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Club History

A detailed overview of Bolton Wanderers Football Club's history since its original foundation in 1874. For club honours click HERE and for stadium history, click HERE.

Although initially formed in 1874 as Christ Church FC by the Reverend Joseph Farrall Wright, Perpetual curate of Christ Church Bolton and Thomas Ogden, the schoolmaster at the adjacent church school in 1874 as Christ Church F.C, the football club proceeded to rename themselves as Bolton Wanderers three years later in 1877 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The club had struggled to find a permanent ground to play on during the early years of its existence with three different grounds used in four years – a situation which led them to nickname themselves as ‘Wanderers’.

From here on in, Bolton Wanderers grew in stature and in 1888, they were one of the 12 founding members of the Football League as we know it today alongside Accrington Stanley, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wanderers became a further part of history as forward Kenny Davenport scored the first ever Football League goal against Derby County at 3.47pm on September 8, 1888.

This fact only came to light meanwhile in 2013 when football author Mark Metcalf and librarian Robert Boyling discovered that the kick-off had been delayed in Aston Villa’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers – a match in which Gershom Cox’s own goal was deemed to be the first in the league’s history.

In November 2016, a special blue plaque was unveiled on the side of Lostock Electricals Projects Company on Bankfield Street.

Having moved into their Pikes Lane ground 1881, in 1895, they made the switch to Burnden Park located on Manchester Road – a venue which they called home for a further 102 years.

Just a year before moving into Burnden meanwhile, the Whites reached the FA Cup Final for the first time but lost 4-1 to Notts County at Everton’s Goodison Park and then a decade later, they were runners-up in the competition yet again, this time coming out on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline against Manchester City at Crystal Palace.

The club would only have to wait just under two decades though to taste success in the world’s most famous cup competition…

In April 1923, the Trotters won their first major trophy at the third time of asking when dispatching with the challenge of West Ham United in the first ever FA Cup Final held at Wembley Stadium.

The game, known as the White Horse Final, was played in front of an estimated 127,000 supporters with striker David Jack scoring the first goal in the national stadium’s history.

This success proved to be a catalyst for the Whites throughout the 1920s and in 1926, they defeated Manchester City by a single goal in a game attended by over 91,000 fans and then just three years later, they made it a hat-trick of FA Cup Final victories by running out 2-0 winners over Portsmouth.

The latter meanwhile came despite being forced to sell starlet David Jack to Arsenal a year previous for a then record fee of £10,890.

Wartime Wanderers and the Burnden Park Disaster (1935-1946)
The years of the Second World War saw most of Wanderers' playing staff dispatched to serve their country, a rare occurrence within elite football, as top sportsmen were usually assigned to physical training assignments away from enemy fire.

However, 15 Bolton players, led by captain Harry Goslin, volunteered for active service in 1939 and were enlisted in the 53rd Bolton Artillery regiment.

By the end of the war, 32 of the 35 pre-war professionals saw action in the British forces. The only fatality was Goslin himself who was killed by shrapnel shortly before Christmas 1943.

Upon their return to the playing field following the end of the war, Wanderers were to unfortunately suffer a horrific incident at their Burnden Park home on March 9, 1946 in which 33 Bolton fans were crushed to death in an FA Cup quarter final tie against Stoke City.

At the time the worst tragedy in British football history, another 400 were injured with there an estimated 67,000-strong crowd crammed in for the game. The disaster itself led to Moelwyn Hughes's official report, which recommended more rigorous control of crowd sizes.

The club marked the 70th anniversary of the disaster back in 2016, with a story which has been forgotten by many brought to the fore once again.

Thirty-four years after their last Wembley appearance, Bolton returned to the national stadium for one of the most famous FA Cup finals of all time – The Stanley Matthews Final of 1953.

Despite their best efforts however, the Whites lost the game to Blackpool 4–3 after gaining a 3–1 lead with the Seasiders victorious thanks to Matthews and the goals of Stan Mortensen.

Just five years later however, Bolton picked up their fourth FA Cup trophy when defeating a Manchester United team still reeling from the Munich Air Disaster just a few months earlier.

Two Nat Lofthouse goals were ultimately the difference on the day in front of a crowd of 100,000, with the Lion of Vienna famously injuring United keeper Harry Gregg in the process of scoring his second at the national stadium.

From 1935 to 1964, Bolton had enjoyed an uninterrupted stay in the top flight. Come the end of the 1963/64 campaign however, the club suffered relegation to the Second Division before suffering a similar fate to the Third Division in 1971.

Promoted back to the second tier in 1973, the club spent just five years at that level before securing promotion back to the First Division in 1978, winning the league title along the way.

In the years that followed however, the Whites suffered hardships and come 1987, they were relegated to the Fourth Division for the first time in their history.

Despite this set-back however, the Trotters bounced back at the first attempt and just a year later, won the Sherpa Van Trophy at Wembley Stadium courtesy of an emphatic 4-1 victory over Torquay United.

Although consigned to the Third Division for the early stages of the 1990s, it was during this time that Wanderers earned themselves a name for their impressive performances in the FA Cup.

Firstly defeating Liverpool at Anfield in a third-round replay – a game dubbed as White Hot as goals from John McGinlay and Andy Walker secured the Whites’ progression - they then did similar against Arsenal in 1994.

With the former done whilst as a third-tier outfit, Bolton Wanderers returned to the Second Division come the end of the 1992/93 campaign and just two years later, they became a Premiership outfit for the very first time…

In early 1995, Bolton appeared at Wembley Stadium in the League Cup Final against Liverpool, only to suffer a narrow 2-1 defeat to their counterparts from Anfield.

Just a few months later however, they returned to the national stadium to take on Reading in the Play-Off Final for a place in English football’s top flight – a game which would go on to be one of the most memorable of its kind.

Finding themselves two goals down to the Royals early on, Keith Branagan was the hero for Bolton as he saved a penalty kick and in turn, kick-started the Trotters’ revival in the clash.

Owen Coyle and Fabian de Freitas forced extra-time in front of 64,107 supporters, before the latter and Mixu Paatelainen also struck in the additional 30 minutes to complete a turnaround which had previously seemed impossible.

Remaining in the Premiership for just a solitary season however, the Whites’ season back in Division One the following year was certainly one to remember for the club as they romped to the league title, collecting 98 points and 100 goals.

The year of 1997 also saw the club move from their home of Burnden Park into their current home of Macron Stadium, then known as the Reebok Stadium.

Wanderers’ first game at their new ground was a goalless top flight encounter with Everton on September 1, 1997.

It would be a match shrouded in controversy however as Gerry Taggart’s header was deemed not to have crossed the line – a decision which ultimately cost Bolton dearly as they were relegated on goal difference come the end of the season.

Reaching the Division One Play-Off Final in 1999, they lost 2-0 to Watford and then returned to Wembley a year later for the semi-finals of the FA Cup, only to be defeated by Aston Villa on penalties.

Now under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce, in 2001 the Whites found their way back to the Premiership via the play-offs, running out 3-0 winners over Preston North End at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff courtesy of goals from Gareth Farrelly, Michael Ricketts and Ricardo Gardner.

Between the years of 2001 and 2012, Wanderers remained a Premiership outfit. Their stay however wasn’t without a few close shaves, with them staving off relegation in both the 2001/02 and 2002/03 campaigns before pushing on and cementing their place amongst England’s elite.

In 2004 meanwhile, they reached the Carling Cup Final only to be defeated by Middlesbrough in Cardiff, but the following season saw Wanderers secure qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history courtesy of a sixth-place finish in the Premiership’s league standings.

Going on to reach the last 32 of the competition in 2005/06, eventually bowing out to Marseille, they featured once again in the competition in 2007/08, earning one of their most memorable results against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

This particular result came following the departure of manager Sam Allardyce earlier in the year and was done under Gary Megson’s tutelage.

Seeing their European journey come to an end at the last-16 stage courtesy of a two-legged defeat to Sporting Lisbon, that particular season also saw the Trotters stave off relegation despite being four points adrift of safety at the start of April.

Going on to earn a number of mid-table finishes in the years that followed, an FA Cup semi-final appearance against Stoke City in 2011 under the stewardship of former player Owen Coyle marked the club’s first visit to the new Wembley, but it was ultimately a day of disappointment for the Whites.

And a year later, the club’s eleven-year stay in the Premier League came to an end as they were relegated on the final day of the campaign against the aforementioned Potters.

Following the club’s demotion to the second tier of English football, Coyle departed the Whites just two months into the season and was replaced with Dougie Freedman.

The Scot came within a whisker of leading Bolton into the play-offs in 2013 too, with the Whites being denied a place in the top six courtesy of their inferior goal difference to Leicester City’s.

In the years that followed, Wanderers looked to force their way into the reckoning for a top flight return but unfortunately, in 2015/16 – a season which saw Chairman Phil Gartside pass away - the club suffered relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in 23 years.

Finding themselves in unknown territory and without a manager following the departure of Neil Lennon in March 2016, the club turned to former Bradford City boss Phil Parkinson as they looked to bounce back to the second tier at the first time of asking.

Arriving at Macron Stadium in June 2016, the former Reading and Bury midfielder rejuvenated a football club which had been left licking its wounds after a gut-wrenching campaign the year previous.

Boasting an impressive pedigree from his time spent with the Bantams, Parkinson’s efforts ultimately led Wanderers back to the Sky Bet Championship after just a solitary campaign in the third tier, finishing as runners-up behind eventual champions Sheffield United in a campaign to remember for all associated with Bolton Wanderers Football Club.