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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » INSIDE WANDERERS: The complete football picture is slowly reappearing...

INSIDE WANDERERS: The complete football picture is slowly reappearing...

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The stadium peeps into view on my right as I trundle down the A6: India Gate, Royal Oak, roundabout, then that dramatic approach up De Havilland Way.

Some football grounds only reveal themselves once you are within touching distance – but the UniBol sits proudly at the foot of Winter Hill, unashamedly on display to the world from miles around.

In recent times that locality has left the club open to judgement, even ridicule. Every cloud that passed overhead felt symbolic, every passenger peering out from a halted carriage at Lostock Parkway able to pass comment, and rarely with a firm grip on the facts.

Yet regardless of what happened within its walls, it is impossible to drive past that stadium and not still be impressed by its modernity, even after 23 years. The white steel might have dulled a little, but for my money, it still knocks most into a cocked hat.

And as Nat proudly stands guard outside, ball in hand, there is always a recharging effect on a matchday when it comes into view as my office for the afternoon.

It always starts with a large coffee – Starbucks, not Costa (too crowded) – and then a couple of quid spent on Middlebrook for some treats to hand around the press box.

With kick-off still a few hours away the crowds haven’t yet started to descend. There are still a few early birds around, though, and if Boltonians have one common trait it is that they are not shy about expressing an opinion, or asking a question, when it comes to their football club.

A nod and a thumbs-up to the various programme sellers, stewards and officials on my route back around to reception, I enter a 40-yard stretch of land that may just be the windiest place on the planet.

The path between the front doors of the stadium and the entrance to Keogh’s at the side of the building is a natural phenomenon. In mid-July, with the rest of Horwich baking in sun, there will still be enough breeze to fly a kite in that small patch of land, if you wished.

Next, a security check. Surely they will be more clinical when next I attend a game but, once it has been established which Haribo sweets I bought from Poundland, those folk at front of house usually spend a few minutes grilling me on what is going on at Wanderers. All in good jest, of course.

A quick look around reception to see who is around. Usually a quick chat with Peter Nicholson or John Thomas, who are waiting for the hospitality guests to arrive, and then to queue for the slowest white-knuckle ride in Europe.

Inside the lift is probably the only part of the stadium that feels dated, not in a negative sense, but more in the fact the faux-walnut walls and gold rails feel like they have been grafted on from a Soho hotel. And don’t get me started on the speed of the thing – I swear some players have missed months of their Bolton career whilst waiting for it to turn up.

If I’m feeling fit – a rare occurrence these days – it’s up the stairs, a decision almost always regretted by the second floor.

Into the press room. Sign in to find Jack Dearden turned up several hours earlier to check his ISDN line. One by one, the room begins to fill with journos, cameramen, press officers, pundits and associates, although in recent years there have been far fewer.

I kick-off the Matchday Live blog, chat to my opposite number about their team and the latest gossip and go through the notes I made the night before. Friday nights used to be about pints down the pub and kebab, now it’s more Soccerbase and chippy tea if I’m lucky.

Several cups of tea later it’s up to the press seats, or more specifically, C3, a vantage point unparalleled outside the Premier League. Say what you want about Wanderers – and I have covered most angles – but the view from the press box is right up there with the very best.

I’ll critique the matchday music, discuss the teams, churn out my stat-of-the-day and maybe even nip over to the radio point for a chinwag with the BBC Radio Manchester crew.

And then the proper work begins – and doesn’t end until Match of the Day starts later that night.

That’s my matchday, the minutiae I have missed in lockdown with no football to cover. Soon it will return but it won’t be until the fans start coming back into the stadium, hopefully by October, that the picture will be complete.

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