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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Big Sam: The best players and managers I ever worked with at Wanderers

Big Sam: The best players and managers I ever worked with at Wanderers

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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Sam Allardyce believes his old Bolton team-mate Frank Worthington would be a global megastar if he had played in the modern-day Premier League.

Asked for the best player he had ever lined-up alongside, the former Wanderers boss had no hesitation that Worthington’s mercurial talents stood him out above the rest.

Although Bolton fans would only see ‘Worthy’ for two full seasons – the first a glorious promotion winning campaign, the second consolidation in the First Division – he remains one of the most popular strikers in the club’s history.

But Allardyce reckons his old mate would have been better suited to playing football without the harsh treatment that defender could dish out back in the day.

“He had unbelievable character and ability, rolled all into one,” he said. “He would go down in the Premier League as an absolute treat today and be deemed as an iconic world-class footballer because of his ability to control the ball, to cope with the physical contact that he had to suffer at the time – something he wouldn’t have to put up with now.

“He would beat them with his pure skill.

“He could take the physical punishment that centre-halves tried to give him and then laugh at them when he had scored the winner.

“To show how good he was, when we got promoted into the First Division at the Wanderers we stayed up and finished about sixth from bottom but he won the Golden Boot that year with 26 goals.

“The games we struggled with against teams at the top – he’s still scoring 26 goals in a season.

“The problem was with Worthy, a lot of managers because of his character, were frightened to take him because they didn’t think they could handle him. But he was really easy to get on with. He was training every day, playing football every week, he would always deliver.”

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Allardyce speaks as a defender who was more than happy to get physical if the circumstances called for it – even though there were players like Worthington who would thrive on the attention.

“Was I a dirty player? In terms of what they call dirty today, yes, but then it was just letting them know they were in a game,” Allardyce admitted.

“Most managers would encourage it and most referees would let you get away with the first one. Not so much after that.

“But generally as the game went on, you learned about the player you were playing against.

“Brian Kidd was a difficult player to play against and if you upset him, he’d get better. He would get more aggressive, produce more of his skills and really get upset about you trying to physical contact. So you’d learn that asking him about the family, is he doing OK, telling him he’s looking alright – trying to keep him sweet that way rather than upsetting him and him coming back at you was the best way, especially as with his skill he’d probably get the better of you.”

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In nearly 30 years in management, Allardyce has handled his fair share of big-name players. But asked for the very best – his selections were almost exclusively Bolton-based.

He ranked Wayne Rooney high on the list even though the Everton and England man was coming to the end of his top-flight career by the time Allardyce went to Goodison Park in 2017.

But Bolton fans will be delighted to hear that a handful of others in his shortlist were players he had worked with in a seven-and-a-half year spell in the Reebok dugout.

“Nicolas Anelka as a goalscorer, a front-line player, was probably the best I ever worked with,” he said.

“Without a doubt one of the massive influences in Bolton getting into Europe was Fernando Hierro, who did most of his career in Spain but I don’t think people realised quite how big he was in Madrid and at international level.

“The entertainment value and the captaincy of Jay-Jay Okocha was just outstanding.

“The professionalism and the work ethic at 34-35 years of age of Gary Speed and his influence on young players was massive.

“And then there’s The Snake, Youri Djorkaeff. That wasn’t my name for him, it was Arsene Wenger’s because he said he never knew when he was going to strike.

“He was the start of a great campaign for us at Bolton. The first World Cup winner and world great that came to the club and started that successful journey.”

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Allardyce harks back to his Bolton days at Burnden Park when asked about his favourite manager – a man who helped redefine the club’s history in the late seventies.

“Ian Greaves,” he said. “He established me as a first team player at Bolton Wanderers when under Jimmy Armfield there were doubts about whether I was good enough or not.

“Jimmy had played me a couple of times, he’d also played Paul Jones, Peter Reid, Neil Whatmore, who were of similar age to me and playing a lot more than I was – I was getting the odd game.”

Greaves had come in as an assistant manager to Jimmy Armfield but was promoted to the top job when he left for Leeds United in October 1974.

The following February, Allardyce then got a challenge from his new manager that sparked his Bolton career to life.

“Don McAllister was playing alongside Paul Jones at the time and he got sold to Tottenham,” he explained. “This probably wouldn’t happen today but Ian called me into his office and said ‘you’ve got the last eight games and if you’re any good, we’ll keep you on, if you are c**p you are gone.

“I had eight or 10 games and that was it – we know what happened to Bolton Wanderers after that, we got up.”

The following year Allardyce scored a goal that he ranks the favourite of his career.

Replayed countless times by Wanderers fans down the years, a thunderous header against Sunderland captured by the TV cameras and still available on YouTube.

“Peter Thompson took the corner and I just got the timing right from outside the box and crashed it in,” he said. “It was a Gerald Sinstadt commentary and he said: “What a happy boy!” I certainly was then.”

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Allardyce remembered winning Granada TV’s ‘Best Looking Footballer’ competition in the days when hair was wild and the rock ‘n’ roll team of Worthington and Co was on the horizon.

But he laughs at comparisons which have been made between young pictures of him and Harry Styles – the One Direction singer who has since trimmed his locks.

“I have heard about them,” he smiled. “One or two people have actually said that because they have pulled up old pictures of me with the hair all over the place. It’s true – but I’d like to have his voice, I know that.”

Back in the Burnden days there was only one place to go after the game – and that was Warthfold Road in Radcliffe – a late bar that attracted the great and the good of the region’s sporting folk.

“Benny’s in Radcliffe was our haunt in the seventies and eighties and we’d congregate many a footballer from across the whole of the North West. Not just footballers – artists, actors, snooker players, rugby players, you name it,” Allardyce recalled.

“On the side they built Robson’s Bar, which Bryan Robson had a little share in. We went and enjoyed many nights after games there, it was relaxed and chilled-out, we met other players and personalities, it was just fantastic while it lasted.”

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