“Bruce, Bruce, Bruce…”
The chants were for former Bolton manager Bruce Rioch, as he made his way to the stage during Sunday’s White Hot Reunion Dinner, held to remember the 20th anniversary of Bolton’s FA Cup victory at Liverpool.
Although staged in the Premier Suite at the Reebok Stadium, the event was organised independently of Bolton Wanderers by JMG10 Sports, John McGinlay’s newly formed promotion company, with proceeds going to three charities – The Gary Parkinson Trust Fund, Boot Out Breast Cancer and the Royal Bolton Hospital’s Children’s Ward. Most of the squad involved in the game attended, and as well as words from them, there was an auction of signed memorabilia , along with video highlights of the match, and a tribute to the late Dave Higson.
Not many gave Bolton a chance as they ventured to Anfield on 13th January 1993 for a third round replay. They were facing the cup holders, and a club who had won the League Championship not long before. Rioch wasn’t of that mindset.
“You don’t think that way. They didn’t think that way either,” he told compere Norman Prince, motioning toward the players. “The boys were confident. They knew it was a tough game but we knew we were good enough to win the game.”
As with the triumph at Arsenal, the following season, there was detailed preparation and a plan. This one involved winger David Lee, who would give the performance of his career.
“We swapped Didsy from the right to the left to have a go at their full back, and we worked on the training ground, one on one, feeding the ball down to the left, and saying to him, drag it with your right foot past him into the box, and he’ll tell you, we worked a week on that,” explained Rioch.
“When I look at the game, it’s the first time I’ve seen the game in a long time. The running ability of the players , the attacking ability of the players, the go and get at them ability of the players. Fantastic. But also, the defensive ability of the team was good. We played to the players’ strengths and that made the team.“
The Whites didn’t just win. They comprehensively outplayed Liverpool with an attacking display on their own patch, a fact acknowledged as the Kop applauded them off the pitch at the end. What were Rioch’s feelings at that point?
“Same as everybody else’s. Happy. It was a great achievement. I guess in many ways it was a kick start to the rest of the season. We played well. Football fans recognise, across the board, when a team plays well.”
David Lee paid a heartfelt tribute to his former boss as he made a presentation. “On behalf of all the players and all the staff that you worked with, we’ve got a memento for you and I think this sums up the true value of what we thought of you.
“Boss, you pulled us together, Made us a team, Bringing us success, Living the dream.
“You did that for us. You continued it at Bolton Wanderers, and Bolton Wanderers are where they are now, because of what you did for everybody at this football club,” he said, prompting a standing ovation that had been brewing for some minutes.
The last words came from the man who in three seasons, united supporters, brought much longed for success and laid the foundations for all that was to follow.
“There’s a saying goes. There’s a team behind the man. There’s a woman behind the man. There is a team behind the manager.
“The team was from the board of directors right the way down to the ground staff. I had great support from the boys. The coaching staff were magnificent. They really bought into the philosophy that we were bringing into the club. They worked enormous hours at the club at that time to get us up and running.
“The players were fantastic and their families. As you can see there’s an affinity between players club and manager that will last forever.
“But of course there’s the support, there’s you people. You were absolutely priceless to us. You eventually came in your great numbers and the value you give to a football club as supporters is immense. We just can’t tell you how important you are to us.”
– Richard McCormick