When we think of Bolton Wanderers, we think Sam Allardyce, half empty stadiums, physicality and a real decline in fortunes. Times are difficult at the Macron Stadium, previously known in the glory era as the ‘Reebok’.
It’s been a rapid decline much to do with the owners as it is to do with the inability to produce profitable talent. There have been moments; Gary Cahill was picked up cheaply, developed and sold on at a vast profit, but that remains an anomaly in the recent history of the Trotters.
Now down in League One, the Premier League must seem like a distant memory. But fear not, Bolton fans, let us reminisce over a genuinely brilliant outfit led by ‘Big Sam’ in the early noughties.
2003/04 was the third consecutive season in the Premier League and a year in which they narrowly lost out to Middlesbrough in the then-Carling Cup final. That aside, it was the first year that they cemented their place in the top half.
The previous two years had been relegation battles, but this year Allardyce would lead them to the unimaginable heights of 8th position. When you consider the ‘core’ players in that squad, it is no wonder why they did so well.
Here’s a look at some of the key players in that memorable Trotters season:
Career path: Mikkelin Palloilijat, Vaasan Pallosuera, Bolton Wanderers, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic
Bolton appearances: 474
The Finnish goalkeeper started his career in his homeland, but his talents were soon rewarded with a move to Bolton in 1997. He went on to make 474 appearances in a career spanning 15 years with Bolton, surely making his mark in the history books.
Jaaskelainen regularly played internationally with Finland, and with Bolton’s relegation, joined up with Sam Allardyce and West Ham United to keep his place in the Premier League. Once opportunities dried up with the Hammers and he was replaced by Adrian, he joined Wigan Athletic where his side won League One last season. He is still with the Latics aged 41 years old.
Position: Centre back
Career path: Internacional, Academica, Tirsense, Benfica, Alverca (Loan), Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, Sunderland, Bolton, Wigan, Derby (Loan), Vissel Kobe
Bolton appearances: 29
The Brazilian’s English career started after a successful spell with Sheffield Wednesday before being rewarded with a move to Chelsea. After struggling at Stamford Bridge, he hopped from Sunderland to Bolton where he spent just one season in the heart of the defence.
Since, he had unsuccessful stints with Wigan where he once again lost in the League Cup final, and ultimately Derby before moving to Japan to join up with Vissel Kobe where he finally decided to hang up his boots.
He is now said to be a scout in Portugal for Everton FC.
Position: Centre back
Career path: Lyon, PSG, AC Milan, Venezia (Loan), Marseille, Bolton, Birmingham, Leicester, Hereford (loan), L’AS Attes
Bolton appearances: 148
N’Gotty’s tenure at Bolton was his second longest career spell, despite having been rumoured to have rejected the original offer. His CV is lavish, but it was in Bolton where he made his greatest impact. Another fan favourite, the Frenchman was said to have wanted to retire with Bolton, but Allardyce was to release him in 2006.
He then went on to play for Birmingham where he was once more promoted to the Premier League but opted not to stay for an extra year. After a spell with Leicester, he retired before joining up with French 6th tier side L’AS Attes.
Position: Left back/Left midfielder
Career path: Harbour View, Bolton, Preston (loan)
Bolton appearances: 347
The resourceful Jamaican started his career at home with Harbour View before joining up with the Trotters in 1998; the place he would call home for 14 years. In 347 appearances, he managed just 21 goals but played his part in some of the most enjoyable Bolton Premier League moments.
He didn’t score much, but one that all Bolton fans will remember was his goal at the Allianz Arena as they famously held European giants Bayern Munich to a draw in the UEFA Cup.
His career ended due to a knee injury and after an unsuccessful trial with MLS side Real Salt Lake, he retired. The loyal Trotter is now a coach for Jamaica u20s.
Position: Centre midfield
Career path: Alaves, Valencia, Valladolid (loan), Mallorca, Real Madrid, Bolton, Ipswich, AEK Larnaca
Bolton appearances: 172
Real Madrid to Bolton Wanderers. A natural progression, you could say. Bolton fans can consider themselves very fortunate to have had such quality in their side. Campo oozed class and dictated Bolton’s midfield for six seasons.
Spectacularly, he scored a goal from just over 40 yards against Tottenham Hotspur but in the season of 2006/07, his disciplinary record led manager Gary Megson to avoid offering him a new contract. It was a sour end for the Spaniard.
He left for Ipswich, but the two-time Champions League winner’s heart remained in Bolton. After retiring with AEK Larnaca in Cyprus, he returned once more to the Reebok for Jussi Jaaskelainen’s testimonial.
Amid all the disarray, Campo offered his services to the club in 2012, citing that he was ‘sad’ to see where the club was heading.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Career path: Borussia Neunkirchen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbache, PSG, Bolton, Qatar Sports Club, Hull City
Bolton appearances: 124
Extravagance. Flair. Artistry. Jay-Jay Okocha was a master of skill and finesse and his move to Bolton was one all Premier League fans were lucky enough to enjoy. Never one for the ordinary, Okocha captained this side to the League Cup final. His time at Bolton was the longest of his career, but amidst interest from Qatar, he joined up with QSC in 2006.
After an injury-drizzled spell with Hull City, he was forced into retirement. Upon Bolton’s relegation in 2012, he stated his time was ‘wasted’ at the club as they had not taken any strides since his time at the club.
Position: Centre midfield
Career path: Bolton, Newcastle, West Ham, Leyton Orient, Notts County
Bolton appearances: 296
The Bolton academy graduate spent his first 10 years in football at the Reebok, scoring 40 goals in the process. He went on to captain the side before joining Newcastle in 2009 after receiving some undeserving criticism from the fans. There and at West Ham United, he enjoyed a freer role which saw him score more goals and look more of an attacking threat.
He holds the unwanted record of being the player to have played the most amount of Premier League games without an England call up.
Since falling out of favour in the Premier League, the Mersey-born midfielder has taken to player-management firstly with Leyton Orient, and now with Notts County.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Career path: Grenoble, Strasbourg, Monaco, PSG, Inter Milan, Kaiserslautern, Bolton, Blackburn, New York Red Bulls
Bolton appearances: 75
Starting his career with Grenoble in France, Djorkaeff enjoyed the initial stages of his career at home with Monaco and then PSG. Once more, there was an element of shock as Djorkaeff joined up with Campo and Okocha in Bolton. The trio had enjoyed such illustrious careers that move to Bolton seem unfathomable, but Allardyce must have had a way with words.
Throughout his career, he won the World Cup and Euros with France in 1998 and 2000 respectively, as well as a UEFA Cup with Inter Milan. I wonder where his League Cup runners up with Bolton medal sits in his cabinet?
Soon after his spell with Bolton, he made three appearances with Blackburn before joining up with the New York Red Bulls years prior to it becoming fashionable.
Position: Right midfield
Career path: B 1903, Lille, Copenhagen, Bolton, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan
Bolton appearances: 275
Alongside the luxuries of Djorkaeff, Campo and Okocha sat Per Frandsen, the other vital component of the Bolton midfield. He wasn’t the same type of player, but if anything, he’s remembered more fondly.
Starting his career with B 1903 in Denmark, he played in France before coming to England and playing for Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan. The 2003/04 season would be his last with the Trotters, and he would go on to coach HB Koge, Brondby U19 and Akademisk Boldklub.
He is often seen back in Bolton, being interviewed on his favourite memories and goals with the club.
Position: Winger/ Attacking midfield
Career path: Ethnikos Asteras, Paniliakos, Olympiacos, Bolton, Hull, AEL
Bolton appearances: 137
After a seven-year career with Greek giants Olympiacos, the nimble midfielder made the choice to sign up with Bolton in 2003. His initial success with the Trotters saw him linked with Man City and Liverpool, but he stayed on until 2008 where his relationship with Allardyce flourished.
Following five successful Premier League seasons with Bolton, his form dipped and he joined up with Phil Brown at the newly promoted Hull, but only made two appearances. After that, he joined AEL before having his contract ended in 2010.
Bizarrely, the Greek midfielder was said to have conjured up a consortium able to purchase the club, but nothing materialised. Over his career, he won multiple Super Leagues in Greece but most notably was part of that Greece squad to win the Euros in 2004.
Career path: Silkeborg, Bolton, Silkeborg (loan), Hull, Silkeborg
Bolton appearances: 143
The Danish striker, like Per Frandsen, began his career at home in Denmark. He initially struggled with the transition to the Premier League in 2001, but through sheer determination and accidental versatility, Pedersen became a useful resource for Allardyce.
Far from a renowned goalscorer, Pedersen was a fan favourite for his efforts. He joined Hull in 2007 before returning home to Silkeborg once more, citing ‘family reasons’.
He now runs a pub in Silkeborg.
Career path: Chesterfield, Southampton, Blackburn, Southampton, Millwall (loan), Bolton, Preston
Bolton appearances: 351
Despite all the teams he played for leading up to his spell at the Reebok, you still think of Davies as a one-club man. Chesterfield fans will almost certainly disagree, but it was his time with Bolton that earned him his sole England cap.
The consolation scorer in the League Cup defeat, Davies had a respectable return of 74 goals for Bolton. Known for his ‘physicality’, as was the norm with Allardyce’s Bolton, Davies was the true emblem of this Bolton side, despite its big names.
In 2013, he was left out of Bolton’s squad for reserve strikers and joined up with Preston North End before retiring in 2015.