As the curtain came down on another season at Bolton Wanderers, players, staff, supporters and local businesses gathered together to celebrate what makes this club the best in the land.
Exactly three years earlier, the future looked bleak as Wanderers became the first team in Football League history to force the postponement of a fixture because their players went on strike over unpaid wages.
In the harsh administration that followed, the threat of complete extinction became a genuine possibility as stakeholders bickered over the last remaining morsels of a club already paired down to the bone.
But on Sunday night, Ian Evatt’s team were fresh from a ninth-placed finish in their first season back in League One with a free-scoring, vibrant team which finished the season like a train.
Supporters waited for selfies and autographs with their new heroes, only too willing to oblige, and we heard from the Football Ventures – the group which snatched Bolton back from the abyss in the summer of 2019 – and how they have managed to stabilise the business, even faced with the challenges of a global pandemic.
On the pitch, Evatt’s team has played an expansive and modern style of football which has brought people back to the stadium in their droves.
Record numbers of season tickets have already been purchased for next season, where the Bolton boss hopes to push even closer to a promotion to the Championship.
Speaking to his players, he thanked them for their efforts in what ended up being a hugely positive campaign.
“You are all an absolute pleasure to work with, some more than others,” he said.
“Your effort, commitment, dedication and the respect you have for yourself and the rest of the staff is very much appreciated. I think you are a very special group which has huge potential and with hard work and dedication we will help you to fulfil that here.”
Evatt also thanked his backroom staff, from the kit man and analysis department to his coaches and medical team.
“I am really fortunate to pretty much be the face of the football club and fronting it but I have an incredible backroom team behind me who help me produce the work and the detail with the players day in, day out,” he said.
“I think they know how much I appreciate them because they all add something, so let the hard work continue and let’s go onwards and upwards.”
Top award of the night went to Dapo Afolayan, the 24-year-old forward who became only the second man in the last 20 years to score more than a dozen goals for Wanderers in a single season.
Afolayan collected the top scorer prize for his 14 goals but also the player of the year trophy, which ensured his name would be etched alongside some of the most illustrious footballers in Bolton’s history, such as Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kevin Davies, Jay Jay Okocha and Ricardo Gardner.
Another Wanderers legend, John McGinlay, was on hand to pass on his goalscoring prize – the night taking a temporary pause as fans sang Super John’s name.
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The team performance of the year was collected by the entire backroom staff for the 6-0 win against Sunderland on January 29.
Assistant manager Pete Atherton said the display had been especially pleasing for the construction of some of the goals.
“You see wonder strikes and individual efforts but you saw that day combinations and patterns of play that we do work hard on in training.
“It is pleasing as a coach and as a backroom staff when you see that coming off like that on a matchday.”
George Johnston won Wanderers’ young player of the year trophy in his first season with the club after signing from Dutch side Feyenoord. The former Liverpool defender has spent more minutes on the pitch than any other player in the squad (3,458), and also scored two goals against Ipswich Town and Lincoln City.
He has also developed a reputation for being one of the dressing room pranksters and told the room how he stole the clothes of team-mate James Trafford during a recent visit to a cryotherapy chamber in Blackburn, leaving the goalkeeper to drive all the way home wearing someone else’s dressing gown!
Johnston got his comeuppance a couple of weeks later, however, as Dapo Afolayan explained how he stole the defender’s car keys and hid the vehicle on the opposite side of the training ground, leaving him searching for it for more than half an hour.
Dion Charles won the vote for goal of the season for his spectacular strike against Shrewsbury Town in January. The Northern Ireland international finished the season with eight Bolton goals following his move from Accrington Stanley, scoring twice in the weekend’s 4-2 win against Fleetwood Town.
The club handed a lifetime achievement award to Simon Marland, the long-serving secretary who will be standing down from full-time service in June.
Marland, who will continue in his role as club historian, started supporting the Whites in May 1967, watching a 5-0 win against Millwall with his father, Neville. Since then he has amassed more than 4,000 games at all levels and missed just one first team fixture – that because of a car accident on the way to Watford in 1981.
“It has been a pleasure,” said the 63-year-old, who plans to spend more time doing park-runs and on his narrow boat in semi-retirement. “There are a couple of away games I could probably get to by narrow boat, but it might take me a couple of weeks!”
Ian Evatt also thanked Marland for his service to the club, with his current role as secretary starting way back in 2000 after he took over from Des McBain.
“I’m glad we could sign off for Simon with a win at the weekend,” he said. “I just have to thank him for everything he has done for me and the club. We really appreciate it.”
Wanderers celebrated the work they do around the town with an award for Geoff Williams, who has been a coach and youth worker with Bolton Wanderers in the Community for more than a decade.
Striker Amadou Bakayoko also received an award for his work with people in Bolton, especially the successful Fit Trotters programme, which helps fans get fit, learn about nutrition, and lose weight.
It had been five years since Wanderers were able to host a night like this - and should they continue in such positive fashion there may be even more to celebrate in 12 month’s time.
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Last edited by karlypants on Tue May 03, 2022 10:58 am; edited 1 time in total