Wanderers fans will be willing their team on from behind a laptop, listening to the radio, or refreshing our own Matchday Live blog instead of sitting in the stadium this afternoon – but that shouldn’t make us any less excited for what is in store.
The reset button has been pressed for the Whites. This is hopefully a brand-new start after a dark chapter in the club’s history that rambled on for longer than I wish to think about.
Why am I so uncharacteristically optimistic for the season ahead? Well, I’m glad you asked…
1. We might be able to forget about the boardroom
Since Football Ventures came in 12 months ago things have felt more stable and secure at Wanderers. And though we cannot kid ourselves that the pandemic or a relegation to League Two has not exerted financial pressures on the ownership, we can at least draw some contentment that the club appears to be being run in a professional and ethical manner. Long may that continue.
2. We’re the big fish again
How long has it been since we could describe a game against Bolton Wanderers as someone else’s cup final? Yet that is what it will feel like each and every week in League Two.
That comes with its own pressures, and the Whites should underestimate the supposed lesser-lights of Salford, Mansfield, Exeter and Forest Green at their peril but the signs are that Ian Evatt and his players won’t be shirking the challenge.
There were many reasons why last season, truncated as it was by the pandemic, felt like a complete waste of time, and by the end of it, manager Keith Hill was fighting a losing battle convincing Bolton’s supporters, or the board, that he was the right man to lead the club forward.
Enter Ian Evatt. A young manager who looks the part, sounds the part, and who turned heads with what he did in his first proper role at Barrow. It was a gamble for Bolton to look past a proven, experienced head at this level – but it is part of what makes this season so fascinating. This is will be a totally different style of football from the one we have been used to, I just hope the results turn out to be better.
4. Clear and concise
During the lockdown, I admit I had a few running battles with the skeletal staff at Wanderers trying to pin down exactly where the club stood on various EFL matters in what was an ever-changing environment. But when it has come to public communication, I can’t fault the way Football Ventures have gone about their business.
The same can be said for Evatt, who has talked with clarity and purpose about what he wants to do, and how he wants to do it. His words have been embraced by the fans and that has helped fuel a really optimistic mood in the build-up to the big kick-off.
5. Kitted out
It rarely concerns me what colour Bolton play in (it’s usually white), or who designs their shirts and socks, just as long as I can see the number on the back.
This year’s home and away kit, though, looks smart. And I genuinely hope that like some of the great Reebok classics of the past it will be associated with success on the pitch.
6. Goals galore
One of the stats I am most looking forward to leaving behind is that since Michael Ricketts managed it in 2001, no Bolton player has managed to hit 20 goals in a season.
Eoin Doyle and Nathan Delfouneso were two big additions to this season’s squad and I think they could both do well. Shaun Miller impressed me when he came off the bench against Crewe and I know for certain that Evatt is working on another very good attacking addition. Could this be the year?
7. New grounds
Even a grizzled hack like me will be ticking two new opponents off my list this season, and next weekend’s visit to Colchester United will be my first. I’m thoroughly cheesed off that Harrogate may still be playing at Doncaster Rovers by the time we go there in October – but I’ll deal with the disappointment so long as Bolton get a result.
I dearly hope that before too much longer, travelling Bolton fans will be joining me on the League Two voyage of discovery.
As I mentioned earlier, Evatt wants his team to play an expansive brand of football which – if he gets it right – will be a joy to watch.
We got a little sneak preview with that goal against Bradford and some of the second-half stuff against Crewe. There are obvious teething troubles for him to sort out, and a lot more information to feed into the players, but I genuinely think it won’t take him long to get Bolton’s engine purring.
9. Under cover
Some people are not keen on face masks, I think they are great, and I will explain why. Winter Hill is named so for a reason, and the temperature in the press box at the UniBol is about to plummet. Once the nights start drawing in and the sun dips down behind the East Stand, it feels like that disaster movie with Jake Gyllenhaal where everything starts freezing around you.
Usually, I would be ridiculed by wrapping up excessively. Now I have a ready excuse, all in the name of safety.
10. Bums on seats
The thing I am most looking forward to is seeing the fans back in the stadium, hearing the buzz, the ebb and flow of the action. It really isn’t the same without you. With good fortune and careful planning, Bolton can ride this lockdown storm, and people can get back to using Saturday afternoons for what they were made for.
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