Wanderers new boy George Johnston has explained his reasons for turning down an offer to re-join Wigan Athletic in favour of a move to the UniBol this summer.
The defender spent the second half of last season on loan with the Latics in League One, helping them to climb out of the relegation zone after the club had gone into administration the previous July.
Wigan’s chief executive Mal Brannigan confirmed last week that his club had made a bid to former Liverpool Under-23s skipper Johnston to return to the DW Stadium, adding: “if the offers from elsewhere are higher, so be it.”
Johnston explained, however, that his chief motivation for coming to Wanderers was a feeling that the club was further down the line in the rebuilding effort after their own administration two years ago.
Promotion from League Two, playing an exciting brand of football under Ian Evatt, made Bolton an attractive proposition against others on the table.
“I knew there was some interest from other clubs before the end of the season but, for me, it was just a case of trying to keep my form at Wigan,” he said. “I was in a good place on the pitch, felt comfortable, so I just went into each game thinking nobody could get the better of me.
“When it got to the end of the season I had options. I spoke to Ian Evatt on the phone and, honestly, he made me feel really wanted. He was talking about the project ahead and I felt it would be the right move for me. The football Bolton are playing for me at the moment suits me.
“I think things happen for a reason, and I’d spoken to Wigan, but things didn’t materialise.
“Bolton have had their dark days, Wigan are coming out of them. At the moment Bolton have got better foundations and Wigan are building them with the new owners, the board, the manager has got the full-time job, so I think they will get there. But Bolton was the right move for me at this point.”
Johnston does talk warmly about his time down the road with the Latics, in what was his first real shot at senior football.
The Scotland Under-21 international had left Liverpool to sign for Feyenoord 18 months earlier – but while he believes the experience helped him mature as a player, the lack of regular football forced him to consider a return to English football.
“Coming back to the UK to play football was at the front of my mind at that stage,” Johnston said. “Wigan came in for me and it all happened quite quickly, I wanted to get over here and play as much first team football as I can.
“I signed on the Friday and then I was starting the next day at home to Fleetwood. I got a clean sheet as well, but I think it was the adrenaline that kept me going.”
He also reckons the experience picked up in League One can count in Bolton’s favour this season.
Johnston made 22 appearances for Wigan, scoring once, and sampled the rough and the smooth during his time with a club which had spent much of the campaign in the hands of administrators as their ownership issues were being sorted.
“The lads told me while I was there, the worst times were just before I arrived, October, November, December,” he explained. “There were still some bad days – we got beaten 5-0 twice and there were times when we came off the pitch and heads were in hands and we thought we were getting relegated. But we picked up a few good results and got on that run, kept ourselves up, and it was massive.
“To play a part in that was massive for me because it was my first proper stint in first team football, Saturday-Tuesday every week. It was tough at times but I felt like I coped with it well and it was a great education for me too.
“I feel like I am coming to Bolton better equipped for it all. I know the division that bit better, I know what to expect, I know the level you need to be playing at week-in, week-out, if you want to win games at this level. So, I hope that can help.
“I am really looking forward to the start of the season now. I want to get back in for pre-season and prove I am worth a starting spot and push on from there. Speaking to the manager he feels Bolton can use the momentum from promotion and I know from my time at Wigan last season how important it can be. You get on a roll, get used to winning games, and it can take you a long way.”