Reebok Stadium - Bolton Wanderers FC
Sunday 13th January 2008
V Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, 4pm
By Andy Hall
This was my fifth trip to the Reebok, the scene of some of my best memories following the Rovers, my previous visits having seen two wins and two last-gasp equalizers, so I had reason to feel cautiously optimistic on my journey to the ground from my home in Manchester, despite our dreadful humiliation at the hands of Coventry City in the cup the previous weekend.
That journey was slightly disrupted as it was a Sunday and so a rail replacement service was operating between Manchester and Bolton. At Bolton station there were a large number of both home and away fans, and the atmosphere seemed fairly good-natured, with rival fans exchanging banter on the short journey to Horwich Parkway, the station which is all of two minutes walk away from the Stadium itself. I have to say that although I’m not really a fan of modern, out-of-town Stadia (no decent pubs nearby, ridiculous Sponsor-dictated names, the feeling that you could be in Wigan or Derby or anywhere and everything would be exactly the same), the ease of access to the Reebok whether travelling by car or train is pretty much unbeatable. Another positive is that there are plenty of places to eat in the adjoining retail park, a couple of enormous sports shops to browse if you’ve got time to kill, and I suppose if you wanted to you could combine a day out at the Reebok with a trip to the Cinema.
Once inside the ground we discovered that our seats were in the very bottom row of the away section but we still had a decent view of the pitch and were lucky that all three goals were at our end! Although it is frequently criticised, I do quite like the design of the Reebok – if nothing else at least it has a bit of individuality compared to many of the identi-bowls in the Premiership and Championship these days. One thing I especially enjoy is the copious amount of legroom. Being 6 foot 4 this is quite a big issue for me and the Reebok is the second best ground I have visited in this respect, after Wembley.
The actual game was pretty uneventful for most of the first half, with neither side looking convincing and both struggling to create much in the way of real opportunities. It was only enlivened by Kevin Nolan’s fantastic volley just before the break which woke up the uncharacteristically subdued crowd (I know it was a miserable Sunday afternoon but this is supposed to be a local derby!) and was replayed an unnecessary number of times on the big screen to our right.
The goal, and Mark Hughes’ half-time rollicking which doubtless followed also seemed to wake up the visitors and Rovers were well on top throughout the second half, Chris Samba benefiting from some dubious defending to make the scores level before a late counter-attack led to substitute Jason Roberts’ powerful run and composed finish stealing the win. The visiting fans’ celebrations were unsurprisingly noisy and extended, and I feared the unfeasibly large number of police who had spent the entire match stood in the corner staring at us menacingly might actually have some trouble to deal with outside as they earned their Sunday overtime.
I covered my Rovers shirt and
walked quickly back to the station, where I was glad to see that a train was
waiting and had enough carriages for everyone to have a seat, which makes a
refreshing change for the regular train traveller. I needn’t have worried
however, as again the two sets of supporters traded nothing more than one or
two jokey insults (jokey on our part anyway, a few bitter Boltonians
appeared distinctly unamused) and I made it back to Manchester without
incident, but still buzzing from yet another late goal at the Reebok. I love
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