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Reebok Stadium
Bolton Wanderers v Fulham
Saturday 14th March 2009, 3pm
Premier League
 James Baxter
(Neutral fan)


I currently live in Slovakia and have a few friends who follow the English Premier League. I visited the Reebok Stadium with one of them for the Fulham game on March 14th. I am originally a West Brom fan so our initial intention was to see them play at West Ham. Once that game had been moved to Monday evening, we decided to go to Bolton instead. In financial terms, we couldn't have chosen better since Bolton had very generously reduced ticket prices to just 10 pounds anywhere in the ground. We also had the feeling that Fulham's away record (no wins and just three goals scored in fourteen games) didn't reflect the football they play and that it might be a better game than the pundits were predicting.
 
We were staying in Nottingham and took the train up to the Reebok. It was an easy journey with only one change (in Manchester) necessary, though we did get off in Bolton since we knew the town itself offered more of interest to the visitor than the retail parks that surround the Reebok. We went for fish and chips in a truly fantastic (though unlicensed) fish and chip restaurant between the station and the tow -centre and a pint in a pub opposite the station called (I think) the Gatehouse. This was fairly empty but friendly enough and had multi-screen TV showing Sky Sports. From Bolton, itís five minutes by train to Horwich Parkway, where the stadium is.

By any objective criteria, the Reebok is an excellent stadium. Access by train is easy, there seem to be plenty of buses and the motorway is nearby. Inside, the concourses are spacious and legroom and viewing are first-rate. More personally, I love the design of the ground. The frontage, as you walk up from Horwich Parkway, makes a very positive impression and the colour schemes leave no doubt as to who plays here. This is in contrast with, say, the City of Manchester Stadium with its dull grey concrete and steel. Overall, I would say that, for its size, the Reebok must be just about the best ground in the country. Itís got more individuality than other modern grounds and it compares favourably with traditional venues such as Molineux, which suffers from its open corners, or the Hawthorns, which is let down by its small, cramped main stand.

As for the game itself, Fulham were by far the better side and deservedly won 3-1, thus doubling their away goal tally for the season. Bolton did score a fine goal but, apart from that and a ten-minute spell just after half-time, were completely outplayed. Their performance drained the enthusiasm out of the home crowd and, with Fulham having brought just 300 or so fans, there was very little atmosphere. Thatís a shame as Iím sure the Reebok is capable of generating great noise. The 10 pound tickets didnít even ensure a full-house; at 22,000, the crowd fell about 6,000 short of the groundís capacity.

Getting away was easy, with Horwich Parkway just two minutes walk from the ground. Fans are kept off the station platforms till trains arrive but that seems a reasonable enough precaution considering the crowds.

Overall it was a good day out and this is definitely a ground I would return to. The Reebok shows that a modern stadium on a retail park does not have to be unimaginatively designed and characterless. The ground cannot be blamed for the lack of atmosphere on this day ; Iím sure that, given a decent Bolton performance, or a bigger away following, the Reebok can be as noisy as it is comfortable and attractive.


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