For fans of lower league clubs, glory is served in small doses. A win over local rivals, the occasional promotion push, or best of all, turning over one of the big boys in a cup game. For the most part, those things don’t happen often, but for John McGinlay, playing under Bruce Rioch at Bolton Wanderers, they were almost commonplace.
“People continuously say to you. ‘When was your best night? When was your best game? We were spoilt. We had so many and every game we had has a different meaning and a different thought,” he says.
“The Liverpool game stands out because it was Anfield. Kenny Dalglish was always my favourite player growing up when he played for Celtic. Then he moved to Liverpool, so Liverpool became my second team, because of him. Then, Graeme Souness playing for Scotland. It meant a lot personally to me because of that, to go there, you know, and touch the Anfield sign and all that.”
Not many gave Bolton a chance as they travelled to meet Liverpool in an FA Cup replay. Not least, because a two goal lead had been surrendered in the first game at Burnden Park. It seemed the opportunity had gone.
“We played Liverpool at home on that Sunday morning and the club had turned off the undersoil heating on the Thursday. They said it broke down, but they turned it off. And they turned it off to get on Liverpool’s nerves. Souness turned up and he was going ballistic. He was pointing the finger and calling everybody – so it’s worked. Straight away you know they’re on a downer. ‘Oh Bolton, they’ve undersoil heating on the pitch, we can knock the ball about.’
“Really we should have seen the game out. It was probably naivety and lack of experience at that level that cost us and Liverpool came back and stole a 2-2 draw.
“My biggest recollection would be Graeme Souness standing on the touchline just as you go up the tunnel onto the pitch. Standing there in a black long coat with a fur collar, all smug and saying ‘Bolton nearly pulled one over on us today but we’ve got them back at Anfield and we’ll put it right there.’
“Well everybody says that was Bolton’s chance. They’ll put five or six past you at Anfield, but tell you what, it’s been a great run, your boys did well.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. In front of eight thousand travelling fans, the cup holders were given a footballing lesson on their own turf. Winger David Lee had an inspired game and it was from his cross that McGinlay headed the visitors into an early lead.
In the second half, Andy Walker doubled the score to give the result a more emphatic feel, with McGinlay this time the provider. It would have been no surprise to find his fellow Scot in the right place.
“Myself and Andy. We were brought together, and from the first time we played there was something there. He knew where I’d be, I knew where he’d be. It was fate. We complimented each other.
“I brought probably the physical side to it. Andy liked to receive the ball with his back to goal. Andy would roll somebody, get a quick shot at goal, he’d bring people into play whereas I would run the channels. The one thing we both did was score goals.
“Predominantly Andy liked to run across the near post, I liked to peel off at the back post. That was a thing we did opposite but we were in the box so if it missed Andy, I’d be on the end of it, if it came the other side and missed me, Andy would be there. It was just one of those things that clicked.”
These days Liverpool are a much diminished force, but in the early nineties, beating them in front of the Kop would have been seen as doing things the hard way. McGinlay feels that the script had already been written.
“I’m a big believer in fate. We’re twenty years on from what I would call the good times, kick starting us, putting us back on the map.
“If we had won that game on a Sunday, we wouldn’t have been put on the map like we were by going to Anfield and winning two nil. That really opened peoples’ eyes. That was the one.”
Buoyed by that triumph, the Wanderers began to climb the table, and with a few games remaining had an outside chance of automatic promotion. The next milestone came in less salubrious surroundings.
“We’d gone to Hull and really had to win out the rest of the season. It was a Friday night game, the old ground, Boothferry Park. We had fantastic support that night. We had all round one end and half way down the other side of the stadium. Half the stadium we had, but the main lot behind the goal were the ones that were creating the atmosphere. “
At half-time, the Whites were one goal, and one man down. “Alan Stubbs got sent off in the first half. Half time, bit of a rallying call. Change the formation a bit. Still flooding people forward as much as we can, but we know if we concede another goal, basically we’re not going to win the game. So David Lee’s tearing them up on the wing, got some decent movement and stuff like that. We threw absolutely everything at them in that second half. They were clinging on by their finger nails.”
The equaliser came via a Dean Windass own goal, and then in the dying minutes, McGinlay bagged the winner. “It was either David Burke or Mark Patterson. The ball came over. One of their players had headed it out to the corner of the box. I think it was either Burkey or Paddy had struck the ball back into the box. I’m in the six yard box, got a touch on it and scored the goal.
“Then there was pandemonium. It looked like the whole end behind the goal flooded onto the pitch. The hoardings had all been pushed down, and the fans were running about dancing and going crazy and all of a sudden you start to think ‘Jesus, you need to get off the pitch because we don’t want the game called off.’ The referee had come off. Everybody off the pitch. The Police had all been called in.”
“You look on the TV, now when you see it there’s one of their players lying on the floor so obviously somebody had chinned him or whatever.”
Bolton went on to be promoted as runners up, finishing the season with five consecutive victories. McGinlay is in no doubt about the significance of that game at Hull, or of the part played by the fans.
“There’s no lesser importance on that night than there was really at Anfield or any other big game. It was a huge game, but I think being down to ten men, the supporters got us through that night, they were willing us on.
“That’s what you try to put through to these players nowadays. Give the supporters something to shout about and they’ll get behind you. We were toward the bottom of the league, but the confidence grew, the supporters’ confidence grew and all of a sudden now, we’re unbeatable. And I’m sure the supporters felt that way as well, because they’d created that. The supporters were fantastic that night.”
Next up: The marble halls of Highbury and a man called Dave.
– Richard McCormick