Supera Moras

One year since a club, aged 145 years, did not only teeter on the brink; it had began its descent. Shrouded in mystery and “the unknown” yet one thing was clear: we won’t have a football club much longer. 

This was the ultimate and inevitable climax of the preceding decade. A decade that left fans angry then apathetic then deeply concerned and then devastated. 

In 2019, I wrote the attached images (below). The impending loss of Bolton Wanderers and Bury was more than just two football clubs running out of money. It was a culture, community and an escape being torn away from hundreds of thousands of people. 

The matchday on a Saturday is the refuge of the working-class. 5 or 6 days a week of toil in order to afford and enjoy the Wanderers. Although this notion is often confused with a vendetta against modern football; it remains a core value for many supporters, particularly in the lower leagues. Ian Evatt himself insists the need to entertain “the working man” on the weekend.

The hope of survival had faded.

And then… it had bin dun.

Football Ventures’ new-ownership of Bolton sparked the suggestions of a rebuild. It needed so much more than that. 

This was a football club on its knees with no players, kit, staff, sponsor, dignity or positive outlook. It needed healing, it still does need healing. The club will have the remains of the very recent fragile and vulnerable past however it is growing once again.

With still just over two weeks to go to the season, Bolton have made 16 signings as well as having already played five pre-season matches. The organisation and planning is evident. 

The transfer business, the season ticket details, the kits, the photographer, the social media and the manager; all basic and fundamental requirements. However there has been an underlying efficiency, relentlessness and belligerence to this summer’s activity.

The assertion and ambition is reflected in the manager’s persona. I don’t think this is a summer of hot-air and bluster. I think we are seeing the start of “somet special”. 

As I say, it was clear the club needed more than just a “rebuild” and it’s getting more than just a rebuild. Without being needlessly cliché and overly indulgent of the marketing motto; it’s getting a rEVOlution. 

FV’s work hasn’t just been impressive in relative terms to Bolton’s recent past; their work is impressive in comparison to League Two and the rest of the EFL.

Cynicism, scepticism and pessimism has been the mindset and thought process of Bolton supporters for too long.

The club and the town has, does and forever will overcome difficulties. 

Myth of the Poacher

Nearly every EFL team believes they’ll gain promotion once they’ve found that missing piece: the prolific goal scorer. Yet, many fellow League One and League Two supporters’ criticise Bolton’s signing of Eoin Doyle as being based on “one good season” and it being “too risky” because he’s shown that perhaps we “don’t know what we’ll get”. The truth is, if you look at his Wikipedia career statistics, you don’t know exactly what you’ll get.

This is a piece on why those critiques of Bolton’s business are vaguely and generally correct yet, in this precise instance, completely incorrect.

In the 2019-20 season, in the EFL, only five players (three in the Championship, one in League One and one in League Two) reached the celebrated and much vaunted 20 goal mark. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the League One and League Two seasons’ but did not contribute to this low total of goal scorers as nobody else from those two divisions were on course to score 20 goals, based on their goal to game ratio. For example, Nicky Maynard had 14 in 33 for Mansfield so with only 9 games of the season to go, he was not on course to reach that 20-goal total; he finished second in the League Two goal scoring chart. 

The last time Bolton had a player hit 20+ goals was in 2001 when Michael Ricketts contributed 21 league goals in promotion to the Premier League.

11 seasons in the top flight as a side with flair players for half of that time but, as a club, punched above their weight and battled relegation the other half, followed by a decade of off-the-pitch chaos and styles of play in which the attacking intent was: “if we don’t concede, we can then maybe nick one” were not conditions for a poaching striker to thrive. 

The consistent 20-goal a season striker is not only not essential; it simply does not exist. A player will score 25 one season for a certain manager in a certain style of play but then 7 or 8 the following season with a different manager in a different style of play. For example, Eoin Doyle would not score 20+ this season in a Phil Parkinson team because no player has ever scored 20 or more league goals for a Phil Parkinson managed side; despite him being promoted with three different clubs. 

The thing that is essential: the tactics of the manager. 

Last season, Barrow created the most chances in the National League. They averaged 1.81 goals per 90 minutes. For context, Bolton averaged 0.79 last season and have averaged less than 1.81 for the last 23 years. 

Scott Quigley scored 20 in 35 for Barrow despite having only scored 10 in 28 previous appearances in the National League for Wrexham and Halifax. This is not a rising star or somebody that has come out of nowhere. At 27, this is a player identified as somebody who would fit Evatt’s system and be able to thrive in a side that creates lots of chances.

On to Bolton’s marquee signing. 

In 2017-18, Eoin Doyle scored 12 in 26 during the time in which Richie Wellens was manager of Oldham in League One. 

Oldham finished fourth from bottom and were relegated however they did not finish lower than 15th for any statistics related to chances created, shots taken, shots on target or any of those stats per 90 minutes. This shows that, despite struggling and eventually going down, Doyle did continue to score because the chances were being created; even in a weak side.

His following season at Bradford also ended in relegation. However, he scored 4 fewer goals in 14 more games that season. It is not a coincidence that he played in a Bradford team that created the least amount of chances of any team when playing at home and a team who failed to score in 20 of their 46 games that season, which was a league high.

Now, this is not to say that any striker can only be as good or as bad as their team allows. Some strikers score more than they should. In fact, Eoin Doyle is one of them.

Swindon, last season, had the second highest percentage of their shots hit the target and scored the second most amount of goals per game despite having the 18th most amount of shots in the division. 

So, despite quality chances being created, Swindon still took less shots than nearly everybody else. This highlights how impressive it was for Doyle to reach 25 goals. I’m not going to use the term xG because, although often helpful, it is frankly tedious and pretentious. Let’s just use the preferred terms of “efficiency” and the more football-y term of “clinical”. 

This is not an argument necessarily for or against the idea of actively searching and recruiting that “poacher”. It is more an argument to advocate a more balanced view before summarising a team’s problem as: “the only thing we’re missing is a 20-goal a season striker”.

The key is balance.

The balance being a combination of creating more chances, creating more good chances and ensuring that the player who has the responsibility of finishing the chances has plenty of them. This is good tactics and can be beneficial for any player. However, a good striker will then manage to create his own chances or finish the more difficult chances that have been created, this is not something you could say about “any player”.

It isn’t blind optimism and it isn’t short-sightedness based on “one good season” for Wanderers’ fans to be and get excited. 

There is a balance and a combination which could lead to a potentially very prolific season that Bolton Wanderers fans’ haven’t season for almost two decades. 

The Evolution of Evattism

In a Tifo podcast entitled Barrowcelona, Ian Evatt suggested his style of play and his intent was based on and influenced by playing under Ian Holloway at Blackpool.

That Blackpool team was, bluntly, fun. A gung-ho, let’s see who scores more approach that led them to the Premier League where they continued that style only to be relegated by losing 4-2 away to the champions Manchester United, after leading 2-1, in a fitting tribute to their season.

However, the gung-ho approach is not something I’d suggest we expect at Bolton. 

Although Evatt’s passing style of play and insistence on the constant movement of the ball has an emphasis on attack; the stats would suggests there is more to the former centre-half’s tactics than is perceived via the entertaining soundbites and clips.

Last season, Barrow had the most clean sheets in the National League (15). You could argue that the reason for this would be that averaging 59% possession every week means it is a rarity you concede a chance let alone a goal and that would be a fair argument.

Having said that, only Maidenhead and Yeovil collected more than Barrow’s 77 yellow cards last season. This would suggest that defensive efficiency is not just a by-product of attacking dominance. 

That defensive efficiency would be linked to the famous 6-second rule. Evatt cites this implementation as influenced by Guardiola. Winning the ball back within 6 seconds or foul. The second half of that rule tends to be an unspoken bit of the rule; or even something that is denied.

There are more elements of sophistication to the style of play and details we might see at Bolton next season as opposed to the Holloway ‘brand’. 

We could also see a minor adaptation to the fledgling philosophy of Evatt. Barrow conceded 39 goals last season. Of those 39, only 18 were not from a header, a set-piece or the penalty spot. The heights of the 3 most used defenders in Barrow’s back 3 were 6ft 3, 6ft and 6ft.

It is possibly a coincidence that Bolton have signed two defenders over 6ft 5 and one who is 6ft 4 to accompany another centre back who is also 6ft 5. However, I think it could be an attempt to find a solution to a reoccurring problem from last season for the manager. 

Ian Evatt has the flexibility and innovations of an impressive young coach combined with the assertiveness and motivation of an authoritative leading figure. He describes himself as a “modern day coach with old school values”. 

His drive, ability and personality makes objective success feel like an inevitably and just a bit of collateral on the search for subjective perfection. 

The Floor & The Ceiling

Moneyball is the term that is often used to describe a sports team using in-depth statistical data for their recruitment strategy. This has led to the diminished requirement for the scouting “eye-test”, however, that is still a tool that is utilised.

In the summer of 2016, Bolton Wanderers signed 11 players. 4 of the 11 were 26 or under, only 1 was under the age of 23. Bolton gained promotion and, if we are to be generous, the signings were made with the aim of guaranteed short-term success. 

There was little risk involved. They were well-known with solid careers and “enough” ability to complete the objectives of the 2016-17 season. 

4 years later, Bolton Wanderers are now in League Two following back-to-back relegations, a 12-point deduction and administration. The club began the month of July with 11 professionally contracted footballers. A combined total of 80 league appearances for the club. 

Now, of course, there were lots of reasons for this demise. However, it is fair to say that on-field planning and recruitment was never structured to be profitable, both on and off the pitch, in the medium to long term. The £6,000,000 sale of Gary Madine in January 2017 had not been forecasted by data analysts when he joined the club in 2015. 

A manager telling an owner “I think this 30 year-old right winger recently released by a mid-table Championship club would do a job for me on a 1 or 2-year deal” should not be how a club operates. 

The policy of signing well-known and “good enough” journeymen raises your floor but lowers your ceiling. 

A balance can be struck. 

To carry on this metaphor, you can sign a 32-year old striker who scored 28 goals in the division you’re playing in last season. This raises your floor. Bolton have all but guaranteed the avoidance of relegation or a lower-half finish with the signings of Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic. However, if there were 11 of these signings on 2 or 3-year deals, your ceiling next season and the season after would be limited.

There is undoubted risk. The signing of a 24-year old Guyanese centre-back from the Norwegian third tier is nothing but a risk. However, the use of modern scouting software and structured analysis of numbers as well as a trial period, that eye-test tool, means you are minimising those risks involved.

We do not know the “floor” of Reiss Greenidge. Unlike the signing of Mark Beevers in 2016, we don’t now know whether Greenidge will be cut out for the level we are playing at. However, we knew Beevers hadn’t been and probably wouldn’t be good enough in the Championship. Greenidge, on the other hand, could be valued at upwards of £1.5 or £2 million in 12 months time.

The risk and association with a gamble is reasonable when you look at the backgrounds of the most successful implementations of this philosophy in England. Matthew Benham at Brentford, a professional gambler and founder of Matchbook and Smartodds. Tony Bloom at Brighton, a professional poker player.  

In contrast to 2016, Bolton have now made 10 signings this summer. 7 are under the age of 26 and 3 are under the age of 23. 

Of course, it is a gamble as we do not know where that “floor” may drop to but Wanderers have also placed some money on the Doyle & Sarcevic insurance bet, just to be safe. For what it is worth, I trust the process and I think we might hit the jackpot. 

This Is Only The Beginning

It’s a gloomy Autumn afternoon. The smell and sound of on-pitch fireworks overwhelm the young, excite the bulk and irritate the old. 633 Squadron cuts through the mist as the cult-hero boy-to-man leader thumps a mascot’s ball to the corner where North meets East. This is it: the glory days.

A decade of perpetual chaos has ensured those glory days are a thing of nostalgic bliss and wonder. A decade that could only lead us to one place: our first season in the fourth tier in over 30 years; only our second season in the fourth tier ever.

Intentional neglect, natural erosion and a failure to adapt has allowed a proud institution to rely on a fragile life-support for almost 10 years now. We didn’t just fade away, we collapsed into almost nothing but dust.


This club has been weak and vulnerable for too long. The weak and vulnerable can get better, they can get stronger. There has been enough suffering now. The club is on the mend. 

With the first full season of the new decade only a month away, Bolton Wanderers has been acting rather differently to its recent few years. An ambitious ownership, an organised structure, a recognisable recruitment policy as well as the appointment of what seems to be an extremely impressive leader has emphasised one thing: it is a new era.

The lack of a more scientific & data-led approach had began to cripple Bolton, the financial mismanagement and actions of one man eventually finished that job.

It is reasonable to suggest that this is the most anticipated and most exciting pre-season since, maybe, those glory days. There is a relationship being rebuilt between the club and the supporters. There is that unknown and unquantifiable feeling of sheer possibility. Who knows what the ceiling is? Who knows what the peak is? 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be intending to write something every week in the build-up to 2020/21. I set up The Burnden Way in the summer of 2015. Since then, the only season in which we haven’t been promoted or relegated involved an 86th minute equaliser and 88th minute winner on the final day to avoid relegation. It’s never dull.

Be cautious for now but… the sorrowful hostility and volatility of recent years might just be over. Bolton Wanderers are on the way back.