To some, the club’s official nickname died out with wooden rattles, half-time cigarettes and back-passes. For others, it is an important link to the past which should be preserved as a sign of the club’s uniqueness. After all, whatever the song says we are not the “one and only Wanderers.”
But when and why did Bolton cease to be ‘Trotters’ and become the ‘Whites’ or ‘Wanderers’?
Many believe it was the early seventies, when Jimmy Armfield’s side earned the ‘Super Whites’ moniker as they gained promotion to Division Two.
Twenty years later, this very newspaper captured the Zeitgeist of success under Bruce Rioch by coining the ‘White Hot’ era – and since then, it has used the term ‘Trotters’ sparingly.
Though people in the town seldom refer to the club by their official nickname, it does stay in the common vernacular thanks to other forms of media.
The club’s award-winning programme has been called ‘Trotters’ for the last couple of seasons, various blogs and websites use it in their name and the national media, particularly the tabloids, are never shy of exploiting the word for a good pun.
So if everyone else is using it, so why aren’t we? Well, possibly because the origin of the nickname is not even universally agreed within the town's walls.
Falling into roughly two schools of thought, the first is rather literal.
Pig or sheep’s trotters are a famously Lancastrian delicacy and it has even been claimed they were fed to the team as part of their pre-match meal by a butcher based near Burnden Park, who used to pile them up in his shop window prior to match-days.
They also feature in the belief that Wanderers are called the Trotters because the club's base at Pike's Lane used to be situated next to a pig farm.
The alternative theory – of which a lot more people in Bolton subscribe, not least the club's historian, Simon Marland – is that the word ‘trotter’ is a colloquial phrase, which means ‘practical joker’.
Long before Peter Kay, Paddy McGuinness or Dave Spikey, Boltonians were apparently known for their fondness for public pranks.
‘Trotting’ as it was known, was encapsulated in a painting which used to hang on the wall of The Swan pub, in which a Bolton man challenged a visitor to the town for a wager that he could keep his leg in a bucket of hot water for longer, and did so easily before it was discovered that he had a wooden leg.
The term was applied to people from the whole town, and so it seems entirely likely it caught on with the football team.
Burnden Roadrunners even pay homage with an annual five-mile ‘Bolton Trotters’ race.
The term became popular around the turn of the last century but even in the 30s was showing signs of decline. A collection of cigarette cards printed by Ogden’s in 1933 notes: “The nickname still survives but is not used as commonly as it was some years ago.”
It wasn’t, in fact, even the club’s first nickname. Reports in the mid-1880s sometimes referred to the embryonic Bolton Wanderers as ‘The Spots’ because of the flamboyant red polka dots which adorned their early kits.
The kit design we know today, inherited from Turton FC no less, brought the first all-white shirt and led to the club informally being labelled ‘The Whites’ thereafter.
Even the word ‘Wanderers’ has a back story. Nearly 140 years ago, a split developed between club president, the Rev Joseph Farell Wright, and the members of Christchurch FC. After a meeting at the boys’ school on August 28, 1887, a group of dissenting voices wandered down the road to the Gladstone Hotel to form their own club – Bolton Wanderers.
But Wanderers are not the only team to have shed a nickname. Aston Villa are seldom called the Villans (or indeed, The Lions), Manchester City Citizens, Tottenham Lillywhites or West Brom The Throstles. Locals in Huddersfield also refer to their team almost exclusively as ‘Town’ and never ‘Terriers’ while those who follow Bristol Rovers know their team as ‘The Gas’ and not the Pirates.
Whether it is a footballing form of natural selection, a fashion which will come and go, or just a reflection on how commercialisation has affected the game is unclear.
The Trotters may someday be resurrected, though hopefully ‘The Spots’ will remain consigned to the history books.
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