Wake Me Up When September Ends

Summer has come and passed and I hope the tenuous link between Bolton’s start to the season and a eulogy to someone’s dead father leads to you all having that song stuck in your head.

For some reason, Bolton Wanderers have always struggled in the month of September. In Bruce Rioch’s first season, the start of Autumn signalled a big dip in form. From 2 wins in the opening 3 to just 3 wins in the opening 10 after the dreaded ninth month. The same can be said for Phil Parkinson’s first season in charge, an unbeaten August preceded a winless September. 

In fact, since the turn of the century, Bolton have won just 17 of their 83 league matches in September. 10 of those 17 came in just 28 games under Allardyce. So, yes, Bolton Wanderers have won 7 in 55 during the month of September since Big Sam’s departure. That is frankly stunning. 

Obviously, the idea that a team will always be bad in a certain month is as nonsensical as the idea a team will always struggle against a certain team. For example, “runaway leaders Hartlepool haven’t won at bottom of the table Crewe since 1965 so it’ll be an uphill battle for the visitors” is the equivalent of drawing some form of conclusion from Bolton’s abysmal September stats. That’s all it is: an abysmal coincidence.

Especially this year with the key difference being that this September is the month of hope; the opening month of the season.

The opening month of hope that has given us three league defeats from three, two cup defeats from two, four fairly unconvincing signings and two potentially very good signings going to a rival or staying put at their club. It hasn’t been great.

Those are the facts and they’re difficult to hide from but on a case-by-case basis, a defence of those facts can be made. “It’s a complex system, it’ll take a long time” and “look at how poorly Barrow started last year” are ways of thinking that can mitigate against the league defeats. “They don’t really matter” and “if anything, this is a good thing” can help defend the cup defeats. “They are only signed to pad out the squad” and “well, to be fair, for this level I bet they’re alright” can help unconvincing signings seem ever so slightly more convincing.

I think the key reasons to be frustrated and, without being overly negative, outright worried would be the seeming panic and confusion of the manager.  It is reasonable to have a team play several systems; especially when the style of play is supposed to be free-flowing and attacking, the system doesn’t necessarily matter that much. However, it does matter when the eight weeks of pre-season has been spent recruiting specifically for a certain formation which requires more players for one position (six centre-backs) and no players for another (zero wingers). It also matters when those eight weeks of friendlies and recruitment are then contradicted within 75 minutes of the new league season as the manager switches to a system that hasn’t been tried and simply hasn’t been recruited for.

That’s a concern because it shows a potential lack of clarity and, more importantly, a lack of belief in the original plan. Fans have been requested to be patient as “this will take time” and it’s a new project with a new style. However, it would be fairer if the manager was also requested to be patient with his own ideas.

Another concern would be that panic and confusion of the manager. Quotes suggesting they look like Real in training but he doesn’t know what happens isn’t a good start. The early confidence, bluff and bluster of July and August went very quickly. Way too quickly. It took a week for critiques of the culture of the club and a made-up story about him receiving tactical advice via a letter; this is, very simply, not a good look.

He’s been given the keys and power of a very big football club in a very low league. Bolton fans can be extremely demanding and impatient, especially with new styles of play; so, yes, the culture does need to change. However, as well as all this power he’s been given, he’s also been given the freedom to implement these changes in a very pleasant environment behind closed doors. No impatience, no abuse and no hostility. Complaints about the way in which Bolton fans support their team might be merited – at least wait until there is anyone there, Ian. 

October begins with a trip to a newly-promoted side, back-to-back home games against 21st and 23rd before another trip to a newly-promoted side. It would be understating it to suggest this is an absolutely enormous three weeks’ of fixtures. 

It is way too early now to make any prediction for what this season might hold but the fact it is now unclear is already a huge step back from just three or four weeks ago. The idea is admirable and the implementation of those ideas could still come but September has quite easily given us the worst possible start.

One last thing before you go though

When you feel better tomorrow you’ll be a hero

But never forget today. You could be back here

Things can stray

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