Reebok Stadium - Bolton Wanderers FC
Saturday 11th August 2007
V Newcastle United, Premier League, 3pm
By Kevin Grant
The return of Big Sam Allardyce!
First game of the 2007-8 season for Newcastle at Bolton. This was my first ever away game, so I was totally up for this. However, I was a bit apprehensive as I had not managed to get a ticket for the away end and was having to content myself with a seat in the South Stand, just to the right of the away supporters (my lot!).
I had never been near Bolton before and had set off early by car along the M62. I had taken confidence from the fact that half of all traffic contained black and white scarves and plenty of smiling faces.
The Reebok itself is very easy to get to and is only a roundabout or so off the motorway. I had no problem parking inside the station at Horwich Parkway, which is literally a short street away from the ground. The ground from outside looks impressive and is a good design. The surrounding area seemed well catered to receive large volumes of people and it had a safe feel to it.
It was a burning hot August day and, as I was early, I decided to go by train into Bolton itself. This is only 5 minutes or so and the ticket only cost a couple of quid. Had a good look around, but the centre itself appears to be a bit run down (particularly up by the bus station).
After a hot dog and a sun bathe I took the train back to the ground. There was plenty of singing from both sets of supporters on the train and whilst walking over the railway bridge towards the ground. No violent edge to it though - just lads winding it up for the game. I had spent the journey chatting to a Bolton season ticket holder of many years and we swapped inside information on the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams; he didn't sound too optimistic, which surprised me considering Bolton's recent record over Newcastle!
The ground by now was looking busier. It was easy to get through the new turn-stiles, no queuing, and inside the enclosure and toilets were very clean. I shut my eyes after seeing Sunderland score against Tottenham on the T.V.s around this area.
Emerging into the ground itself, with stewards pointing me to my seat, it struck me how symmetrical the ground is. The design is excellent although it is not as imposing as St James Park which has it's gigantic cantilever stand. The pitch was looking like pitches do at the start of the season and there appeared to be a fullish house.
I was sitting next to a family one side and a wide boy on the other. Both were friendly in their own way, but I was a bit anxious when wide boy was joined his mates who appeared to be the worse for wear. As it turned out they were good humoured enough.
The game began and Bolton just could not get out of the blocks. We scored in quick succession. To be honest, Bolton would be disappointed with the manner in which all three goals were conceded. The first free kick just was just a cross which sailed in without anybody getting close. Martins was given too much space for his spectacular bicycle kick and the third was a deflection. Only former toon legend Gary Speed posed a striking threat with an effort cleared off the line.
Bolton were failing to pressure Newcastle and had little of the ball. When they got it, they lost it. Newcastle didn't need a second invitation and played fluently with purpose and pace. Although Bolton improved for about 10 minutes in the second half, after they pulled a goal back, there challenge evaporated.
I think the occasion of Big Sam Allardyce's return had got to the home fans. They simply had nothing to shout about. I'm sure if Bolton had scored first the roof would have come off, but every time a chant was started by the Bolton drummers, Newcastle fans were drowning them out with chants of Big Sam's black and white army. It doesn't take much to get the geordies up for a game of football (well it doesn't take anything really), but three cheap goals, a new squad and a burning hot away day send them in to ecstasy!
There was an American football team who were visiting the area who were seated in front of me. They were clearly impressed and excited by the atmosphere inside the ground and enjoyed the exchange of chants between the sets of fans. The screen in the corner was handy for re-play action and is something that SJP have not taken up yet.
After the game, it was straight back to the car, but you need to wait for an hour or so before you can get around the roundabout and get back onto the M62. In burning hot weather in a convertible that was a luxury, but on a cold Monday night in February, I'm not so sure!
Anyway, memorable day out, arriving back home exhilarated and knackered!
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