Michael Ricketts looks back with pride on the day he helped launch Wanderers’ Premier League journey.
It is 20 years since Sam Allardyce’s side beat Preston North End in the play-offs to usher in the most successful spell in the club’s modern history.
Four top-eight finishes, two European qualifications and a galaxy of top stars graced the Reebok – but not before Ricketts and an eclectic squad rolled up their sleeves and carved a path to the top-flight.
Speaking to The Bolton News in a rare interview, Ricketts looked back at the 3-0 win at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and why it ranked among his favourite days in a Whites shirt.
“It feels like a long time ago now,” he said. “But I still say now that the league that season was the toughest in history.
“You had Blackburn with a load of star players – Matt Jansen, Damien Duff – and they finished second. And then Fulham – Louis Saha and the brilliant football they played – top of the lot. But we ran them close.
“When we got to the final we were confident, mainly because we had beaten them twice in the regular season. I think we had that over them.
“Gareth (Farrelly) opened the scoring with a nice right-footed shot and that settled things down but we were never really in any danger.
“I think Matt Clarke made one good save but we had chances – I had one, I think Dean Holdsworth and Ricardo Gardner had one too.
“We probably should have killed it off way before we did but in the end I got the second and then Bibi scored the pick of the bunch, running from half way.
“It was a special day for everyone, I loved it.”
Ricketts scored 24 goals that season – a total which has not been beaten since, although the former striker, now working as a football consultant, admitted he feared that Eoin Doyle may steal his crown this season.
“I thought it was in danger,” he laughed.
“The main thing is that the club got promotion and that they are back on an upward trajectory. And I hope he has another go next season and beats it.”
Signed for £400,000 from Walsall in 2000, Ricketts had proven a surprise hit at the Reebok that season.
Often used from the bench, he proved to be a potent weapon for Allardyce as Wanderers went on the promotion hunt.
“When I came in there were a lot of great players around, and I must say, great people as well,” he said.
“Dean Holdsworth, Paul Warhurst, Gareth Farrelly, Per Frandsen, players who had real Premier League experience.
“I just felt if I got the chance, I had to take it. And I always backed myself as a finisher.
“A lot of the time Sam used to throw me on when the game had opened up a bit but I got goals when I started games too, and I stand by my record.”
Ricketts also scored 15 goals the following season for the Whites after promotion, culminating in an England cap against the Netherlands.
Fans will forever remember the winner he scored the winner for Wanderers at Manchester United – a result he maintains, that despite comments from some, was fully deserved.
“I don’t think we got credit for that one, or the following year when Kevin Nolan scored the winner,” he said.
“We’d created so many chances and we were the better team.”
The 42-year-old ranks one result even higher than the play-off final, or the Old Trafford victory.
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“The opening day of the season against Leicester at Filbert Street,” he said.
“When you look back and see what we were up against, first game in the Premier League and everyone was saying we were going straight back down but then it’s 4-0 at half-time. We made it look easy.”
That year would prove the peak of his Bolton career – and by January the following season he left for Middlesbrough in a £3.5million deal, the fallout of which rather tarnished his time in Lancashire.
Looking back, Ricketts can understand the disappointment which existed around Wanderers at the time.
“The way it ended left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth – me, Sam, the Bolton fans, but I felt at the time I had to break away. It was just the decision I took,” he said.
“I am incredibly proud of what I achieved there, though, and get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I was part of a team which built the foundations for what came afterwards and the success they had.”
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