In part one of our interview with Wanderers legend Gudni Bergsson, he talks about the problems encountered trying to get to Burnden Park and his memorable debut in the final of the Coca Cola Cup.
BRUCE Rioch’s Wanderers had the scent of promotion in their noses as they entered into the final couple of months of the season in 1995.
The Premier League had only been formed for a few years but places were more chased than ever – with just one automatic spot available in Division One and another via the play-offs as the top flight cut down from 22 to 20 teams.
A run of just one defeat in 10 games put Bolton on the shoulder of leaders Middlesbrough but Rioch was determined to strengthen his hand.
A bad injury to Simon Coleman at Derby in February had left him a defender short. Burnley’s Steve Davis, Bury’s Chris Lucketti and Manchester City’s Terry Phelan were all touted as options but the answer was spotted from a near-empty stand at Crystal Palace, where former Spurs defender Gudni Bergsson was trialling in the reserves.
After injury had curtailed his career at White Hart Lane in 1991 Bergsson went back home to Iceland, combining part-time football with Valur alongside his training to become a lawyer.
At 29 the defender had not given up completely on professional football, though, and while he never envisaged the North West of England becoming his home for the better part of a decade, Rioch quickly convinced him that Bolton was a club on the up.
But the deal was by no means simple – and had Bergsson not had a legal background, his love affair with Wanderers may never have come about.
“There was a lot of paperwork because I was still registered with Tottenham,” Bergsson told The Bolton News in a special interview on the 25th anniversary of his move.
“These were the pre-Bosman days. My contract had expired with Spurs and I had left early because I had a bad fracture in one of my vertebrae in my back which hadn’t been diagnosed, so I went back home to do my law studies.
“When I looked to go to another club Tottenham wanted a fee. I made it clear that I felt I should have been a free agent.
“They shouldn’t really have had a right to keep my registration because I was close to 30 years old but I’d been out for nearly two years with my injury. I wasn’t really hot property because of that and we had a dispute about it, but thankfully we managed to get it settled.
“I think Bolton paid something like £65,000 and then a little more based on my appearances.
“But I knew it was the right move for me. I had a trial for about two weeks with Bolton and I was so impressed with Bruce Rioch, his staff and the squad, I knew it felt right for me.”
Even living away from the capital seemed a big step for Bergsson, who had been on the books at Spurs for three years.
And yet he would go on to play 317 games in a white shirt, score 23 goals, and experience promotion on no fewer than three occasions under three different managers.
Now head of the Icelandic FA, Bergsson considers himself fortunate that Rioch’s assistant Todd decided to take in a game at Selhurst Park when he did.
“It was an amazing time, a lucky stop for me,” he said. “I never thought I would end up in Bolton 25 years ago but I am so glad I did. I am honoured and privileged to have done it.
“Up to that day I was a southerner, coming from Iceland to London to play for Tottenham.
“The situation I was in at the time, I was looking for somewhere in the south but Bolton came in for me unexpectedly and I decided to see what they had to say.
“When I talked to them I liked what they were trying to achieve. I decided to give it a go.”
Bolton eventually paid £110,000 for Bergsson’s services and his transfer is often seen as one of the best bits of business the club has ever managed.
He played 11 times that season – twice at Wembley. Plunged into his debut off the bench in the League Cup final against Liverpool, of all places, and looking after the troublesome Steve McManaman.
Now regarded as a bona-fide Bolton Wanderers legend, Bergsson recalls the excitement of playing in a Bolton team who lost out against the Reds but whose indominable spirit would see them return a couple of months later for a memorable play-off win against Reading.
“I am always proud and happy to see that Bolton fans feel my move was a success,” he said. “At the time I wanted to get straight back into professional football and Bolton just seemed like the perfect club.
“There was momentum and great excitement about the place I was inspired by it. Bolton were riding quite high again after some troubled years and it was great to be a part of it.
“I had to get going straight away in the League Cup and it was strange because my previous game in England had also been for Tottenham at Wembley.
“The feeling of the whole club at that time, we were going somewhere. The bond between the players, the staff, the fans, it was so strong. We knew it was just a matter of time before we succeeded in what we wanted to do.”
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Last edited by karlypants on Tue Mar 24 2020, 09:29; edited 1 time in total