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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » 'I wasn't in a good place': Alex Baptiste opens up on Wanderers redemption

'I wasn't in a good place': Alex Baptiste opens up on Wanderers redemption

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Alex Baptiste chuckles at the thought of being a ‘cult hero’ in Bolton’s promotion push.

“If they are still calling me ‘Alex Maldini’ after the Crawley game it means we have gone up, so I don’t mind it one bit,” he laughs, a couple of days after his belligerent defensive display helped Wanderers hold on to a vital 1-0 win against Carlisle United.

While Baptiste is certainly not alone in improving his image during the course of the current season, the veteran’s deeper history with the Bolton fans makes his journey all the more intriguing.

At the turn of the decade, the former Blackpool man was genuinely discussed among supporters as one of the most disappointing signings Wanderers had made since their Premier League exit.

He had played alongside Ian Evatt in Ian Holloway’s much-loved Blackpool team which blazed a trail to the top flight and was signed by then-Bolton boss Dougie Freedman in July 2013 to replace the outgoing Sam Ricketts as a right-back.

The reality proved quite different, however, as an early-season injury to Marc Tierney left the new man playing on the wrong side of the defence in an expensively-assembled squad lacking harmony.

Baptiste felt he was made a scapegoat.

“I felt like I was thrown under the bus a little bit at the time,” Baptiste recalled. “I had loved it at Blackpool and had some success there playing centre-back but for some reason when I went to Bolton I ended up playing as a left-back.

“The season before the club had just missed out on the play-offs and so they made some big signings. The wage bill was absolutely massive. But it just didn’t transpire on the pitch for whatever reason. It felt like a collection of individuals rather than a team and I don’t think many of us were happy.

“For most of the year I thought I’d been doing okay. But then there was a part of March where I gave away a few penalties and I felt I got no support at all from the manager.

“I remember hearing that I could sign for Bolton and being so excited about it. I’d been at Mansfield, obviously a smaller club, and Blackpool, where… (pauses) well, there was always something going on. Bolton was my first really massive club with the stadium, the unbelievable training ground, and they would do literally anything to help you. At my previous clubs I’d been washing my own kit.”

Off the field, Baptiste was also facing family issues which affected his performance.

He finished one season of a three-year contract with a solid 43 appearances and four goals but his reputation took a dent after Freedman publicly condemned a sending off against Yeovil.

Baptiste insists there was more to the story.

“There were things going on behind the scenes, things I was not happy with,” he said. “I think people see the job we do, the money, and think it is easy but personal things can crop up and affect how you are playing.

“I remember there were days at Bolton where I just didn’t want to come into the training ground. I’d been playing out of position the whole season and I’d been dealing with some family matters, so I just wasn’t in a good place.

“I didn’t want to be there. And I’ll be honest, I was so happy when Blackburn came in for me.

“So for it to end like it did was disappointing but I’d never say a bad word about the club itself and a lot of the people around it. Coming back, it was nice for me because I got to see some of them again and be around the place without all that going on.

“It is definitely better now that we have climbed to a decent position in the league, though, we weren’t sure about that for a moment!”

Given his past history in the supporters’ eyes, reception to Baptiste’s return in the summer was muted. At 35, he had played just once for Doncaster Rovers the previous season because of an Achilles tendon injury and had previously struggled for games at Luton Town after the Hatters went on a 28-game unbeaten streak without him in the team.

Causes of early-season inconsistency have been much discussed among the Bolton fans but it is entirely fair to say there were few comparisons to Maldini or any other Italian legends during September or October.

Several months on, it is the same old Baptiste; the Mansfield drawl, a modest man who spoke and looked like a veteran, even in his mid-twenties, only this time he is enjoying some long-overdue recognition.

His solid performance against Carlisle was lauded as one of the best defensive displays of the campaign but Baptiste believes Wanderers will need three more to see the promotion job through against Morecambe, Exeter and Crawley.

“Carlisle was a difficult night, especially for that last 20 minutes, because they were playing to save their season,” he said.

“As a team we have to stick together and we have got good at seeing games out, defending as a squad from the front lads to us at the back.

“We have to keep that going now. Grinding out result at this stage of the season is what it is all about.”

Baptiste’s experience kicks in when asked if Wanderers could potentially make it easier for themselves by scoring a few more of the chances they create.

“As a defender you want clean sheets, that’s your reward, but you know you can’t get them unless the whole team defends well,” he said.

“In the same way, you could say that us as defenders should get a few more goals and help them out.

“You do everything as a team, that is the way I see it. I take a lot of pride in keeping the opponent down to zero because I think it gives everyone a lift but we all play a part in it.”

Wanderers can take a big step towards ensuring their stay in League Two is a short one today at Morecambe and if proof were needed how different the landscape is at the University of Bolton Stadium, some supporters are touting Baptiste for their player of the year.

The terraces may remain empty but the defender acknowledges there has been a growing respect for the job he has done this season.

“The thing is, I know when I have played well or when I am playing well, and when I am not,” he said.

“I’m my own worst critic and when the fans were in then my family would come and watch home games and they would have no trouble telling me if I hadn’t done something right.

“I’m just happy we got on such an incredible run of form. I’m happy I am a part of it.

“The last time I was here I didn’t really know much about the financial problems and obviously since I came back there have been no issues. But I know where the club has been, how hard it has been for the fans and the staff here.

“I won’t be playing in five years because of my age but while I am I’d like to play a little part in getting Bolton back to where they should be.

“If this team can kickstart it all, then we can look back and say we did a good job.”

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