What is it about Bolton Wanderers that attracts Vikings? On Friday, the year's shortest and arguably bleakest day, there didn't seem a lot to recommend them to any mortal, with icy rain being projected near-horizontally against the Reebok Stadium's ramparts, but Scandinavians seem to love the place. There are enough of them on the playing staff: Gudni Bergsson, Bo Hansen, Per Frandsen, Henrik Pedersen. There's also the goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, but he doesn't count, says Frandsen, because he's a Finn.
There was also, until he decamped to Chelsea, Eidur Gudjohnsen, who is due to be reunited with his old mates at Stamford Bridge this afternoon in what bids to be a fascinating contest between a Chelsea side who can lose at home to Charlton and then demolish Liverpool, and a Bolton who are hapless at the Reebok but lethal on the road.
For Frandsen, an archetypal Scandinavian (blond, with perfect English, delivered quietly), Stamford Bridge stirs sour memories. It was there, in the final match of the 1997-98 season, that a 2-0 defeat meant relegation for Bolton.
"A bad day for us, I remem-ber it well," he recalled. Despite a personal conviction that Chelsea will be challenging for the title this season ("A great side, they are working very hard and look much better now"), Frandsen insists Bolton have the chance to extend their fine away record. The inclination of home teams to go forward is what suits the Wanderers so much, perhaps the best example being the 5-0 win at Leicester and victory at Old Trafford.
It was that rousing rout of Leicester, on the season's opening day, which announced that Bolton were back in the Premiership as more than lower-order cannon fodder. Frandsen scored twice with free-kicks and has been a crucial component of the Bolton machine all season, apart from absence caused by injury to his left ankle.
The manager, Sam Allar-dyce, identifies his excellence as twofold: "First, Per's contributions on set plays and some of the goals he has scored, plus the delivery he has provided. Second, his experience and the way he has played in midfield in that group of three we like to use."
Frandsen has particularly relished playing once more against what he calls "the big boys". At 31, the Danish inter-national is in his sixth season of English football, all but seven months of it spent at Bolton. He joined them in August 1996 for £350,000 from FC Copenhagen, and moved briefly to Blackburn before being repurchased by Allar-dyce for a heftier £1.5m at the start of last season, repaying much of that outlay by starting 40 games.
However, he winces at the description "regular". "Nobody is a regular here, you have to play well all the time, and we knew when we got back into the Premiership we had become a very decent side. Nobody expected much from us but we knew we were capable of some surprises, so we decided to show those who had written us off before the season even started.
"Our strengths are the way we work for each other, our discipline and the fact that we know our roles. In addition, we have Michael Ricketts up front to score. I think for sure Michael will play for England. He has pace, strength and skill and is a great finisher." The club's superb team spirit is another plus: "It has always been very special here. Everybody knows each other and speaks to each other, very down-to-earth."
Allardyce was certainly down-to-earth about what his side face today. "Chelsea have changed. They are more robust, they have solid strength as a unit, they are now a rigid 4-4-2 after trying a lot of systems and they have a couple of strikers in form."
Frandsen concurs. "Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scores goals for fun and Eidur, well we know what he is capable of. He is a great player. But hopefully we can take another big scalp, do well again away from home." Mention of that win over Manchester United prompted a smile, since the match was shown live on Danish TV and Frandsen was bombarded with calls from home.
"These days we know what we are capable of, we have a good mix of youth and experience," he says. "We are very organised and difficult to play against. That is why we have had some good results away from home. The problem has been that we aren't scoring enough at home. But we are going to survive for sure."
Then the Viking in him surfaces belatedly with the confident forecast that Bolton will finish the season in the top eight. It would certainly be nice to think so.Reuse content