For Bolton Wanderers, the 1993-94 season was one of consolidation in the league after a hard won promotion. In the FA Cup, it was an entirely different matter.
Everton were dispatched in a replay at Goodison Park, with the Whites coming from two goals down to win 3-2. That left an enticing fourth round date with Arsenal at Burnden Park. For a while it seemed as if that would be the end of the run, but Owen Coyle equalised late on to secure a 2-2 draw.
If Bolton had been given little chance at Anfield the year before, they were afforded none at all going to Highbury. Arsenal didn’t lose to lower league opposition, especially not on their own patch. John McGinlay was well aware of the difficulties to be faced.
“They were a good side at the time. They had the England back four basically. Cup holders as well,” he says. The Scot was equally impressed on arrival in North London.
“Walking in, there’s all this marble. You see all the statues, Herbert Chapman and all the busts and everything else there. I always remember going in. Heated floor in the dressing room – ‘Get your socks and shoes off, walk about on this floor!’
“It is used to annoy you, the old grounds, they used to hose them so you’re going to be wet. You had to put your towel down and stand on that.”
The deference didn’t extend onto the pitch as Bolton got off to a flying start. The ball was cleared from a Mark Patterson corner. Phil Brown hooked the ball back in over his shoulder and McGinlay got on the end of it to put the visitors one up. Alan Smith equalised before half-time for the Gunners.
The game moved to extra time. Under pressure, as they had been for much of the game, Bolton hit Arsenal on the break.
“Owen Coyle hit the post. Jason McAteer hit this ball. Didn’t need to hit it that hard. He could have side footed it into the net, but he laced it. It went like an absolute bullet. He could have ballooned it over the bloody roof!
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As soon as we scored that goal, they were on their knees. I remember standing next to Tony Adams and he’s bent over double, his hands on his knees, couldn’t even breathe.
“Then we broke away again. David Lee took the ball, I went right, Andy went left. He’s rolled the ball into Andy. Unbelievable strike. Bottom corner, 3-1.”
The Wanderers weren’t done yet. Tony Kelly had the ball in the net from a free-kick after David Lee had been upended. Referee Gerald Ashby ordered it to be retaken and sent off Arsenal’s Martin Keown. Neither decision has ever been explained. McGinlay felt for his team mate.
“I always look back at that and it short changed Tony. He’s had a great career but that was like icing on the cake.”
Post-game, Bruce Rioch revealed that his side had played to a very specific game plan. He wouldn’t have known it at the time, but given the modern day insistence that Arsenal play football to be savoured, with scarcely a long ball in sight, his remarks had a delicious irony.
“Well we knew, we were going to face quite a lot of aerial threat,” he said. “We worked extremely hard on defensive work, defensive set plays, defending in the box, not defending too far up. Defend a little bit deeper with the onus on trying to break out and score goals.”
No account of that era could be complete without mention of the late Dave Higson whose commentaries on the Roadrunner videos capture perfectly the mood at that time. Slick they weren’t, but then that was never the intention. In an age before wall to wall coverage of even lower league football, the recordings provide a unique historical perspective. John McGinlay remembers with affection the man who was perhaps Bolton’s most passionate fan.
“Dave Higson was not just a character. It meant so much to him personally as well. You could go through every game he’s ever done and pick something out and say ‘that was brilliant.’ He didn’t even realise what he was doing himself.
“When we played Hull that game. When I hit the winner. I remember he’s going ‘oh what a man!’ and when it’s just dying down, because all the crowd came on, their left back lying on the floor, because he’d been sparked, he goes, ‘we’ll sell some T-shirts now!’
Higson’s feelings for the club and those connected with it were mutual, as far as McGinlay’s team mates went. “The players loved him,” he explains. “The players would have done anything for him.”
– Richard McCormick