Marc Iles’s Bolton Wanderers column – What’s in a stadium name, anyhow?

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IN a couple of months, Wanderers will have played for a quarter of a century under the futuristic arches of their current stadium.

I do not know when it stopped becoming the ‘new’ ground to me – probably not long after I’d purchased my first flat screen TV from the “Big W” they built on Burnden in the early Noughties.

Perhaps it is the spaceship-esque steel girders, or those bespoke floodlights that you can recognize from many miles away, but it has never really occurred to me that the place would age just as fast as I did.

Twenty-five years ago, I was just starting university in Sheffield with aspirations of being Phillipa Forrester’s co-host on Tomorrow’s World. The arrangement never quite worked out. The show ended in 2003 and I always thought she put more into Robot Wars.

Back then, Wanderers played at The Reebok. No messing about.

Bolton already had the longest kit deal in English football with a company which originated in the town, so it made eminent sense that the ground bore its name too.

The trouble was, that without the branding, the building itself never had a proper name.

Middlesbrough had taken a different approach when they moved away from Ayresome Park in 1995, getting fans to vote on the name of the stadium before tweaking it to include the name of communications company, Cellnet.

The Cellnet Riverside Stadium always had that first name to fall back on. You could add any commercial tie-in you like, or have none whatsoever, and it would still sit neatly on a road sign.

I can still remember the briefing we were given in 2014 when Wanderers were ready to change the name to the Macron Stadium.

The club was convinced there would be no hangover – and urged us in the local press to get on board. We did, and managers like Dougie Freedman and Neil Lennon managed to stick to the party line too. But I lost count of the number of players whose interviews had to be craftily edited before going to print.

We still hadn’t entirely got to grips with Macron by August 2018 when The University of Bolton came aboard.

I know they were never keen on me referring to the stadium as the “UniBol” but in this business every letter in a headline is sacred. Reebok and Macron had six letters, and so must they.

And credit to the University, like Home Bargains, they first stepped forward at a time when it was not necessarily a great PR move to be associated with Bolton Wanderers.

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But they too have suffered from that branding memory, and even eight years since they took down the sign, lots of people still flat refuse to say anything other than “Reebok”.

Wanderers CEO Neil Hart informed me a couple of weeks ago that next season will be the last with the University as sponsors and that a bigger, more lucrative deal is being sought.

Commercially, this is the club’s cherry on top of the icing. No commercial contract is bigger. Equally, there is scope to correct a mistake from the past.

What is stopping a major company attaching their name in the same way that Cellnet did at Middlesbrough 27 years ago alongside a nod to Wanderers’ illustrious history?

Be it “Insert Company Here” Lofthouse Stadium or the “Insert Company Here” Wanderers Arena, the whole exercise could act as a reset button for years to come.

Why I was happy to say goodbye to Sunderland

MILEAGE in next season’s League One is going to be astronomical but I was still happy to wave goodbye to Sunderland rather than a three-and-a-half hour trip to Wycombe.
It was the Black Cats’ time, and had they missed out in the play-off final there would have been another massive playing budget for Wanderers to contend with in their fight for promotion.
It is already looking like a stacked division and although Wycombe are really well-drilled, you fancy they might be coming to the end of an area under Gareth Ainsworth.
Besides, I am in no hurry to rush up the 152 steps to the Stadium of Light. Twelve months at least gives me the chance to shed a bit of weight and get in training again.

Liam can fulfill his potential

SOMETIMES football clubs just move faster than the players they carry with them – and that was the case for Liam Gordon and Wanderers.

In a different time, the full-back would have developed in the Under-23s and potentially pushed for a first team spot in a couple of years. But his release this summer illustrated that he, and the club, had accelerated their plans.

Walsall is a great move for him. It is a good family club, well run, and a level of football that I think he can handle after last season’s showings at the UniBol.

A few years ago midfielder Jack Earing left Bolton and a few within the club felt he would benefit from getting out there and playing regularly. He now shares a dressing room with Gordon having played 50 times last season.

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