The history of Bolton: Founder members of the Football League on the brink

The Football League faces losing one of its founder members after a deal to save Bolton fell through, seemingly taking with it over a century of history.

Formed in 1874, Bolton have won four FA Cups in their history – including the first ever final at Wembley Stadium – and were in the Premier League as recently as 2012.

But unless a takeover can be resurrected by Tuesday’s 5pm deadline, they will be given 14 days’ notice of eviction from the League – a fate which most recently befell Maidstone in 1992.

After joining Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Burnley, Derby, Everton, Notts County, Preston, Stoke, West Brom and Wolves in the inaugural Football League season in 1888-89, Wanderers’ greatest success came in their early days.

They finished third in the top division in both 1891-92 and 1920-21 and, after defeats to Notts County in the 1894 FA Cup final and Manchester City 10 years later, won their first major trophy in 1923’s ‘White Horse Final’ at the new national stadium.

Goals from David Jack and Jack Smith earned a 2-0 win over West Ham in front of over 126,000 spectators. Jack scored their winner against Manchester City three years later and they then beat Portsmouth 2-0 in the 1929 final with second-half strikes from Billy Butler and Harold Blackmore.

Their fourth and final win came in 1958, when Nat Lofthouse’s brace saw off Manchester United 2-0, and he repeated the feat in the ensuing 4-1 Charity Shield win over Wolves.

Nat Lofthouse, left, scores in the 1958 FA Cup final
Nat Lofthouse, left, scores in the 1958 FA Cup final (PA)

Relegations in 1964 and 1971 left Bolton in the third tier and an up-and-down period in their existence saw them return to the top flight by 1978 and crash all the way to the fourth tier by 1987.

A steady recovery was marked by FA Cup upsets of Premier League Liverpool in 1992-93 and Everton, Arsenal and Aston Villa the following year and a League Cup final in 1995, where they lost 2-1 to the Reds after Steve McManaman’s brace.

They reached the promised land in their own right via the play-offs a few months later and though a yo-yo period followed until 2001, they then established themselves under Sam Allardyce’s management and with star signings such as Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo.

Another League Cup final, losing to Middlesbrough in 2004, and a pair of UEFA Cup qualifications made it the club’s most successful spell of the modern era.

Bolton's Youri Djorkaeff, left, and Jay-Jay Okocha celebrate a goal against Liverpool
Bolton’s Youri Djorkaeff, left, and Jay-Jay Okocha celebrate a goal against Liverpool (Phil Noble/PA)

Relegation in 2012 sparked a decline to the third tier and though Phil Parkinson led them back to the Championship, he was left battling financial troubles until his resignation last week.

Lofthouse, with 285 goals including 255 in the Football League, is Bolton’s all-time record scorer with Jack third on 161. The pair are split by Joe Smith, another member of that first FA Cup-winning team, who scored 277 including a club-record 38 league goals in the 1920-21 season.

Eddie Hopkinson made a record 578 appearances for the club including 519 in the league, with nine players featuring over 500 times in all competitions.

Only one of those, long-serving Finnish goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, played this century and Monday’s statement, warning that “the process of closing down the company will commence on Wednesday” unless a new deal can be struck, seemingly means there will be no new chapters added to the club’s rich history.

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