The famous old Lancastrian club, four-time winners of the FA Cup, have been steady performers for most of their 127-year history without ever truly becoming a major force. Indeed, they’ve spent 71 seasons in the top flight, with third place (on three pre-war occasions) being their best finish. Only the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961 prompted their decline – in common with many provincial clubs.
Wanderers are currently in rude health, however. Having clawed their way back up from the fourth tier during the 1990s, they’re now celebrating an uninterrupted decade of Premier League football, during which time they’ve played their first European football, the UEFA Cup in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
Not only that but in current gaffer Owen Coyle, they have one of the most talented young managers in the country. It’s a good time to go and watch Bolton play, too: Coyle has crafted an attractive team – not something they were renowned for under canny but pragmatic boss Sam Allardyce – with Kevin Davies, Johan Elmander, Gary Cahill and Jussi Jaaskelainen among their star performers. The locals are certainly enjoying it, and the Reebok Stadium has generated a fine atmosphere as Bolton have looked a match for most visitors at home over the last year or so.
The town itself, meanwhile, hosts a decent arts scene – the Octagon Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre, Little Theatre, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery – and there are plans for a new Cultural Quarter. Twin that with some decent pubs and restaurants, and it’s worth considering sticking around town after the game rather than simply making the half-hour hop into Manchester for the night.
After settling at Burnden Park in 1895, Bolton didn't wander again for 102 years; when they did it was to an out-of-town site under the West Pennine Moors (and yes, it gets cold). Sponsored from the off by the Bolton-founded sportswear manufacturer, the 25,000-seat Reebok Stadium has a noticeably curvy design and pleasingly generous leg-space. It rarely sells out, even for local derbies, so you should be able to get a place; the noisiest fans tend to congregate toward the south of the Nat Lofthouse Stand, named after the club's greatest servant.
Don't go to Bolton. The Reebok nestles against (and is clearly visible from) Junction 6 of the M61, a few miles north of the town centre, so if you're coming from the south don't follow the A666 to Bolton itself. There's plenty of car parking (£6 for cars) at the stadium or you could try parking on the adjoining Middlebrook shopping-centre car park, if you're taking in some retail therapy the same day; either way, don't expect to be away from the ground within half an hour.
On matchdays 13 separate bus routes ferry fans from around the area. The stadium complex is also served by a train station just 200m away, confusingly called Horwich Parkway. It's on a reasonably busy line from Manchester via Bolton to Preston and Blackpool; it takes about 15 minutes to get to Bolton and another 25 minutes thereafter to Manchester.
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