The clock on top of the North Stand at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium seemed to have stopped. At least, that’s how it seemed to the travelling fans of Bolton Wanderers.
It was 19th April 2008 and the Whites, in a desperate battle against relegation, were 1-0 up thanks to an unlikely hero, who may yet play a role in the future of the club. The minutes ticked by. Slowly.
This was the time of Gary Megson, whose appointment split the fans. Some hated him immediately The others took a bit longer. The Ginger One pitched up with Bolton bottom of the Premier League after Sammy Lee had become badly unstuck.
Yet with victory at Reading the following February, the Whites were four points clear of the drop zone after some serious spending in the transfer window. Then came a disastrous run. Ten league games without a win. An engineered exit from the UEFA Cup. A loss at Wigan, despite playing against ten men for 85 minutes, and another reverse at home against Arsenal, after being two goals up, with the opposition again a man short. A 4-0 thumping at Aston Villa the week after seemed to be the end. With five games to go, there was a four point gap between Megson’s men and safety.
A home win against old fall guys West Ham, gave a little hope, enough so that the away allocation for the game at Middlesbrough was sold out. The day turned out to be memorable.
If Bolton’s players were fired up it didn’t show. Boro, themselves not out of the relegation fight, started quickly. But for bad luck, worse finishing and inspirational goal keeping from Ali Al Habsi, the home side would have been out of sight within ten minutes.
But then the visitors began to assert themselves and at half-time the scores were level. After sixty minutes the away support got what they came for. Middlesbrough keeper Ross Turnball parried Gary Cahill’s header and Gavin McCann stabbed the ball home from close range. There was pandemonium behind the goals. The Whites had to withstand some late pressure, but held on to secure three points. The fightback was on.
What Happened Next
With three wins and two draws in the last five games, Bolton stayed up. Gary Megson continued as manager and splashed out even more money that the club hadn’t got. But the relationship with the Reebok faithful was always toxic, and when he was sacked, after a poor start to the 2009-10 campaign, everyone was relieved. Apart from Mrs Megson, who had to endure her husband’s continual assertion that “Bolton were below Derby when I arrived.” When last heard she’d barricaded herself into the coal shed.
Ironically, Megson’s last act as Bolton manager was to bring Gavin McCann on as a substitute, against fellow relegation strugglers Hull City, who almost immediately equalised, having been 2-0 down at one stage.
In 2009, McCann’s move to Bolton from Aston Villa came under scrutiny, when his former agent Tony McGill, sued the midfielder for breach of contract, their business relationship having been severed as part of the move. McCann settled out of court.
Now, as reported by Manny Road some time ago, McGill is taking legal action against chairman Phil Gartside, Sammy Lee, former general manager Frank McParland and club secretary Simon Marland, along with several employees of sports agency SEM, alleging loss of earnings. The trial will take place in April 2014 in Manchester.
After a period of gardening leave, Gary Megson joined Sheffield Wednesday, claiming that he was only stepping down to League One, because of his special feeling for that club. Then they sacked him.
Now, twenty one months later. he is reported to be joining Scunthorpe. In League Two. The Ginger One hasn’t yet articulated his emotions toward the North Lincolnshire outfit.
Perhaps Mrs Megson can come out now.
– Richard McCormick