Throughout the last decade, Bolton Wanderers had continued to exist on the brink.
‘The brink’ almost seems too much of an understatement; the club, and therefore large parts of our town’s pride and culture, had already began a free-fall into obscurity and irrelevance but, more importantly, extinction.
A celebration of its survival and continued existence is not only a positive thing; it is a necessity. It is an immense relief – it was nearly all over.
Since those days and weeks of salvation and early rebuilding; Wanderers, to put it politely, have stuttered on-the pitch.
A grim unpredictability that wears even the most die-hard supporters’ patience very thin, promotion seems so far away and unlikely – the new era wasn’t supposed to begin like this.
There are several reasonable and mitigating factors for this. The catastrophic off-the-field mess prior to Football Ventures’ takeover had left the club completely broken and bereft. A new squad, new manager, new backroom staff and new philosophy, both in terms of footballing style and financial planning, was required.
This would obviously take time and, perhaps, promotion was always a much longer shot than anticipated. However, it has probably now got to a stage where the acceptance of difficulty and strife is fading – promotion might not be on the cards but that doesn’t mean we should be closer to the bottom-of-the-table instead.
Ian Evatt and his players have insisted we can be the best team in the league on our day. Nonsensical statements like this infuriate supporters – every team in such a congested and even league can be the best team on their day. His own bluff and bluster helped perpetuate the sense of promotion and success as a formality and just an inevitable extrinsic reward on the road for intrinsic perfection.
Whilst allowances can and should be made for imperfections and even failure this season – it doesn’t mean it has to be merrily celebrated and excused. This season has been, bluntly, a failure so far. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t get better and that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate and reasonable causes for it.
I, you and we should be allowed to criticise without being made to feel guilty for not consistently referring to off-the-field issues of the recent past. Being told to essentially be more grateful whenever there is the utterance of the slightest of criticisms is a ridiculous and unsustainable form of support.
It could be a slightly more meta and existential ponderance than is required; however, the fact remains, if Wanderers fans have to check themselves from frustration and anger – what was the point in being so upset about our demise in the first place?
There can be several reasons to support a club; primarily, especially in Bolton, it is in the blood. It is based on a social and emotional connection that is very rarely, if at all, replicated in other areas of life. The mass sharing of similar feelings – anger, elation, devastation – all about the same fairly unimportant thing is baffling to those who don’t “get it”.
That is what football fandom is or can be: an unconfined expression of the extremes of our emotions; just because we nearly went out of business doesn’t mean you can’t still “feel it”.