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How 'headhunted' managers have fared at Bolton Wanderers

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The next manager who places his backside in the Bolton Wanderers hotseat will be the club’s 24th since the war and only the second to have presided over football in the fourth tier.

On that list, 14 men have been appointed from within, or been out of work before their arrival at Bolton, and nine have been plucked from another club.

Those who had been headhunted fared marginally better down the years, winning 36.53 per cent of their games, compared with 35.85 who did not already have an employer.

The same group have also been given more time in the job, understandable perhaps as it would have cost money to bring them to Bolton, averaging 169 games in charge, compared with 122 for the ‘free agents.’ There is nothing wrong with snapping up a bargain.

And in the list of 14 freebies are luminaries like Bruce Rioch – who had left Millwall a few months before rocking up at Burnden Park, and Colin Todd, who came in as his assistant and was eventually nudged up to be solo manager in his own right.

The shelf life of those on the freebies list is reduced significantly, however, if you remove the sizeable stints of the early manager-secretaries like Walter Rowley and Bill Ridding.

Indeed, over the last 52 years if you had been appointed as manager of Bolton Wanderers as a free agent, or had previously worked at the club, you average just 62 games (less than two full seasons) in charge.

By comparison, only the unfortunate Jimmy Meadows – whose tenure after quitting his chief coach role at Blackpool lasted an unhappy 16 games – failed to last two full years in the other group.

Meadows followed an even briefer spell from Jimmy McIlroy at a time when the Bolton job was being passed around like a hot potato.

After he resigned in April 1971 Wanderers had already cast their eye towards their next target, who would bring success and much-needed stability back to the club.

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The former England defender played his final game at Blackpool on May 1, 1971, against Manchester United and 18 days later he was on the back page of The Bolton Evening News pledging to bring “blood, sweat and tears” back to Burnden Park.

The process of bringing him from Bloomfield Road involved minimal fuss. Blackpool had indicated he could have a free transfer after they were relegated from the First Division and manager Bob Stokoe had asked Armfield if he fancied staying in a coaching capacity.

Bolton stayed tight-lipped when stories began to emerge that they were considering an offer to the full-back and not – as widely touted at the time – offering the job to Eddie Hopkinson.

Less than a week later the stories were confirmed and a new era at Burnden Park began.

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It wasn’t for another decade that Bolton approached another club to recruit their manager – and John McGovern had not even hung up his boots at Nottingham Forest when they did.

As the Scot told The Bolton News this summer, a disagreement between Brian Clough and Peter Taylor left him uncertain about his future at the City Ground.

Wanderers had openly touted their ambitions to secure a player-manager and were famously linked with Pele. Enough said about that, the better.

But McGovern’s passage from Nottingham to Lancashire appeared to run smoothly, with Forest honouring his incredible service as a player by allowing him to move on for “practically nothing” according to the man himself.

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In a similar fashion to McGovern, Neal was keen to cut his teeth in management and Liverpool were gracious in allowing him to move to Bolton.

Compensation was never disclosed but considered minimal, and convincing the decorated defender to leap from Anfield to third-tier football at Burnden was probably the work of former chairman Neil Riley, who had connections on Merseyside.

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It got pretty ugly when Wanderers went for Notts County boss Sam Allardyce but fans would argue it was worth the effort.

The Football Association had to intervene when County claimed Bolton had “poached” their manager and the club was hit by a £45,000 fine.

But the squabbling continued after the disciplinary panel had given their verdict which claimed Allardyce had “not been in a position to talk to other clubs” after handing in his notice.

The fact Allardyce had led Wanderers to two cup semi-finals and the fringes of the play-offs had rubbed salt into Notts County’s wounds.

And Magpies managing director, Geoff Davey, said the verdict had given the green light to managers to break their contracts and for clubs to tempt them away.

"I am amazed, disappointed and simply staggered by this ruling. Not only will there be managers out there looking at this and rubbing their hands together but clubs looking to replace their manager will be thinking that it only cost Bolton £45,000 to get the man they wanted.

"If we had sacked Sam we would have had to pay him well in excess of £100,000. I find it astonishing that the league have found him to be in breach of contract and Bolton guilty of enticing him to join them, yet we have come out of it with nothing.”

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"Gary decided he wanted to speak to Bolton. We have agreed compensation, and we move on.

"This is something that was not planned. We have worked tirelessly to prevent this from happening but in the end there was nothing we could do. Gary's heart was not in this football club anymore.”

The words of Leicester chairman Milan Mandaric on October 24, 2007, as Bolton prepared to surprise a few folk with the appointment of ‘Ginger Mourinho’ as successor to Sammy Lee.

Though Phil Gartside insisted that “people in football” would understand why Megson had been brought in, Wanderers fans were never fully on board.

Megson’s best work had been done at West Brom, where his miraculous escape from relegation in 2005 was probably the inspiration for Wanderers turning to him after the disaster of Sammy Lee’s short reign.

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Unquestionably the most expensive managerial purchase in Bolton’s history, with Burnley chairman Barry Kilby screaming for £3.5million in compensation when the deal was first mooted.

Accounts from the period show that £4.2m was needed to “restructure the management team” – a figure that would have also included a settlement for the outgoing Megson and his backroom staff.

It proved to be a bitter exit for the Scot, who went from terrace hero at Turf Moor to something altogether more sinister.

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The approach for Palace’s young and highly-rated young manager had all been very cloak and dagger. Indeed, even the announcement that he would be appointed as Bolton’s new manager was taken out of their hands.

A compensation fee of around £1million and his lieutenants Lennie Lawrence and Curtis Fleming was agreed for Freedman when Bolton travelled to play Wolves, with Jimmy Phillips in temporary charge.

Palace were not happy that Freedman, who had been offered his first job in management and had guided the Eagles into the Championship top four, would be looking elsewhere.

They had the last laugh, Steve Parish proclaiming on their website during the game at Molineux that Bolton had a new boss, much to the chagrin of Gartside et al.

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Bradford had lost in the League One play-off semi-finals against Millwall and then been taken over by German pair Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic. Parkinson had serious reservations about how his job would change at Valley Parade and so news of an upcoming buy-out clause in his contract landed on the desk of Bolton co-owner Ken Anderson.

Wanderers had to bide their time before making their move, which allowed Anderson to examine a few other candidates and distract attention with a statement that claimed the club would not be paying compensation for anyone still in a job.

Weirdly, the deal had not been signed right up to the day Parkinson was due to be unveiled to the press, with the manager-to-be left waiting outside the stadium until given the all-clear by his legal representatives to start the press conference.

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