Few players did more to ensure Bolton Wanderers’ resurgence from third-tier strugglers to Premier League outfit in the 1990s than striker Andy Walker. The Scottish ace netted in two unforgettable cup ties, and helped secure promotion from the old Division Two in 1992-93 with a veritable raft of goals.
So with Bolton’s push for promotion from League One gathering momentum once again, Ladbrokes News caught up with the Trotters terrace hero to discuss Phil Parkinson, their ‘great chance’ of promotion this season, and more…
LN: The Trotters are back to winning ways after a brief wobble, and now just two points below second-placed Scunthorpe United, with a game in hand. Are you backing them to finish in the automatic spots?
AW: I think they’ve got a great chance of finishing in the top two. They’ve got so much experience in that squad – the likes of Jay Spearing and Gary Madine – and a manager in Phil Parkinson who demands high standards, and is someone who players respect massively.
Obviously losing Zach Clough was a blow, but after a four-game winless run, they’ve bounced back well. It’s tough losing a creative spark, but bringing in Filipe Morais from Bradford City has been a big boost in the Bolton attack, and I’m sure he’ll create plenty of chances in the games between now and the end of the season.
They’ll be desperate not to finish in the play-off spots, because they often favour the team who get that bit of momentum and just sneak into the top-six.
LN: Phil Parkinson came in during the summer and has really turned around the fortunes of a side who had endured such a dismal campaign in the Championship. How impressed have you been with the job he’s done, in quite difficult circumstances?
AW: Obviously the transfer embargo has made things tough at the club, but that just highlights what a great job Phil has done.
I remember speaking to him when he was in charge at Bradford City, and he always struck me as a very focused, well-prepared guy.
But despite the transfer issues, the Bolton job has offered something fresh for Phil. He’d been at Bradford for five seasons, and moving to a club with the history of Bolton and the infrastructure they have at the Macron Stadium is obviously going to be tough to turn down.
And it’s been a good move for both manager and club. He’s exactly the kind of manager Bolton need to get results, and he knows his way around the lower leagues. He knows what it takes to get success and win promotion.
LN: One thing that has been notable has been how much the fans have stayed with Bolton this season. They’ve been averaging crowds of over 14,000 in the third tier this season. How important do you think that support is to the club’s revival?
AW: It has a massive impact. Those supporters, when they’re behind you, can put a yard on your stride. And sometimes that makes all the difference.
I didn’t get to experience that as a player at the present-day ground, but back in the Burnden Park days, there was always a real core of very vociferous fans. And I think that’s still the case now.
I certainly wouldn’t underestimate the impact of a really strong home and away support at any club, and that’s something they’ve always had at Bolton.
LN: Looking at the squad Phil’s assembled, they’ve certainly got a lot of talent – the likes of Morais, Josh Vela and Jay Spearing. Who do you see as being their key men as we head into the business end of the season?
AW: I think having a strong, settled defence is one of the key things, which they have at centre-back with David Wheater and Mark Beevers. And if you do have to change things around a bit at the back, it’s good that they can bring in players like Dean Moxey [who started the 1-1 draw away at MK Dons].
You’ve mentioned Vela and Spearing, they’re both quality players, and have both made an impact in big games.
It’s a team effort though. It’s also about keeping ahead of Fleetwood and Bradford, who aren’t too far behind, and not giving them an opportunity to get a sniff of the automatic promotion spots.
LN: However, the Championship is obviously the aim. The club had that awful 24th-placed finish last time they were in the division (2015-16). But do you think they’re better equipped to handle it now?
AW: I think so. They’ve got a fresh manager in Phil, and I think he’s enthused by working at Bolton.
If they get automatic promotion, it already gets them off to a good start, because it gives him more time to examine what’s required for the bigger challenges in the Championship.
I hope things are cleared up this summer with the embargo, and that the club are able to spend again on the players they need to succeed at that level – because competition in the Championship is fierce.
LN: Finally, you obviously enjoyed three very successful years at Bolton – helping the club reach promotion from the old Division Two, and scoring the winner to knock then-holders Liverpool out of the FA Cup. What are your fondest memories of life with the Trotters?
AW: Scoring the winner at Anfield in that era was about as good as it gets, and I also managed to get on the scoresheet when we won 3-1 at Arsenal in the FA Cup in 1994.
It was great to play alongside some exuberant, hugely talented young guys like Alan Stubbs and Jason McAteer, and then some great experienced pros like Julian Darby and Phil Brown.
I’m very proud and pleased to have played for Bolton. We had some really notable success in the cups, and in winning promotion – and a manager in Bruce Rioch who was great with us.
Next up for Phil Parkinson’s men is a trip to Bradford this weekend, with 13/5 on offer for the Trotters to chalk up a vital win.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing