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Bolton Wanderers History: From Its Founding In 1874 To 1900

Bolton Wanderers Football Club is a professional football club based in Bolton, Greater Manchester, England. The club was formed in 1874 and had a history of over 149 years. The club has achieved several significant milestones throughout its history, including winning the FA Cup three times, the Football League Cup once, and founding the Premier League. This blog post will look at Bolton Wanderers History from its early beginnings to the 1900s.

At the beginning of 1874, Thomas Ogden, the schoolmaster at Christ Church, called a meeting of teachers and other young men and addressed the idea of furthering the football game within the area, which received plenty of support.

pikes lane in 1893

Bolton Wanderers First Match

The club’s first game was played between Green Lane and Plodder Lane on a field called Smithfield, and their first opponents were Farnworth. After that, matches were played on the Recreation Ground, with Christ Church School itself being used as headquarters.

In 1877 the Vicar objected to meetings being held within the school without his presence and the fact that they had to wander to a nearby hostelry, the Gladstone Hotel, which suggested the new name “Bolton Wanderers.” Thus on 28 August 1877, the club was formed.

In 1881 Wanderers moved to Pikes Lane, where £150 were spent on pitch improvements, where season tickets were priced at one guinea. In the same year, the club resisted the suggestion by civic leaders that the name “Wanderers should be dropped in favor of simply “Bolton.”

bolton wanderers 1894 starting lineup

FA Cup Debut

The Wanderers entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1881/1882 and were knocked out in the second round by local rivals Blackburn Rovers.

In 1883 the club was threatened with expulsion from the Lancashire FA after referee Sam Ormerod was booed off the field at Pikes Lane and then assaulted at the railway station. Fortunately, the Association decided not to take any action.

In 1885/86, Bolton won the Lancashire Cup by defeating Blackburn, the Bolton Charity Cup, and the Derbyshire Charity Cup, but off-the-field politics took the headlines.

Peter Parkinson resigned as President, and Billy Struthers was appointed Club Secretary at the annual meeting. However, he needed more inclination for the job, and in February 1887, Fitzroy Norris replaced him and was a big part of Bolton Wanderers history.

On 17 April 1888, Bolton Wanderers became one of the twelve clubs to form the Football League. Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, and Wolverhampton Wanderers were the other clubs chosen for the league.

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To complete a good season in 1890/1891, Wanderers won the County Cup by defeating Darwen 3-1 in the final at Anfield. Goal nets were used for the first time during this season, initially in one half of a friendly at Nottingham Forest in January 1891.

At the end of the season, Bolton Wanderers were admitted to the Manchester Football Association, becoming the 46th member and allowing them to compete in the Senior Cup competition.

The last League game in 1893/1894, before the FA Cup Final, was lost 3-2 at Everton, and five days later, another trip to Goodison Park was made for the 1894 FA Cup Final. Unfortunately, a poor crowd of 23,000 saw the Wanderers freeze on the day, and Notts County ran up a 4-0 lead before Cassidy grabbed a consolation goal, as County became the first Second Division side to win the FA Cup.

Watching Bolton Wanderers in 1800s

Incorporating Bolton Wanderers

On 5 October 1894, it was decided that Bolton Wanderers Football & Athletic should be incorporated under the company acts of 1862 and 1890, whereby the liability of each shareholder be limited to the number of his shares. A capital of £4000 was to be raised, and a plot of land at Burnden was to be leased in the sum of £130 per annum.

Burnden Park was completed on 10 August 1895 and used for the first time a week later when the club’s ninth annual athletic festival was held. A total of 35,000 passed through the gates on a Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday, e novelty of the new ground increasing the previous year’s attendance by 10,000.

Football was first played at Burnden Park when the Wanderers took on Preston in a benefit game for full-back Dave Jones, who had captained the club for the previous six years. Three days later, 15,000 attended the opening League game at Burnden Park against Everton.

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In 1898/1899, Bolton Wanderers were relegated to the Second Division for the first time. Lawrie Bell scored the club’s first-ever Second Division goal in a 3-2 win over Loughborough at Leicester, with Loughborough’s ground being closed due to crowd disturbances.

1899/1900 saw Wanderers being promoted back into the First Division, finishing second to champions Sheffield Wednesday, despite Wanderers being awarded 11 penalties throughout the season and missing every one of them!

Here is a quick summary of the Bolton Wanderers’ journey in English football. In addition, we have an extensive article on the football club from 1900-2000 for you to read.

In the meantime, here is a quick summary of the Bolton Wanderers History.

bolton wanderers winning the fa cup

Bolton Wanderers History Quick Summary

  • BWFC won the FA Cup in 1923 (the first final played at Wembley).
  • During the 1930s, the club slipped out of the top flight but returned in 1935 to put together 29 consecutive years as members of the old first division.
  • The club won the Football League North war cup in 1945 by defeating Manchester United over two legs and followed this up with a victory over the Southern winners, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge.
  • The club produced a great personality and one of England’s greatest forwards in Nat Lofthouse, who became the club’s record goal scorer with 285 first-class goals. Nat also scored 30 goals in 33 England appearances, becoming the Wanderers coach and manager and now the club President.
  • In 1958, the club won the FA Cup when two Nat Lofthouse goals defeated Manchester United.
  • The club had its ups and downs during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and by 1987 the Wanderers found themselves in the basement of the Football League. However, the ensuing ten years brought about the most exciting decade in the club’s history, both on and off the park.
  • In 1993, the club gained national prominence by knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup at Anfield.
  • The Premiership was reached in 1995 with an incredible 4-3 Wembley win over Reading in the play-off final. After just one season, the club was relegated but bounced back at the first attempt.
  • The 1996/97 season was one of the most successful League seasons in the club’s history, as they won the first division championship. Club records tumbled:
  • Most points in a season (98)
  • Most goals scored in a season (100)
  • Most wins in a season (28)
Nat Lofthouse scoring the winner against Austria in 1952
Nat Lofthouse
  • It also proved to be the end of an era as the championship trophy was presented at the final Burnden Park game to make it a happy ending to 102 years at the ground.
  • The club kicked off the 1997/98 season back in the Premiership and at their new ground, the Reebok Stadium. The club was relegated again after just one season.
  • The club regained Premiership status in the 2001/02 season, where they remain.
  • In 2004, the Club recorded its best finish to a season in 40 years, finishing eighth. The Club also reached the final of the Carling Cup but lost out to Middlesbrough on 29 February 2004.
  • Bolton finished sixth in the league, thus earning qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.
  • The Club qualified for European football for the first time in its 131-year history and made the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2006.
  • Bolton was relegated to the Championship in 2012 by one point on the last day of the season.
  • In 2015, Bolton was £172.9 million in debt and handed a winding-up petition from HM Revenue and Customs over unpaid taxes.
  • Bolton Wanderers history got worse when they were relegated to the third tier of English football in 2016 but bounced back the following season.
  • The club went into administration due to a £1.2m unpaid tax bill in 2019 and was sold to Football Ventures Ltd.
  • For the second time in Bolton Wanderers history, the club fell to the fourth tier but bounced back up the following season in 2021.

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