Wanderers said goodbye to Burnden Park after 102 years and looked to the future in a £35million futuristic stadium on the outskirts of town.
Colin Todd’s team had already clinched the Division One title with victory at Manchester City but their final act at their grand old spiritual home would be to hold the trophy aloft. And they did so with a thumping 4-1 win against Charlton Athletic on a night of nostalgia that rang out the old and rang in the new.
Speaking before the game, the legendary Nat Lofthouse knew emotions would be bubbling on the surface as he bid farewell to his beloved Burnden, where had spent more than 60 years as a fan, player, trainer, coach, manager, scout and president.
"I've got my hankies ready,” he said. "I'm as excited as the next man at the prospect of kicking off in the new Reebok Stadium as a Premiership club again.
"But there will be tears shed when the last ball is kicked here and it won't just be the ladies who'll be crying."
Fans travelled from far and wide for what was the hottest ticket in town. But the chance for one more walk around Burnden was also a huge attraction for former Bolton players and managers – with more than 50, spanning seven decades, joining a parade of favourites.
Ernie 'Alphabet' Jones, the Welsh international winger who made his Bolton appearances in wartime games and went on to play for Swansea, Spurs, Southampton and Bristol City, was the oldest at 76.
Joining Nat in the parade of the stars were other Wembley winners of '58, including Eddie Hopkinson, Roy Hartle, Tommy Banks, John Higgins, Bryan Edwards, Brian Birch, Dennis Stevens, Ray Parry, Dougie Holden and semi-final hero Ralph Gubbins and from the 1953 'Matthews Final' Malcolm Barrass and Harold Hassall.
Danny Murphy, who played alongside Lofthouse on the afternoon of the 1946 Burnden Disaster, made an emotional return along with Harry Webster and Harry McShane from the early 50s.
Sixties and 70s stars included Freddie Hill, Syd Farrimond, Warwick Rimmer, Dave Hatton, Gordon Taylor, Roger Hunt, Ronnie Phillips, Peter Thompson, Roy Greaves, Peter Nicholson, Ian Seddon, Paul Jones, Garry Jones and Willie Morgan and more recent players included Dave Felgate, Derek Scott, Tony Caldwell, John Thomas, Julian Darby, Jeff Chandler, Owen Coyle, Andy Walker and Alan Stubbs.
Old heroes Frank Worthington and Sam Allardyce were on broadcast duties as was former boss Jimmy Armfield, for the BBC, along with some of his successors, John McGovern and Bruce Rioch.
Only the football could spoil it – and for 45 minutes you wondered whether Charlton had read the script. Mark Kinsella’s goal separated the two sides at the break.
"The lads sat in the dressing room at half time and we were all determined that it shouldn't end that way," reflected John McGinlay.
"We had to win our last game at Burnden Park. That determination helped us step up a gear in the second half and we couldn't have stage-managed it better if we'd tried.
"This has to be the best night of my life."
Alan Thompson, young star of Todd's record-breaking Championship side, choked back tears as the final seconds of the game ticked away.
"I had to try to stop myself crying in the last couple of minutes," Thompson admitted after turning the tide of events with his early second half equaliser.
"But there were tears in a few of the other players' eyes in the dressing room just as I'm sure there were tears shed by a lot of the supporters."
The Geordie Boy, sported a red pair supplied by his sponsors specially for the occasion in the first half before switching to more familiar footwear. A minute into the second half he was turning away in celebration after his black-booted, right-foot shot took a deflection past Andy Petterson.
"I've worn blue ones and green ones in the past and I'll try anything," he explained. "But when things weren't going right I decided I'd change back to the ones I scored twice with against Oxford. And they did the trick."
Gerry Taggart – who stuck steadfast to his lucky red boots - volleyed the second before McGinlay made sure of that when he fittingly stole the show with his two late strikes that eclipsed the 33-34 team's 96 League goals and set the new mark two short of the century.
The first came from the penalty spot after John Robinson had brought down the influential Scott Sellars.
The second came after Mixu Paatelainen had upset the Charlton defence with his first touch of the ball after going on as a late substitute for Nathan Blake. Jimmy Phillips - the local boy bursting with pride at playing his part in the success - supplied the cross that left a close-range tap-in - a McGinlay special!
They were priceless goals. Charlton weren't beaten at 2-1 and Keith Branagan, who was in at the start of the glory run five years ago, had to make important saves from Paul Mortimer and Carl Leaburn to keep his team in sight of their historic twin targets.
The Republic of Ireland keeper, enjoying his third promotion with Wanderers, had no hesitation in pronouncing: "That's the best yet.
"It's been five fantastic seasons and it's got better and better every year. There's been a couple of setbacks along the way but I've seen this club steadily go forward since I came here and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.
"The way we've won the last game at Burnden Park sums up the whole season but, for me, it's not just about this season. It's about a club moving forward to better things.
"We're leaving this ground in much better shape than we were when I arrived and I'm proud to be part of it. But I don't want it to end here - nobody wants it to end.”
Sentiment reigned at the end, when Todd, who has steered his side back to the Premiership at the first attempt, sent three players up to receive the Championship trophy - club captain McGinlay, team captain Gudni Bergsson and Gerry Taggart, who has also worn the skipper's armband with distinction.
The big Ulsterman, who volleyed the important second goal to add to his outstanding work at the back, spoke of his personal pride and the collective satisfaction that the team had provided a fitting, winning end to the Burnden years.
"This is a proud night for us all," Taggart said. "It's great for the players to mark the last game on the ground with such an exciting win.
"No-one could ask for more. This is a night that's going to go down in history and that in itself was always going to be something special. But for us to win 4-1 ... well, it's something I'll never forget and it will probably take a long time for it to sink in."
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