Football: Doing it the Rioch way: Guy Hodgson meets the manager of Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup conquerors of Liverpool

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THE PEOPLE of Bolton have drunk deep from the strong brew of FA Cup success this week. The postman delivering to Burnden Park had supped enough to say: 'Never mind Wednesday, we've been playing football like that for 15 weeks.' The mayor promised to be on the town hall steps when Wanderers bring home the FA Cup in May.

Even the Manchester Evening News was intoxicated into forgetting four Cup final victories by describing the 2-0 third-round replay win over the holders Liverpool at Anfield as 'arguably the greatest result in the club's history'. In football, as in life, a sense of proportion is easily lost.

To find it required a trip to the bowels of the Bolton ground. The manager, Bruce Rioch, could scarcely let himself be carried away when his office door is six feet away from the one belonging to Nat Lofthouse, the 'Lion of Vienna' and president of Bolton, who did, after all, score the two goals that beat Manchester United at Wembley in 1958.

'Promotion is the priority,' Rioch said with the sobriety of a Quaker, 'but if the club enters competitions like the FA Cup, Coca-Cola Cup and Autoglass Trophy we will compete as fiercely as possible. We want to win them. The league is our bread and butter. This club has had two near misses in recent years - we've hit the bar in terms of promotion, now we need to score.'

Then the mask slipped. 'The great moment on Wednesday was not the match but the scene in the dressing-room afterwards,' he said. 'There were two 30-year- olds who had seen it all before but were very emotional. John McGinlay, who idolised Kenny Dalglish and had never set foot on Anfield before, said he was so excited the hairs were standing up on the back of his neck. You get lows in football but when the highs come they are fantastic.'

Bolton employed Rioch last June, preferring to remember the highs of his two promotions as manager of Middlesbrough than his less successful time at Millwall. 'Bolton appealed because of the potential,' he said in the English accent which bemused his fellow Scots when he was captain of the national team but is explained by his father's army duties south of the border. 'History shows that when the club is successful the support is here. In the Fifties they had crowds of 50,000 and 60,000 here. Manchester is not far away but the people are Bolton through and through.

'If you look at the two games (against Liverpool) I don't think anyone would argue that we didn't deserve to win,' Rioch said. 'We created more chances and played some good football.

'I cannot praise Liverpool enough. Everyone, the chairman, directors, Graeme Souness and the supporters, treated us magnificently. Only someone who is involved in football can imagine how disappointed they must have been but they accepted the defeat with dignity. It's something I'll not forget.'

The Kop is likely to remember too a Second Division team built on vintage Liverpool lines. Bolton are no soft touch. They tackle and run hard, but they also pass and receive a ball well, a tribute not only to Rioch, whose former Millwall charges display similar traits, but to Phil Neal, who left the club after six and a half years last summer.

'My father taught me to play football,' Rioch said, 'and he never talked about hitting it into channels or booting into this or that position so that you can win a throw-in. He taught me to shimmy, to control the ball and to pass it. That's how I want my teams to play.

'It's a lovely thing being in football, it's all I've ever wanted to do. If I was ever on Desert Island Discs the luxury I'd want to take with me would be a ball.'

The ball is rolling Bolton's way. The bookies have reduced their odds on winning the FA Cup from 500-1 to 125-1, while there is a growing head of steam in the Second Division. The postman's bag was loaded down with letters of congratulation this week. He did not seem to mind.

(Photograph omitted)