It is 23 years since Ricardo Gardner swapped the sun-kissed beaches of Kingston for the wind-swept moors of Lancashire.
Once a shy teenager fresh out of the Jamaican World Cup squad, the boy they called “Bibi” turned into one of Wanderers’ most respected Premier League professionals.
In nearly a decade-and-a-half wearing the Bolton shirt, Gardner experienced the highs of promotion, four top-eight finishes in the top-flight and a goal against Bayern Munich which put the Whites on their way to one of their most famous European results.
He also sampled some lows, including a couple of serious knee injuries, play-off heartache under Colin Todd and Sam Allardyce and, ultimately, relegation in 2012.
Gardner left his home in Bolton in 2013 and enjoyed a coaching career back in Jamaica with the national team, Portmore United and Harbour View – but he is now back in the UK looking to make the same football dream come true for his son.
“He wants to be a professional footballer, so why not put him in the best environment,” Gardner told The Bolton News.
“He is playing locally now, doesn’t have anything concrete, but he is in an environment where he is improving each day and learning so I am looking for greater days.”
Gardner was back in town for Sunday’s legends game, turning back the clock with a turn on the left wing, where he thrilled a generation of Bolton supporters.
“It is always great to be back in Bolton,” he said. “It is home away from home and Bolton has treated me like a son from the first day until now, so I appreciate everything that the fans have done for me because without them, nothing that I have achieved here would be possible, so it’s great to be back.
“Not only to be back but to be back with some of these great players and Big Sam himself.
“It was great to be in the gaffer’s presence again. He has created such a wonderful environment at this football club. I have loved being in such a wonderful group as well. It is good to come back, to see the lads, and for a good cause. I have enjoyed every bit of it.”
Gardner is happy to put his own playing days behind him.
“The legs are gone now – that’s the difference. Looks are deceiving!” he laughed.
But stepping back into the club at the weekend, Gardner recognised immediately what had made it such a special time to be a Bolton Wanderers player.
“I think he created a family,” he said of Allardyce. “He always wanted to improve us every year and if you check our dressing room, it’s more than 10 different personalities, people from more than 10 different nations, but yet still we are one family within that dressing room.
“What he brought to the team kept us together throughout everything.”
Gardner is also delighted to pick up on some of the same vibes in the current dressing room, which has rallied together to help team-mate Gethin Jones in his efforts to raise money for his mum’s treatment for Motor Neurone Disease.
“It is for a great cause and I support them trying to get the best treatment possible,” he said.
“This club deserves to be at the top level and I’m sure that the players and the supporters, as well as the gaffer, are working their socks off to try and get this club where it deserves to be and I just wish them all the best.”
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