John McGinlay still holds a place close to the hearts of Wanderers fans far and wide for his significant contribution to the football club throughout much of the 1990s. The Scottish striker who found the net 118 times during five years with the club spoke on the Here We Go Again podcast about his relationship with Nat Lofthouse, the difficulties of playing in the Premier League in 1995/96 and a rivalry with Wolves.
Discussing the Legendary Bolton forward Nat Lofthouse, McGinlay said:
‘For a man who did so much in his career he was so humble. He never spoke about himself and never mentioned himself. He always came across like he was more interested in you, and he was genuinely.
‘You could speak to many players and they’d tell you the same thing, he was always there and it was a case of, if you were having a hard time he’d put the arm around you and have a walk around the pitch with you. If you hadn’t been scoring, he’d say: ‘Come on cocker, keep going and don’t be worried. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’
‘He was just unbelievable, and I think as a focal point for the football club he was and always will be the main man. People talk about legends and they talk about this and that; we’ve got one legend and that’s him. The rest of us have done a good job to a certain extent, but he’s the man.
‘He’s the focal point of this football club and always will be. But he was such a gentleman. A humble, humble man who just wanted Bolton Wanderers Football Club to do well.
A key part of a team that managed to achieve promotion to the Premier League for the first time in May 1995 after a topsy-turvy play-off final victory against Reading at Wembley, McGinlay explained the difficulties of a season in the top flight that followed the departure of Manager Bruce Rioch to Arsenal and conundrum of two men in joint-charge of the side.
‘Looking back on that first promotion to the Premier League, we probably weren’t ready for it. We lost Bruce (Rioch) to Arsenal just after the play-off final and initially we had Colin Todd and Roy McFarland as joint managers. In my own personal opinion, it never worked. Roy was a lovely man, a real good man and Colin was the same. They were both ex-team mates and played with each other at Derby County. They obviously got on well together but I think you need a defining number one.
‘It was difficult because I was club captain at that time and players would come to me and say: ‘Well, who do we go and speak to?’ because if you went to one, it looked like you were undermining the other one. I was getting questions I didn’t know the answer to really, and I think they were both put in a bad position. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
‘Roy lost his job in around January time and Colin took over; and from there on he did a good job. The question you’d ask is probably why Colin didn’t get it from the word go. I played wide right throughout the whole season in a 4-5-1 formation and basically we gave teams too much respect. We were on the back foot from the first minute.
‘Don’t get me wrong, we got some good results but we didn’t have any consistency and I feel like Colin felt like we weren’t quite good enough if that makes sense? Naturally you would then take that backward step to sure things up in matches rather than go on the front foot.
The Wanderers of Bolton and Wolverhampton had many memorable clashes during the 1990s and those clashes included the vitally important play-off fixtures in 1995. Wolves took the upper-hand with a 2-1 victory at Molineux, but McGinlay’s brace at Burnden Park in the return leg ensured victory for Bruce Rioch’s men. The Scot spoke about the butting of heads with Wolves during those days and to many, a surprising appearance in that second leg.
‘The rivalry with Wolves goes back to Sir Nat’s days with Stan Cullis by all accounts, back to the 50s. I think we kind of reignited it in the 90s. It’s hard to fathom now because they were the first games we looked for at the start of the season. They were phenomenal games, they really were.
‘Don’t get me wrong, you’d go to Molineux and there was a great atmosphere – they’re a great club. I’ve got nothing against them as a club. I still get pelters off their fans now.
‘The funny thing is, when we got relegated from the Championship in 2015/16 I got messages from their fans saying it was karma and all of that – it’s 25 years ago do you know what I mean!? I was getting called all the names under the sun, I blocked about 500 of them in one night. It’s a story though now isn’t it? You’d like to see those days come back though, because they were good days!
‘It was a proper rivalry, but that’s what you want because that’s what creates a proper atmosphere inside a football ground. Players want to play in that type of environment. You look at it now and the crowd might be a bit down or a bit low and then sometimes it’s hard to play.
‘When you come out as a footballer onto the pitch and it is electric, it triggers you and get you going. Those days were special, they really were and I do genuinely miss them. In truth, we owned them in those days – well, I owned them!
‘I’d been struggling for a while with a thigh strain. It was getting towards the end of the season and I wanted to win the golden boot as well. So, I wasn’t doing much training during the week and the doctor was giving me injections before the game so that I could play.
‘This particular time was against Wolves and the players had gone out to warm up but I hadn’t gone out with them so the Wolves fans thought I wasn’t playing. Their fans were jumping about thinking I wasn’t playing.
‘The doctor would put the injection into about five minutes before the game and he told me to go out onto the pitch for a little jog beforehand so that the injection would take its effects quicker. So I went to walk out onto the pitch and everyone was coming in after their warm-up. Now there is nobody out there. I tried to get Scott Green to come out onto the pitch, like two women going to the toilet together, that sort of thing. He said no to me.
‘At Burnden Park, you had to go up a ramp to go onto the pitch and I’ve soon as I’ve walked up it and onto the pitch the crowd has erupted and gone berserk. All I’ve done is a little jog down to the right across the edge of the 18-yard box to the other side of the pitch, back across and then worked my way back in.
‘Lofty was in the corner by the Wolves fans at the time. The Bolton fans were going daft singing my song and the Wolves fans were spitting venom back at them – Lofty got caught in the middle of it and they were pelting him with pies and everything down in the corner!
‘The place was electric when we walked out for the start of the game, absolutely phenomenal and that set the tone for the game. The atmosphere never came down for the 90 minutes.’
The full interview with John McGinlay is available to listen to on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, with sections also available to watch on our official YouTube channel.