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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » GREATEST SEASONS: When Wanderers went back up where they belonged

GREATEST SEASONS: When Wanderers went back up where they belonged

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
This season may linger long in the memory for the wrong reasons – but in the fourth of a five-part series we ask, what was the stand-out campaign in Wanderers’ history, and why?

In the fourth instalment – the 1977/78 promotion season.

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PUNK rock exploded, God saved the Queen, and the swaggering Super Whites had never shone brighter.

Ian Greaves had twice gone close to getting Wanderers back into the big time, finishing fourth in successive seasons, but in 1977/78 he got the blend just right, creating a team that might just lay claim to being the most entertaining in the club’s history.

Promotion secured with a 1-0 victory against local rivals Blackburn Rovers on the penultimate weekend of the season, they held out for a goalless draw against Fulham on the last day – a nervous game which was quite against the grain – to secure top spot in front of 34,110 people at Burnden Park.

There had been times since Bolton slipped out of the top-flight in 1963/64 where the future looked very grim indeed.

“On a number of occasions in the past decade where it was said the club had only a matter of weeks left,” mused Wanderers writer, Frank Booth in the Bolton Evening News. “They not only held their nerve to gain promotion back to the First Division, they did so with style.”

It had been Jimmy Armfield who got the club moving back in the right direction in 1973, his team escaping the Third Division in 1972/73 by blending an exciting mix of up-and-coming youngsters with a established pros. And those same players developed to become the fulcrum of Ian Greaves’s side as he picked up the baton from Armfield and ran with it, finally cracking promotion in a season which began with centenary celebrations.

Front and centre in this swaggering side was the mercurial talent of Frank Worthington.

A maverick on and off the field, he cost £90,000 from Leicester City where he had won eight England caps – and would surely have been more had a different character than the reserved Don Revie not taken the reigns.

Greaves, who had given him his big break at Huddersfield, dubbed him “The working man’s best” and there was no question that the Bolton tuned in immediately to Worthington’s showmanship.

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But Bolton were no one man team. They had the class of Willie Morgan on the wing, the cultured Paul Jones at the back and a Rolls Royce of a full-back in Tony Dunne, enjoying an Indian Summer to a hugely successful career.

Maturing at the heart of midfield was Merseysider Peter Reid, now a full-fledged England Under-21 international having made his debut a few years earlier as a teen against Hull City.

Big Sam Allardyce and Mike Walsh proved uncompromising at the back, the reliable Jim McDonagh in goal and the fine professionals who had played such a part in improving Wanderers’ fortunes through the seventies - Peter Nicholson, John Ritson and Roy Greaves – were finally getting their shot at the big time.

Wanderers opened the season with a 1-0 win against Burnley, although the team that played that day would never line-up together again.

Andrew Clements gave way to Ritson, and later Nicholson at right-back, while terrace favourite Peter Thompson’s time as a first team regular also came to an end, the number 11 shirt being passed on first to Garry Jones, and then Worthington, who – of course – scored on his debut against Stoke City.

Roy Greaves netted twice in a memorable 4-2 victory against Blackburn at Burnden, Reid and Allardyce also getting in on the act, and his prowess from the penalty spot proved a useful weapon in the months to come.

His goal to beat Tottenham, scored four minutes from full-time, ignited real hope among the Burnden faithful that this could be their season.

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Wanderers lost just once before December and though a second defeat followed against Fulham at Craven Cottage, the answer was an emphatic one, a 6-3 hammering of Cardiff City at Burnden with goals from Paul Jones (2), Reid, Whatmore, Walsh and Morgan.

Oddly, the result caused friction between manager Greaves and the hard-to-please supporters - who were left feeling their team could have been more ruthless after leading 6-2 and seeing out time towards the end of the game.

“I know we didn’t do everything as we should have done – Cardiff scored three goals,” he acknowledged. “But we scored more goals in a game than any Bolton side since 1969.

“We have used midfield men and back four men up front looking for goals and we might lose out at the back because of it," said a rather perturbed Greaves after the final whistle.“But we are trying to entertain and this is why we play as we do.

“I admit the fans are entitled to pay their money and take their choice and we badly need their support. Yet I still find it hard to understand their criticism when we have scored six goals.”

Those goals continued to flow for Whatmore and Worthington and both were on the scoresheet in a 5-1 win at Sheffield United.

The division's most dangerous striker partnership then teed-up promotion with comprehensive victories against Bristol Rovers and Crystal Palace at Burnden.

The Whites could get over the line by beating Blackburn at Ewood.

Worthington scored the only goal 33 minutes into that memorable match when he latched onto a gem of a pass from Roy Greaves before hitting a stunning left-footer across Rovers keeper John Butcher.

But the nail-biting continued right up to the final whistle. Wanderers survived a major scare early on when John Radford’s header beat Jim McDonagh and bounced back off the post, but they were much the better side and when the Bolton keeper held a Jack Lewis header from Radford’s cross in the dying minutes, the fans sensed this would, after all, be their night.

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The tears and champagne flowed in almost equal measures in the visitors’ dressing room as emotion got to even the most experienced of the battle-hardened players.

Dunne – a League Championship and European Cup winner with Manchester United – said: “I’ve never been more pleased in all my career. I can’t say I felt any better winning any other trophy – it’s a great feeling”

Allardyce revealed: “I couldn’t stop crying when the final whistle went. I can’t describe the feeling but it’s a wonderful end to three years of trying.”

And Worthington, who had quit top-flight Leicester to join the Burnden bandwagon added: “People said it was a gamble coming to a Second Division club, but I never thought of it that way. I just knew we were going to do it.”

The title was sealed against Fulham at Burnden and thousands poured into Bolton for the Civic Reception on May 15, lining the open top bus route, as the calvacade moved down Manchester Road, Bradshawgate, Deansgate and into Victoria Square.

Indeed, though 250 police officers had been brought into the town centre to oversee the celebrations there had been only one incident on the day – a young girl who slipped from the fountain and hurt her ankle.

Greaves addressed the crowd in deadpan fashion: “I have done a lot of moaning about you sometimes not being there over the past three years but it is great to see you all here now and I hope you’ll be with us again next season.

“We know we have got some very good players at Bolton. I am pleased to be here tonight, it’s time I started smiling again.”

But chairman, George Warburton, was more effusive with his praise of the job done by his manager and assistant, George Mulhall, and the impact of the Bolton fans.

“Promotion is just reward for the excellent support over the last three seasons by thousands of people who have followed us faithfully home and away.

“With this promotion comes the restoration of pride and prestige which has been absent this last 14 years.”

Whatmore finished top-scorer with 19 league goals and another two in the cup competitions but both Worthington and Greaves got into double figures.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Great season for a fabulous team.

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