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BIG INTERVIEW: Gudni Bergsson on leaving Tottenham and his Liverpool final debut

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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In part one of our interview with Wanderers legend Gudni Bergsson, he talks about the problems encountered trying to get to Burnden Park and his memorable debut in the final of the Coca Cola Cup.

BRUCE Rioch’s Wanderers had the scent of promotion in their noses as they entered into the final couple of months of the season in 1995.

The Premier League had only been formed for a few years but places were more chased than ever – with just one automatic spot available in Division One and another via the play-offs as the top flight cut down from 22 to 20 teams.

A run of just one defeat in 10 games put Bolton on the shoulder of leaders Middlesbrough but Rioch was determined to strengthen his hand.

A bad injury to Simon Coleman at Derby in February had left him a defender short. Burnley’s Steve Davis, Bury’s Chris Lucketti and Manchester City’s Terry Phelan were all touted as options but the answer was spotted from a near-empty stand at Crystal Palace, where former Spurs defender Gudni Bergsson was trialling in the reserves.

After injury had curtailed his career at White Hart Lane in 1991 Bergsson went back home to Iceland, combining part-time football with Valur alongside his training to become a lawyer.

At 29 the defender had not given up completely on professional football, though, and while he never envisaged the North West of England becoming his home for the better part of a decade, Rioch quickly convinced him that Bolton was a club on the up.

But the deal was by no means simple – and had Bergsson not had a legal background, his love affair with Wanderers may never have come about.

“There was a lot of paperwork because I was still registered with Tottenham,” Bergsson told The Bolton News in a special interview on the 25th anniversary of his move.

“These were the pre-Bosman days. My contract had expired with Spurs and I had left early because I had a bad fracture in one of my vertebrae in my back which hadn’t been diagnosed, so I went back home to do my law studies.

“When I looked to go to another club Tottenham wanted a fee. I made it clear that I felt I should have been a free agent.

“They shouldn’t really have had a right to keep my registration because I was close to 30 years old but I’d been out for nearly two years with my injury. I wasn’t really hot property because of that and we had a dispute about it, but thankfully we managed to get it settled.

“I think Bolton paid something like £65,000 and then a little more based on my appearances.

“But I knew it was the right move for me. I had a trial for about two weeks with Bolton and I was so impressed with Bruce Rioch, his staff and the squad, I knew it felt right for me.”

Even living away from the capital seemed a big step for Bergsson, who had been on the books at Spurs for three years.

And yet he would go on to play 317 games in a white shirt, score 23 goals, and experience promotion on no fewer than three occasions under three different managers.

Now head of the Icelandic FA, Bergsson considers himself fortunate that Rioch’s assistant Todd decided to take in a game at Selhurst Park when he did.

“It was an amazing time, a lucky stop for me,” he said. “I never thought I would end up in Bolton 25 years ago but I am so glad I did. I am honoured and privileged to have done it.

“Up to that day I was a southerner, coming from Iceland to London to play for Tottenham.

“The situation I was in at the time, I was looking for somewhere in the south but Bolton came in for me unexpectedly and I decided to see what they had to say.

“When I talked to them I liked what they were trying to achieve. I decided to give it a go.”

Bolton eventually paid £110,000 for Bergsson’s services and his transfer is often seen as one of the best bits of business the club has ever managed.

He played 11 times that season – twice at Wembley. Plunged into his debut off the bench in the League Cup final against Liverpool, of all places, and looking after the troublesome Steve McManaman.

Now regarded as a bona-fide Bolton Wanderers legend, Bergsson recalls the excitement of playing in a Bolton team who lost out against the Reds but whose indominable spirit would see them return a couple of months later for a memorable play-off win against Reading.

“I am always proud and happy to see that Bolton fans feel my move was a success,” he said. “At the time I wanted to get straight back into professional football and Bolton just seemed like the perfect club.

“There was momentum and great excitement about the place I was inspired by it. Bolton were riding quite high again after some troubled years and it was great to be a part of it.

“I had to get going straight away in the League Cup and it was strange because my previous game in England had also been for Tottenham at Wembley.

“The feeling of the whole club at that time, we were going somewhere. The bond between the players, the staff, the fans, it was so strong. We knew it was just a matter of time before we succeeded in what we wanted to do.”

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Last edited by karlypants on Tue Mar 24 2020, 09:29; edited 1 time in total


Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
BIG INTERVIEW: Gudni Bergsson's one regret at Bolton Wanderers

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IN the second of a two-part interview Gudni Bergsson looks back at his eight-year Bolton Wanderers career, how the club changed and his one great regret.

WHEN Gudni Bergsson hung up his boots in May 2003 he felt that keeping Wanderers in the Premier League had been a job well done.

The Icelander had helped Bolton reach the top flight on no fewer than three occasions – 1995, 1997 and 2001 – and as he entered into his late thirties he started to consider life after football.

Sam Allardyce had managed to convince the defender to stave off retirement for one more season but after safety was secured so memorably at West Ham’s expense on the final day of the 2002/03 campaign against Middlesbrough, the Bolton boss had one more go at changing his player’s mind.

What Wanderers fans might not know is just how close Bergsson came to saying yes.

“It took me three or four years to finally retire,” he told The Bolton News, 25 years after first signing for the club. “But looking back now, I wish I had stayed on for one or two more years.

“My family had gone to Iceland and I felt like I’d finished on a high note but then in the first couple of months of the following season the team was struggling a bit and Sam asked me if I would come back.

“The team got going again and I felt there was no point – but I am grateful for every minute I played at Bolton. There’s no sadness there.”

Bergsson arrived at Burnden Park in 1995 and made a debut in the Coca Cola Cup Final against Liverpool. His move to Bolton had not been planned – indeed he had been trialling for Crystal Palace until Colin Todd decided to drop by – but ended up staying in the North West for eight years and raising a family in the town.

“I was contemplating going for two or three years,” he said. “Then I got going and my experience grew. At Tottenham I had been playing amateur football so it was a really big step and I don’t think I ever felt entirely confident but I did gain that valuable time on the pitch.

“As I got older I just wanted to play as many games as I could and if anything as I went on I probably played better football.”

Going into the final few weeks of the season in 2003, Wanderers had done well to keep themselves ahead of an improving Hammers side, losing only once in their last nine games.

The Middlesbrough game came into sight with the national media firmly on the side of the Londoners’ quest for survival compared to ‘Little Old Bolton’.

Such was the pressure that Bergsson shelved plans to jet his family and friends in for the match to devote his entire attention to preparing for the game.

History shows he was right to do so. Per Frandsen’s 10th-minute goal was doubled by Jay Jay Okocha and though old boy Michael Ricketts came off the Boro bench to score his first goal for Steve McClaren’s side and set up a nerve-jangling finale to a remarkable season, Bolton had enough in the tank to see the result out.

“We had worked so hard in that season,” Bergsson recalled. “The very last game was so important against Middlesbrough that I didn’t want my family around, I needed to keep my focus and not let anything else in.

“The game was a fantastic occasion and just to stay in the Premier League was such an achievement for the club.

“But they really took off after I left – and maybe that is why? I had a fair innings.”

The team he shared a pitch with that afternoon comprised of a Finn (Jussi Jaaskelainen), three Frenchmen (Bernard Mendy, Youri Djorkaeff and Bruno NGotty) two Danes (Per Franden and Henrik Pedersen), a Jamaican (Ricardo Gardner), a Spaniard (Ivan Campo), a Nigerian (Jay Jay Okocha) and an Englishman, Mike Whitlow.

It was a far cry from the Coca Cola Cup final side he came into which contained just two foreign players – Dutchman Richard Sneekes and a Finn in Mixu Paatelainen.

Just as football had evolved in the eight years he was at Bolton, so did the dressing room. But Bergsson notes that the strengths in the successful teams under Allardyce, Colin Todd and Bruce Rioch were all along similar lines.

“Bolton Wanderers had developed differently with the foreign legion that came in,” he said. “At one point I felt more like someone from the UK because I’d been there for quite a length of time.

“When I first came in there was more of the old English style banter and camaraderie with the Bruce Rioch team. There was a lot of quality but there were some lifestyle issues which wouldn’t have been accepted in modern football. But it created a lot of laughs and that is part of the reason that the team was so together. We enjoyed each others’ company.

“We kept that element even after we started signing a lot of foreign players.

“The family element stayed in and so did the link to the supporters. It was very strong.”

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