Gareth Farrelly played a key role in Wanderers’ return to the Premier League in 2001, and it was a promotion that led to eleven consecutive seasons in the top flight having failed to last more than a season at that level during a ground-breaking decade which was the 1990s.
The Irish midfielder spoke on the Here We Go Again podcast about how rejection from Preston North End prior to a move to Bolton spurred him on to prove to the Play-Off Final opponents that they had made a mistake in opting not to bring him to Deepdale. Farrelly described how that motivated him to help his employers secure a return to the top Premier League after a three-year absence.
‘Being honest, Preston were one of the clubs that were supposedly interested in me before I signed for Bolton, so there was always something inside me that recognised that they didn’t take the opportunity to sign me and I wanted to show them what they were missing out on.
‘I had then played against Preston for Bolton that season and I think we beat them comfortably every time we played them. I scored a couple of times against them and I wanted to show them that they’d made a mistake. I wanted to show them that categorically.
‘I was comfortable playing against the players in that Preston team because I was well aware of them, and I knew that I wanted to win against them and had an absolute hunger and desire to do so and show them that they made a mistake.
‘That was very much at the forefront of my mind and coming back to the competitive nature of the game, you come up against people all the time and I was absolutely driven to be the best I could possibly be at that time. Firstly, to get promoted with Bolton, but secondly to show them that they had an opportunity and didn’t take it, and that they’d listened to the wrong people about my character or fitness levels.
‘I’d managed to kick on after signing for Bolton and had an incredible season. That was kind of the culmination of that. People are driven and motivated by different things, but for me that was at the forefront of my mind.
Farrelly would remain with Bolton Wanderers until the latter stages of the 2003/04 season before joining Wigan Athletic, and he spoke about the Play-Off Final in Cardiff and how the ambition and aim of the group was always to get back to the Premier League.
‘Jussi (Jaaskelainen) did his cruciate ligaments towards the end of the season and it was a huge blow because he’d been absolutely exceptional that year. People were saying out of all the goalies out there, who would be able to come in and complement the team and be at a comparable level to what we had with Jussi. Then Matt (Clarke) came in and he was brilliant whilst he was here.
‘On that day I think we were too strong for Preston. But, he made a save from David Healy at 1-0 and I think that was probably the most he was tested that day. He dealt with than scenario with aplomb but on that day we were just too strong.
‘It was an important moment because even though we were the stronger of the two teams and comfortable on the day, Michael Ricketts’ late goal and then Ricardo Gardner’s goal after that made sure that the scoreline reflected that and that it would be a great day for us.
‘The goal was always to get to the Premier League, which is what everybody wanted. It was a huge moment for us to be able to get the club back into the top league. We weren’t talking about open top bus tours and turning up at the town hall, the play-offs had extended the season if you like. Everyone just went away and had a holiday and then came back looking forward and excited to test themselves against top players and teams in the Premier League.
‘As much as people had spoken about the team finishing in third never making it to the Premier League, no sooner had we been promoted, people were then saying that Bolton would be relegated by Christmas. Bolton aren’t good enough to be in the Premier League. Because of that, your motivation kind of changes. We wanted to prove people wrong.
‘We had a really, really strong group. If you look at the spine of that team, you’re talking about Jussi, you’re talking about Matt Clarke, Gudni Bergsson and Mike Whitlow. You’re talking about Per Frandsen who was a brilliant guy, Dean Holdsworth, Michael Ricketts. We had a good balance and a real blend of youth and experience at that time. It was a really good time.’
The full episode with Gareth Farrelly is available to listen to on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.