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Trotters must keep listening to fans

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01 Jan 2010 16:43:27

Trotters must keep listening to fans

The Bolton board finally listened to the club's fans in sacking manager Gary Megson and they must now keep those ears open as they search for his successor. In October 2007, Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside enraged supporters with the appointment of a man they so vociferously opposed, claiming "a lot of people in football" understood the decision. But now, over two years later, the furious chanting of the angry mob proved too loud for Bolton's hierarchy to ignore any longer and serves as an important reminder of just who exactly holds the real power in the game. Unsurprisingly Megson is adamant he can leave with his head held high and feels those same "people who know football" are impressed with the job he did at the Reebok Stadium. But this was both men's biggest problem - they couldn't grasp the fact that the only people who really matter are those who spend their hard-earned cash following the club up and down the country. It's all very well listening to pundits, peers and fellow managers praising his efforts, but if the masses unanimously think the opposite, then surely there has to be a worrying case to answer. On the surface those outside the club think Megson did a decent job at Bolton simply because when he took over they were languishing at the foot of the table and now they are still a Premier League club. But it really isn't as simple as that, and those who think otherwise are naive to what supporting a football club is really all about. From the fans' point of view it felt as though Megson and Gartside were not remotely interested in their views and opinions. The Bolton boss never shied away from criticising them in the aftermath of taking flak during various games and never seemed willing to change his ways in accordance to their wishes. There was almost a constant war between supporters and Megson to prove each other wrong and it even got to the point where sections of the fanbase didn't mind the team losing anymore if it meant pushing him closer to the sack. And I'm sure we'd all agree when the situation gets to that level, you've got irreparable problems. This scenario was perfectly illustrated during his final match in charge against Hull, when the crowd vehemently voiced their fury and frustration when he replaced the major goal threat Ivan Klasnic with midfield stalwart Gavin McCann in a attempt to hang on to a 2-1 lead. Had the Trotters managed to win then Megson would have edged that particular battle but it was little surprise to see a fragile defence, yet to keep a Premier League clean sheet all season, cave in and concede a late equaliser when the team were instructed to sit back. Everybody could see it coming, except obviously for Megson. So who "knew" more about the way football worked that night? While the supporters called for his head, he once again blasted their negative attitude towards his decision-making in a desperate attempt to shift the blame away from himself. Sometimes it pays to hold your hands up, admit your mistakes and apologise. But when figures in power, in all walks of life, fail to do this throughout their tenure in power then a public uprising is virtually inevitable. And so it proved, there could only be one outcome after such a hostile night at the Reebok and the following day the Wanderers' lifeblood finally got their belated Christmas wish granted. Megson leaves with a record he says he's proud of and in terms of two successive survivals, you could say he did hit the lowest of targets. But when you consider he was taking over an established Premier League club, irrespective of a terrible start to the season, surely that can't be regarded as a miracle? Compare his achievements to those of Roy Hodgson at Fulham, who were as good as relegated heading into the final weeks of that same 2007/08 season. Not only did he keep them up by the skin of their teeth but he went on to build and inspire a squad capable of producing an attractive brand of football on their way to qualifying for European football and right now they are enjoying one of the best periods in their history. Now that's a definition of progression. By contrast all Megson has achieved is the bare minimum - and unfortunately those who run the club seemed to be satisfied with that for far too long. They were happy to accept a mundane plateau, as long as it meant survival. It didn't seem to matter if attendances were falling or if the crowd could only keep themselves awake during such dour spectacles by chanting for the manager to be sacked. All that mattered were the pound signs. All that mattered was just to co-exist in the same league as the best. The ambition from the days of Sam Allardyce was a distant memory. The life was being sucked out of the people and the prospect of an afternoon at the Reebok was no longer something to relish. Some observers blame the fans for never giving Megson a chance but that's not true. During his first season when he hauled the club out of the mire and masterminded a famous 2-2 draw at Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup as well as an equally impressive triumph over Atletico Madrid, the fans hailed him as 'Ginger Mourinho' while his remaining doubters were silenced as they ate humble pie. But he undid all that good work by controversially sacrificing the European dream by fielding a weaker team in a last 16 clash with Sporting Lisbon just to rest his players for an away game at Wigan, which they ended up losing anyway. Nevertheless having kept the club afloat, he now had a summer to rebuild the squad and make it his own but the signing of 9million Johan Elmander proved to be just another ball and chain to weigh him down throughout the remainder of his spell in charge which he just couldn't shrug off. Yet again Megson steered the Trotters to safety in 2008/09 but the perceived negative manner in which he did so was far from easy on the eye, with fans frequently calling for a change in tactics as they sought a clear indication that the club could move forward with vigour and passion. All they could see was a continuation of stale mediocrity at the very best. When Bolton failed to hold on to a 2-0 lead at Ewood Park back in January, a section of supporters once again felt compelled to jeer Megson, who responded by unwisely branding that particular group as "pathetic". He clearly wasn't overly concerned about trying to develop a strong rapport with the fans and the BWSA claim he never accepted an invitation to attend the supporters' club meetings and events during his time at the helm. And following a string of poor results this season which left Bolton heading into the New Year in the bottom three, Megson's popularity hit an all-time low. Never had the ill feeling and anger towards him been quite so vitriolic as on that cold Tuesday night against Hull and during the post-match interviews he just couldn't resist yet another pop at the fans. It was a fitting way for Megson to bow out at theReebok, with his sacking handing 'victory' to the masses of supporters who all tried to tell Gartside it would all end in tears. The fans were proved right and the "football people" were proved wrong but it will be of no consolation to anyone if the damage caused by this long-running bitter feud can't be repaired in time to save the ship from sinking. Bolton's next managerial appointment is now the most crucial in their entire history. Gartside and the board must be fully aware of any hint of widespread opposition towards certain candidates and not make the same mistake as last time. There are plenty of names already mentioned as potential replacements including the likes of Mark Hughes, Owen Coyle, Phil Brown, Peter Reid, Steve McClaren, Darren Ferguson, Steve Coppell, Alan Curbishley, George Burley and Paul Jewell - to name just 10 - so of course it won't be an easy appointment. Obviously if former Manchester City boss Hughes doesn't mind taking a "step down" from the size of his previous job at Eastlands, then the decision will be a no brainer but if he's not interested then it becomes more difficult. The board are paid and trusted to make these kind of judgements but ultimately they must understand the Bolton public this time and not fail them like they did back in October 2007.


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