I can still remember, clear as day, the moment it dawned on Wanderers they were not in the big time any longer and that life in the Championship would be very different.
December 22, 2012, and the rain was driving down in Peterborough. I had just finished some last-minute Christmas shopping before dashing down London Road to cover the first meeting between the two clubs in 18 years.
I always try to get to the ground a few hours before kick off. I like to be prepared, speak to the journalists covering the opposing club for a bit of information, find out what I can about the line-ups, grab a cuppa and, these days, get Matchday Live online.
Some places are better prepared for early arrivals than others. This week, for example, folk at Accrington looked at me with an expression of horror when I turned up just before 6pm, with their press box looking like the Water Place.
The same happened at Peterborough in 2012. Staff had not printed tickets, so I was asked to come back in 10 minutes. Wanderers’ four-strong media team had evidently been told the same, as just a few yards away they stood huddled in a doorway wearing pristine Armani suits and trying desperately to avoid touching the dusty woodwork around them.
That culture shock bled into the game, too. Buoyed by a young Dwight Gayle, Posh ripped into Bolton on a pitch that could easily have doubled for a paddy field.
Watching the likes of Martin Petrov, Chris Eagles and Benik Afobe struggling to splash round in the puddles brought it home that Wanderers were going to need something extra to succeed in the Championship.
It finished 5-4 after a chaotic second half. Keith Andrews scored twice from the penalty spot and I remember interviewing him after the game in an old dusty stand and getting the standard “we didn’t under-estimate the opposition” line. We both knew Bolton had done exactly that.
Keith Hill’s side go to the same ground today as huge underdogs. The place is much smarter these days – but when I mentioned that to the Bolton boss in Thursday’s press gathering he made a particularly pertinent point.
“It sounds a little bit like football snobbery that.
“Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Football soon gets rid of that attitude, it’s a leveller.
“Two or three years ago I remember going to Newport when Justin Edinburgh was in charge – the club has a state-of-the-art pitch now – but it was not for the faint-hearted, be it players, fans, or managers.
“There are a lot of examples like that and I’ve tried to take advantage of that in the past.
“You play against who you are playing against and you have to fight, turn up with the labourer’s bag and scrape for what we get.”
It made me wonder whether Wanderers were guilty of the same sort of “football snobbery” on the two occasions they went to Accrington, or in previous visits around the League One outposts.
If so, they had better snap out of that pretty quickly.
The University of Bolton Stadium needs some TLC. There are, in fact, some fairly serious and expensive internal repairs which need to be addressed soon to keep it running properly after a good few years of wilful neglect.
But it remains a thoroughly impressive structure – and I remember standing on the pitch with Sharon Brittan, Emma Beaugeard and Mike James discussing just that when I interviewed the Football Ventures consortium on their first day in the post.
It is the same at the training ground. Yes, it lacks the lustre Euxton once had, but there are plenty of managers who would give their right arm for a facility of that quality at this level of football.
Has that comparative luxury at home made it more difficult for Bolton when they travel to places – and I use the example with utmost respect – like Accrington? Has the same issue perhaps affected other sides, like Sunderland?
Given everything that has happened in the last few years it is hard to see how Wanderers could have any sort of superiority complex but if the club is to stand any chance of surviving in this division they might have to take a leaf out of Stanley’s book.
‘Little Old Bolton’ is a phrase Sam Allardyce used to throw around quite regularly when he was going head-to-head with the Premier League elite. Perhaps now it needs an update?
Bolton are, and forever will be a big club at this level of football, but they most certainly need to start scrapping like a small club if they are to stay in League One.