Bolton unveils sculpture of 900 sports stars, but it doesn't like the cold

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The Independent Online

The extraordinary appeal of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North at Gateshead on Tyneside has led many towns and cities to go one bigger.

Neighbouring Newcastle responded first in the game of municipal of one-upmanship with a crane-like structure called Tyne Anew. Chesterfield threw up a massive sundial beside the M1 known locally as "the tin wigwam" and Manchester spent heavily on Thomas Heatherwick's £1.4m B of the Bang.

Bolton, Lancashire, knew that investing in such public art carried health warnings. Neighbouring Manchester had to cordon off Heatherwick's spiky 184ft creation at the City of Manchester stadium when a 6ft spike was found to be hanging by a thread, 70ft up. But the town ploughed on regardless and, after a mild embarrassment of its own, was yesterday admiring a mighty statue that carries pictures of an eclectic mix of 900 local sporting heroes, including former footballer Nat Lofthouse, boxer Amir Khan and current Bolton Wanderers boss Sam Allardyce.

It nearly didn't happen. Barely a day before the statue was to be unveiled, it emerged that the resin which was supposed to bond its panels together didn't take well to cold weather - and, needless to say, this has not been the warmest of weeks in Bolton. A regiment of Calor Gas heaters was rolled out and they seem to have done the trick. The 86ft, £300,000 Spirit of Sport statue, situated next to Wanderers' Reebok Stadium, was still standing last night.

The statue provoked controversy long before the wraps came off. There was the usual concern about distraction to motorists (the statue sits beside the M61) but locals were also concerned that all 900 panels were to be filled immediately, leaving no room for the faces of tomorrow's sporting heroes.

Nine hundred heroes for a modest town of 260,000 people also seemed like a tall order. But Bolton managed it by including those no one will otherwise celebrate. They include a four-year-old tae kwon do star Alexis MacDowall, nominated by her instructor Michael Parchment, (who happens to be a world champion and also takes his place on the sculpture). Baseball player Paul Mortimer, hockey coach Sue Russell and many more are up there with Sir Nat - arguably the town's most famous sporting son by virtue of his 30 goals in 33 games for England.

No one in Bolton is allowed to forget the fact that the structure will tower 21ft higher than Gateshead's 65ft Angel.

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