Wembley Banter with Bolton
The countdown is on for Sunday`s Stoking at Wembley, but we`re not the only ones traveling to London. Bolton will be trotting down and bringing a mighty force to challenge our red and white side. What will happen? Who knows? But I`ve been talking to Vital Bolton`s Quentin X ahead of the clash, to see what he thinks.
Ryan Kalisz: Hello there Mr. X! Out of the all the time you`ve spent supporting Bolton, what is your most favorite memory?
Quentin X: I started supporting Bolton back in 1986, the season we were relegated to the old fourth division, so anything after that is pretty special. However, for the fact that it got us back into the Premier League, I would have to take the play off final win over Preston in 2001. We had been sitting third for about half the season and finished nine points clear of fourth, so it would have been a travesty if we hadn't have won, but it still took until the 89th minute for us to go two goals ahead. The sheer outpouring of relief amongst the fans was amazing to see, but I don't think any of us thought at the time we would go as far as we have since.
RK: Have you got your ticket for Wembley?
QX: I actually live in London but am just about to relocate to the north after six years. My job means that I sometimes work at the weekend and, although I've taken Sunday off, my shift starts on Saturday. This would have meant travelling to Manchester on Friday night, working on Saturday, travelling back to London, watching the game and then travelling back. That, I have been told by the missus, is just too much money. So I guess I'll just have to wait until the final.........;-)
RK: Sometimes it`s just easier to listen to the missus to be fair. As for the wait to the final, you may have a longer wait than you think! Next question: Have you ever been to Wembley before? If so; what was it like? If not; what are your expectations?
QX: I went to the old Wembley for play off finals, FA Cup semis and League Cup finals, but I haven't seen a game inside the new one. I have been inside though, and it is very impressive, if very expensive.
RK: Reports suggest that Bolton have been struggling to sell the full allocation of seats. Can you shed any light on this?
QX: This can be put down to two things. One is simple economics. I don't think many have the same problem as me in getting to the game but for some it is just unaffordable. The other is the age old problem. No disrespect to Port Vale, at least from me, but Stoke haven't got as much competition for fans as we have. Within a twenty mile radius we have both Manchester clubs, Wigan, Blackburn, Burnley, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Accrington and Preston plus Liverpool and Everton down the M62. The problem for all these clubs, bar the last two, are the first two. I'm sure that if you walk round Stoke you will see Man United shirts. In Bolton we have that problem magnified. We're taking 27,000 to Wembley, which is about 6,000 more than our average gate, and we're happy with that.
RK: Fair enough. But it`s a sell out for us Stokies; 90 official club coaches will be taking the majority of the 34,000 fans down south for the big game! Do you see this as an intimidating factor, especially as we have been tagged as the loudest fans in the country?
QX: Basically, no. Living in London, I've been to more away games than home. We've outsung Arsenal (not hard, granted), Chelsea, West Ham and Spurs at their grounds when I've been, and there aren't many grounds that are more intimidating than Upton Park/Boleyn Ground/Pre-Olympic Stadium (delete as appropriate). Wembley is wider and higher than the Britannia and while I think you'll make more noise (7,000 people will do that), I can't see it making that much of a difference. Especially by the time the fourth goes past Sorensen.
RK: Well we`ll be that loud, the wind from our lungs will blow the ball away from our goal anyway (at least for one half of the game). Next question: Our manager Tony Pulis once said that the quality of players Owen Coyle has at his disposal is mainly down to your previous manager Gary Megson. Do you agree with this?
QX: Ahhhh....Gary Megson. The stick with which we sometimes still get beaten. Gary Megson is an awful, awful manager and, although he wasn't with you long, Stoke fans should know that. He can't motivate, he's tactically naive and he alienates fans quicker than you can sing 'You don't know what you're doing'. But he is an excellent scout. In fact, he's wasted as a manager. Gary Cahill, Chung-Yong Lee and Mark Davies are the stand outs. He did have his clangers (Danny Shittu and Grzegorz Rasiak being the most notable) but I think he finished ahead on that score. The difference between Coyle and Megson is that Coyle knew what to do with the players.
RK: Who out of the Bolton squad would you say is a danger we need to keep an eye on?
QX: I would say Daniel Sturridge, Stuart Holden and Mark Davies but for one reason or another you won't have to keep an eye on them. Johan Elmander was played in central midfield for the first time last Saturday against West Ham and played as if he was born to play there. But, that was against West Ham. I'd say you'd have to look at the right wing where Chung-Yong Lee has been a revelation since he joined, although there is a rumour that Coyle will try out Rodrigo Moreno there on Sunday. Moreno makes Gareth Bale look tardy.
RK: Thanks for the heads up there! Are you reading this Pulis?! Next question: It`s been over a year since Owen Coyle took over the realms at Bolton. What is your opinion on the former Trotter striker and his performance so far?
QX: The man can do no wrong. He took a club who were in the doldrums and, no matter what Megson says, heading downwards and has turned us into European contenders, both in league and cup, within twelve months. He has married the style that we have, sometimes incorrectly, been known for and the style that he tried to play at Burnley. That has taken a lot of pressure off Kevin Davies who was expected to lead the team single handedly during the previous regime, and you can tell it is working when you look at Elmander's goal tally for the season. He's a careerist, as he showed when he left Burnley, but when he does leave he will go with applause. Hopefully that won't be for some time yet.
RK: I as a Stoke fan was delighted to hear that we had yourselves in the Semi-Finals, what was your reaction when you heard the news?
QX: Yep, you were definitely the ball we were hoping for. Jim Rosenthal kept Fabio and Hope Powell talking for so long, the United and City balls must have cooled down. I'm not saying I danced a jig round the room but I did smile for a while.
RK: I did… no I`m joking, I was stuck in traffic down Sir Stanley Mathews Way. Next question: We as a club has had its critics about our style of play and our physicality, but what is your opinion about us?
QX: You have the problem that we used to have. When Big Sam was in charge, we were labeled as a physical side. But would a physical side have Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro, Stelios Giannakopoulos, El-Hadji Diouf and Kevin Nolan in it? Granted, at the same time we had Kevin Davies but he is, alongside the player with most fouls, the most fouled player. The same could be said of Stoke. Matty Etherington's goal at Spurs last week was sublime and if it had been scored by Ryan Giggs they would be showing it on repeat on Sky. However, there aren't many teams whose second highest goal scorer is a defender. I think the problem that Stoke have in throwing off the tag that you've got is that many see Rory Delap's throws as your only weapon as they are so well documented. Add this onto Arsenal fans continually going on about Ryan Shawcross' leg breaker on Aaron Ramsey (and it was a bad tackle) and it will be a hard mantle to shift. Myself personally, I think it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.
RK: Clumsy challenge but nothing malicious as those Gooners would lead you to believe (as if they are still harping on about that anyway). Next question: If you were wearing the managerial shorts, who would be in your team selection?
QX: In goal would be Jaaskelainen. Defence would line up Steinsson-Cahill-Knight-Robinson. Midfield would be Lee-Elmander-Muamba-Petrov with Klasnic lining up alongside Kevin Davies.
RK: And finally the big question; what do you predict the score to be?
QX: All the way through the season I've been putting a fiver on 2-0. I'm down about a hundred but have a feeling this is the day when the lads get me back on an even keel.
RK: I respect you for putting your money where your mouth is, but I believe you`ll be further down in the red come the final whistle. I`m not a gambler but I`ll be in the red and white. Thanks very much Mr. X and may the Potters… cough… best team win!