Football: A pounds 2 trip to `the vomitory'

Dave Hadfield on the bus to Horwich with the displaced Bolton supporters
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Every match is an away match when your team moves out of town, but there are Bolton fans who are not prepared to give up home advantage or their home comforts.

News that the Wanderers were moving five miles away to the new Reebok stadium in Horwich was the worst nightmare come true for Bolton pubs which have lived on their football trade for years, as well as small supporters for whom going there was as much a part of the ritual as the match itself.

But some, like Tony Bretherton at the Ainsworth Arms, were not willing to wave goodbye to their healthy pre-match and post-match custom without a struggle.

Thus it was that he and other like-minded landlords laid on mass transportation of Dunkirk proportions for the first match at the new ground last night. For pounds 2, you could go to the pub you used to drink in before games, be ferried to the stadium and brought back afterwards. Environmentally sound, good for fans who have quite enough change to come to terms with, good for Tony's bank balance.

A full coach-load of 50 took up the offer from the Ainsworth last night. "You've got the last seat," he said, although several others seemed to have been told the same thing: "6.45 prompt".

Such was the anxiety about missing the bus that all 50 were in their seats by 6.43. "It's like a proper club now, when the home team has coaches," said supporters used to the stroll through the town centre.

There have been weeks of discussions about the best routes. Sadly the decision went against the one that would have taken us past the corner shop on the Chorley New Road that has pasted up a handwritten sign: "Last pies before the ground".

It was not a new experience for everyone on board. Some had been there for a dry run on Saturday, the idea being that they found their parking place and their seats and minimised the chaos on the night.

The trouble was that in many cases there were no seats in their appointed places. It started an unworthy, not to say disloyal rumour that the match would be postponed, ostensibly as a sign of respect but in reality because the ground was not finished.

Like many new stadiums, it looks a little like an alien spacecraft landed on a ploughed field and no, it isn't finished.

There are plenty of raw edges and the innards of the main stand are so blank and featureless that you have to be escorted around for fear of disappearing into the void or, even worse, into an evacuation route called "the vomitory".

"But it's magnificent," said one supporter who has long since shed any sentimental attachment to Burnden Park.

Bolton won the psychological battle with their more traditionally-minded fans first by wrecking Burnden as a ground in which to watch football and then by having the Reebok rising dramatically on its new site long before the time came to vacate the old place - which is now partly occupied by squatters.

Few, if any, Bolton fans had resisted the temptation to visit Horwich to see the work in progress, but to be there on the opening night was an intoxicating experience, with or without the Ainsworth at either end of the trip.

"We'll probably still lose 3-0," said one pessimist.

"I'd swap it all for a decent centre-half," replied another.

A practical lot, Boltonians, but the dispassionate view was a minority one, on the bus and beyond.