Heading into 2035, Bolton Wanderers were absolutely flying in the Premier League. They found themselves in the top five, with the best defence, a 100% home record, and the league’s top goalscorer in the excellent Guilherme.
Our players were attracting interest from elsewhere, including Guilherme bizarrely being tracked by bottom half sides Fulham and Southampton. And we received a £40 million bid for Israeli right-back Sharon Laluz from Guangzhou, but he turned the Chinese side down. While backup centre-back Eder Luis moved back to Brazil with Gremio for £9.25 million.
Upon the opening of the January transfer window seven new players arrived at the club, all of whom were 18 and had huge potential. The pick of the arrivals is probably centre-back Ezequiel Garcia, who joins for £2.5 million from River Plate. He was joined by three more Brazilians in exciting left-back Edmundo Júnior from Flamengo, midfielder Ronaldo Henrique from Palmeiras, and centre-back Thauan from Sao Paulo, and the best thing about these deals was they were all free! We also added Portuguese right-back Vitor Mesquita for £700,000 from Benfica and Turkish left-back Hasan Mula from Fenerbahce.
Premier League resumes
2035 began with a big test at home to Spurs. We had the better of a quiet first half but that man Guilherme took control in the second, banging a fantastic hat-trick to down Spurs 3-0, with two assists from Laluz. What a start to the year! That took Guilherme to 20 league goals in 19 games, which earned him a cool £84,000 bonus.
Next was a reunion with our former Trotter Talent Solomon Suraka with a trip to Wolves. Nothing happened until I made a triple sub, which included wonderkid striker Jan Neuberg coming on to score the only goal after some dodgy goalkeeping. We struggled to a 1-1 draw at Cardiff, missing a host of chances, but were much better against struggling Derby – who had five points after 21 games – as Emanuel, Neal Vickers and Guilherme scored inside half an hour. Homegrown midfielder Ray Johnston – who’s become known as “the next Paul Gascoigne” – scored 10 minutes after the break, on top of two assists before it, before Guilherme wrapped up another brace and a 5-2 win.
A season-defining run
With 15 games remaining, we were third but there four points separated top of the league Chelsea and fifth-placed Man United. We clearly aren’t going to be involved in a title battle but we had three big home games coming up that would likely define where we finish the season and, either way, it’s definitely an exciting time to be involved with Bolton.
We got a lucky 0-0 at Leicester then welcomed title hopefuls Man City, against whom we’ve accrued one point in nine meetings, to the Eddie Davies Arena. City had the better of the first half without really threatening but, with half-time approaching, Neuberg latched onto a long ball, seemed to dive in two-footed on the goalkeeper but the ball broke to Guilherme and he tapped into an empty net. And, for some reason, the referee decided there was no foul! City offered little after the break and we were holding on until right-back Jhonatan González broke into the box and was brought down, winning a penalty that Guilherme tucked home for his 30th goal of the season and a 2-0 win.
We threw that advantage away with a poor 2-0 loss at West Brom, which we dominated but Neuberg missed a host of chances. That was followed by another huge home game against leaders Liverpool, which was a turgid 0-0 draw with zero highlights and our only shot coming in the 81st minute!
Worryingly, no player other than Guilherme had scored in nearly two months (since mid-January). And so it proved again as he rescued a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal. But Vickers ended that streak as he came off the bench to score a late winner to secure a 1-0 win in a tight game at struggling Fulham. For some reason, the TV execs chose our trip to Brighton for Monday night viewing and we put on a dominant show. Mathias Hansen scored early on then Vickers smashed home from a Nana Martin cross. Another easy win saw us defeat bottom of the league Palace, who have 13 points from 31 games, 2-0, before a dire 0-0 at Leeds.
European Conference League knockouts
The first knockout round of our first season back in Europe for 27 years pitted us against GD Chaves. We won the away leg 1-0, despite having 21 shots, with Edmundo Júnior having an excellent debut. Chaves scored a screamer early in the second leg but Guilherme, yet again, stepped up with a double to send us through.
Our reward was, strangely, another of three remaining Portuguese sides, Benfica. We started fairly well in the home leg and took the lead through – guess who? – Guilherme, who smashed in his 35th goal of the season for a 1-0 win. Our former defender Gil scored the opener in the second leg but Guilherme, yet again, grabbed an equaliser then Vickers nodded home a González cross. Our defence fell apart and Benfica scored twice but we held on for an impressive away goals win.
Our quarter-final opponents were Dutch side Groningen, against whom we drew twice in the group. The home leg was first again and Johnston put us ahead and Guilherme doubled the lead in a dominant first half. We ran riot after the break to win 6-1 as Vickers bagged a brace alongside three assists and Guilherme completed a hat-trick. With that buffer, I made 11 changes for the trip to Holland and we still won 2-1 thanks to a Mario Cordeiro brace.
Our semi-finals opponent was Atalanta, who became another of my favourite teams on my FM19 Atalanta Avventura save. The home game was first again and we dominated but wasted chances until Jonathan came off the bench to score and create one for his mate Emanuel. Johnston was again excellent, racking up ten key passes to win player of the match. We got off to a flyer in the second leg as Hansen tapped home from a free-kick after 22 minutes. Atalanta were the better team and equalised but Vickers broke away to remove any concerns. That meant we were heading to Bolton Wanderers’ first-ever European final!
Can we break the big six?
With six games remaining we were fourth in the Premier League, just ahead of Man United and Spurs, who both had games in hand, and 13 points clear of Arsenal.
We saw landmark moment as Guilherme smashed home his 40th goal of the season to open the scoring after an hour at Watford. The floodgates opened as Hansen scored an even better goal, Guilherme doubled his tally and Ronaldo Henrique came on to score his first Bolton goal and wrap up a 4-0 thumping. A narrow 2-1 win at home to Southampton followed, in which Guilherme picked up a four-week injury. But that win saw us confirm a first top-six finish.
A tough conclusion to the season began at home to Man United. We were the better team and led through Caldwell, who won April player of the month, only for United to equalise with a long-range volley in the 90th minute. But at least bloody Bustos didn’t score against us! Two goals in a minute were the only thing that happened in a 1-1 at Villa and a knackered team lost 2-0 at Chelsea to goals in injury-time of each half. For the second season in a row we finished at home to bogey side Everton, who we still haven’t beaten after a dreadful 0-0 draw in which Neuberg continued his 22 match goal drought!
Despite a shaky end to the season we held on to finish fifth in the Premier League, above previous champions Man United. This is an amazing achievement for a team with the second-lowest wage spending in the league! Guilherme was the second-top scorer in the league with 28 in 31, which was half of our entire total, and had the most player of the match performances with nine. While David Roberts, who made his 275th Bolton league appearance on the final day, won the Golden Glove with 19 clean sheets and conceded just 26 in 38 games.
Europa Conference League Final
The first European Final of Bolton Wanderers’ 161-year history pitted us against PSV Eindhoven. We just about had Guilherme and Caldwell back from injury, while Neuberg got injured the week before it.
So we lined up: Roberts; Laluz, Hermansen, Pereyra, Martin (c); Johnson; Emanuel, Hansen, Caldwell; Vickers, Guilherme
We started well and converted as Caldwell teed up Hansen to drill home from the edge of the box. Four minutes later, the same duo combined as Caldwell crossed for Hansen to stab home from the penalty spot. Caldwell made it three as Guilherme picked up a loose ball, crossed from the right and the little Scottish midfielder tapped home. And an unbelievable first half performance was capped by Caldwell crossing for Vickers to make it four after 26 minutes! And PSV still hadn’t had a shot.
They got one back through a brilliant chip with just their second shot as we took our foot off the gas after the break. But we went on to win 4-1 inspired by Caldwell’s brilliant performance of a goal and three assists.
Bolton Wanderers won their first European trophy as they lifted the European Conference League 2034/35!
Guilherme finished the campaign as the ECL top scorer with 11 goals in nine games and a ridiculous, new competition record 7.83 average rating. Despite that, Vickers won the tournament’s player of the season and Johnston came in third.
Guilherme was of course our main man with a new club record 41 goals in all competitions, which smashed the previous record set by Nathan Delfouneso in our League 1 promotion campaign in 2021/22, and club record of 11 player of the match awards. He unsurprisingly won fans’ player and young player of the season.
Vickers also broke the club record for assists with 12 across the season, alongside 18 goals. Hansen chipped in with nine goals, Caldwell scored eight, Cordeiro got six and Johnston five. Martin impressed with 11 assists from left-back, Laluz got nine from the other side, and Johnston and Caldwell got seven. González won signing of the season and Hansen won goal of the season, while Johnston had a club-high 50 passes per 90 minutes. Guilherme’s efforts saw him become a member of favoured personnel while Caldwell joined me as a Bolton icon.
Trotter Talents update
The Bolton first-team still has a strong presence of homegrown players that came through our academy. The squad has eight academy products, which includes starting goalkeeper David Roberts, left-back Nana Martin, midfielder Luke Johnson and attacker Neal Vickers, as well as promising midfielder Ray Johnston. While our young striker Dylan Smart won the EFL Young Player of the Year award on loan at Swansea, where he scored 19 in 38.
Our youth intake had a slight dip this year but still produced a decent talent in the form of right-back/midfielder Jack Barlow. Interestingly, it also produced youngsters from Argentina, Estonia and Denmark.
A look around England
Liverpool won the Premier League, ending United’s dominance. Cardiff, Derby and Palace went down and Villa, despite finishing 17th, won the Europa League so they qualified for the Champions League!
Sheffield United won the Championship and Bournemouth and Portsmouth were promoted, while Colchester, Crawley and Hull went down. Preston won League 1 and were joined in promotion by Luton and our feeder team Leyton Orient, with Ipswich, Wycombe, Wigan and Accrington Stanley going down. Coventry won League 2, with Port Vale, Doncaster and Bristol Rovers going up, and Chester and Tranmere went down.
Bradford won the National League to get back into the league along with Aldershot. Bath City, Nuneaton, Kettering and, surprisingly, Morecambe went down. They were replaced by Guiseley, Blyth Spartans, Hampton & Richmond Borough and Ebbsfleet United, with Curzon Ashton, Matlock Town, Evesham, Witton Albion, Slough Town, Eastbourne Borough, Staines and Enfield dropping out of the system.
Liverpool beat Championship champions Sheffield United in the FA Cup Final, Spurs beat United 4-1 in the Carabao Cup final, and PSG beat City on penalties to win the Champions League.
Join us next time for something a little bit different with a 15-year reflection post, looking back at the rise of Bolton Wanderers and looking at how the football world has developed.