right from the off but they did it fairly (mostly) albeit very firmly. There was plenty of skill on show too and both teams were evenly matched. This wasn't the one sided affair we'd enjoyed against Liverpool almost precisely a year earlier, it was a full on, full blooded “old school” cup tie. In the end Bolton Wanderers edged it by three goals to two thanks to efforts from McGinlay (as if you hadn't guessed that already) Stubbs and Coyle. Those of us who were there began believing Wembley was definitely on for us because that match could just as easily have gone the other way and it seemed Lady Luck had decided to smile on us so why not?
The fourth round draw made us think She must have changed her mind. We got Arsenal, the holders and arguably the best team in England (with the possible exception of Manchester United) at that time and while it was a home tie no one was under any illusions about our prospects. For one thing their substitutes cost more than our entire squad put together and their reserves probably spent more on boots than our lads got paid. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem let's look at the Arsenal squad of the time. David Seaman in goal, the famous back four of Dixon, Adams, Winterburn and Keown. A young striker called Ian Wright had joined from Crystal Palace and the midfield was graced by the likes of Merson, Parlour and John Jensen. It was David versus Goliath on steroids. However at Burnden Park we played well and Arsenal never really seemed to fire which led to a rather lucky draw for the cup holders and a trip to Highbury for us. By now the pundits had stopped saying we'd wasted our chance and were talking about the danger to the Gunners. George Graham was their manager and he spoke confidently enough but even he seemed to be aware that taking us at all lightly would see his cup holding team of superstars being the latest to fall to the 'little club'.
The game at Highbury was a cracker. To be frank Arsenal set out a full strength attacking line up (at one point they would have four strikers on the field) and they went for us from the off. Their fans were loud, passionate and full of encouragement for the men in red but guess who scored the goal that put us ahead? Yep, John McGinlay scored with a header and the few thousand Trotters who made the long journey to London went into raptures. However this was a very di9fferent proposition to the Liverpool who'd pretty much let us boss the match a year before. Arsenal roared back and it wasn't long before Alan Smith got a deserved equaliser for the Gunners.
In the second half we were pinned back and defending desperately for the entire half. Arsenal threw everything at us and it seemed to be a matter of time before they took the lead but the White Wall held firm and in what is frankly one of the all time great defensive displays we held them at bay. When the final whistle went and extra time beckoned you could have been forgiven for expecting more of the same but something very strange happened. Almost from the kick off it was suddenly Arsenal who were on the back foot and we started pushing forward with confidence. To this day I still think Arsenal were somehow demoralised by their failure to score in the second half as if they suddenly came to believe they couldn't score against us again while we believed we'd taken their best shot on the chin and shrugged it off. All at once Arsenal looked a bit disjointed and tired while we looked like we'd only just kicked off and it wasn't really a surprise when we took the lead for the second time on the night.
The goal came from an Arsenal attack that we repelled and a fabulous ball from McGinlay to Walker who beat Seaman but not the post. However McAteer was one of a number of Trotters who'd run virtually the length of the pitch and were following up and he buried it into the net with a little under six minutes of the first half of extra time to go. In the second half of extra time we played 'break' football where we absorbed Arsenal attacks (and there were a lot of them) and tried to hit them on the break. With four minutes to go we made it work brilliantly and David Lee surged forward then cleverly laid it through for Andy Walker to finish clinically. It was 3-1 to Bolton and surely game over but there were a couple more incidents of note. Firstly Arsenal came within a whisker of scoring from a cross but it was cleared off the line. A minute later Lee was dragged down by Lee Dixon who inexplicably escaped punishment even though he was arguably the last man. Walker 'scored' the free kick but even more bafflingly the referee demanded a retake despite it being Arsenal's Martin Keown who had tried to charge the ball down by running in before it was taken, an action for which the Arsenal man was sent off. However it made no difference to the end result and for the second season in a row the FA Cup Holders had been knocked out on their own ground by Bolton Wanderers. I've added this short video of the extra time highlights for those who didn't see it or just want a little nostalgia.
So while the 93/94 season might have been rather quiet in terms of the league it was yet another corker in the cup and more proof (as if it were needed) that Bruce Rioch and his men could play with the 'big boys' at their level. The White Hot Years were well under way.
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