Tim Ream: The Bolton defender living the dream

The Bolton defender has achieved his childhood ambition of playing in England. But the move from the US has been anything but easy – especially as it ruined his honeymoon

Brendan Meyer
Friday 27 April 2012 11:29 BST
Ream has become a regular in Bolton’s defence since his arrival from the States in January
Ream has become a regular in Bolton’s defence since his arrival from the States in January (Getty Images)

Tim Ream lets out an exasperated breath. For a brief moment he does not respond to the question, rather choosing to stare blankly at the dull ceiling tiles of the now nearly vacant Bolton Wanderers training ground.

The American central defender looks to be agonising, fumbling, through thoughts of how to begin the telling of his journey from the United States to Bolton that happened three months ago when he transferred from the MLS to the Premier League, cancelling his honeymoon and leaving behind his comfortable lifestyle in New York.

"It's actually a really, really long story," he says. "It was an interesting time. But it was scary. I don't have any problem admitting that. It was scary. Less than 24 hours after my wedding I got the phone call from Bolton, but it was within 12 hours of me leaving on a flight for my honeymoon. It was..." Ream pauses once again. "It was rough."

While many Americans have had to make the same transition across the Pond, it is hard to beat the absurd details of the journey that the affable 24-year-old experienced. Hardly surprising that he had his doubts. "That was one of those times where I was questioning whether it was the right decision, and whether it would all work out for the best," he adds.

But playing in the Premier League had always been a dream of Ream's. After two stellar seasons with the New York Red Bulls, appearing in 58 games and being nominated in the 2011 All-Star team, Ream's aspirations slowly turned in to a possibility, and then reality. He trained with Bolton in December with permission from New York, catching the interest of the manager Owen Coyle which led to his transfer in January.

It was the realisation of an ambition he had held since his early years playing football growing up in St Louis. But that did not stop him feeling anxious rather than delighted when he picked up that phone.

However, he had always told himself that he wanted to play in the best league in the world against the best players, and did not know if another opportunity would ever come along. So he and his wife cancelled their honeymoon, flew straight to Bolton, and began a new life. One that brought more money, more fame, more opportunity, but more struggles.

Ream says that the transition on the pitch has been fairly smooth and painless. He was given his first start almost immediately upon his arrival on 18 February in an FA Cup match against Millwall, and then a Premier League encounter with Chelsea the following weekend. There was a step up in physicality and a higher quality of competition but over time Ream has gradually adjusted to the faster pace of the game. It was the transition off the field that brought the bulk of his troubles.

"There were many, many, many issues that arose," he says. "Every issue that could have arisen, did. I thought I was taking steps forward and I was always taking two steps back. I mean, once a week, once every two weeks, I thought to myself, 'What have I done, what have I gotten myself in to?'"

These feelings were particularly intense during his first two months playing for Bolton when he was living in a hotel inside the stadium. His wife had spent some time with him during that period, but was mainly back in the States as she began the process of moving the couple's belongings to Bolton. It was an experience that Ream never wants to go through again.

"It was the most boring time of my life," Ream says before chuckling. "I had no way of getting around. You basically don't know anything around where you are. So it's a lot of trial and error. Lots of error." The jovial Ream is still laughing, reminiscing through the awful food he forced himself to eat day in and day out.

"Eating at the same places, eating the same things for two months, it's a struggle," he says. "I don't think I have had a Nando's since. I had it probably four or five times a week during that time. I actually started, and this is horrible, I started resorting to McDonald's, which was awful."

But the bigger picture for Ream and his club this season has been on the pitch, where Bolton are desperately fighting relegation. After their excellent win at Aston Villa in midweek, they head to Sunderland tomorrow still third from bottom, but just one point behind both Queen's Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic, with a crucial game in hand.

For Ream, the whole relegation system, let alone fighting against the drop, is brand new. "It's definitely an interesting dynamic coming from a league that doesn't have it," he says. "And I think that's where the pressure side of it comes in. You don't really feel pressure game-in and game-out in the MLS like you do here.

"It's not fun by any means. It makes for some ugly games, and some rough games. But what it goes down to is just fighting, fighting to stay up. Coming together and sticking together as a team to stay up. That's the biggest thing. It doesn't matter how you do it. At the end of the day, we're the ones on the field and we're the ones trying to stay up and fight to not get relegated. That's just the mentality you have to go in to games with."

While Ream signed a three-and-a-half year contract with Bolton, would he regret his decision to come to the Premier League if they were to be relegated this season?

"No. I'm not one to second-guess and regret decisions. At the end of the day, you make a decision and you stick with it. And whether we do or don't get relegated, it doesn't matter. I'm here. I signed the contract, and I'm here. Obviously, I would like to stay up, but at the end of the day, it's up to us whether we do or not. If we don't, we have to live with it, and we'll keep plugging away."

Being without his wife, stuck in a lonely hotel room, experimenting with fast-food chains and fighting relegation may seem to be major problems casting a shadow over Ream's transition to England, but it was when his team-mate, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed on the pitch with a heart attack on 17 March that his personal struggles were put in to perspective. He takes a long pause when asked how that experience had affected him.

"I mean, I have goose bumps thinking about it right now," he says. "It's... it's something that you never want to see happen to anybody. It's scary. While this is a great job, it really makes you stop and think what is important. That's family and life. At the end of the day, this is just a game. This is just a job. What matters is the stuff that's off the field and what you go home to every day."

So, if this really is just a job, then how did he feel about Bolton paying £2.5m for his services? Ream pauses for a moment.

"It felt strange to be honest with you," he replies. "To see that kind of money being transferred... it still kind of blows my mind really. I don't think about it quite as much any more, but I was really in shock when I heard about the number that was put out there."

"Sometimes, I do think, 'Am I really worth that much?' That's part of how I was raised. There's always someone better, always someone stronger and always someone coming behind you. Do I think I'm worth that much? Probably not, but that's the price that was paid, so now I have to kind of live up to that."

While Ream may be trying to forge a reputation in England his fellow American Clint Dempsey, of Fulham, has well and truly made his, especially this season. After moving to England in 2007, the attacking midfielder is currently having his most successful season with 22 goals in all competitions. But if Ream is looking for that secret nugget of advice from the Fulham man, he will be disappointed: Dempsey cannot put his finger on what it takes to succeed in the Premier League – and that, he feels, is what makes the whole adjustment so special.

"There's not really a recipe for it," Dempsey says. "I think everybody has to go through and experience things for themselves. That's part of the beauty of it. If it became easy, then it wouldn't be so special. You've got to go through the grind to see the good days."

Ream seems to have gone through some of the grind and is now starting to become a regular in the starting line-up for Bolton, learning and adapting to the different style of play in the eight matches he's appeared in.

He now lives with his wife in their own house, eating wide varieties of food that specifically omits Nando's and McDonald's, and their long-awaited honeymoon has been rescheduled for late June.

So does this mean Ream's transition from the MLS to the Premier League is complete? For this reply, there was no exasperated breath, no staring at the ceiling. Just a quick lean forward and an immediate reply. "I'm there. I'm done transitioning," he says. "I've had it with transitioning."

Pond hoppers: Americans who have excelled in England

John Harkes

Was the first American to play in the Premier League while with Sheffield Wednesday. The midfielder later had loan spells at West Ham and Nottingham Forest.

Kasey Keller

The keeper was signed from Millwall by Martin O'Neill when Leicester went up in 1996. Had three successful years at Filbert Street and later joined Spurs.

Brad Friedel

Snapped up by Liverpool in 1997 and the keeper has given good service to Blackburn, Aston Villa, and now Spurs. Played more PL games (434) than any other American.

Claudio Reyna

The then US captain enjoyed five years in the Premier League, with spells at Sunderland, who he signed for from Rangers in 2001, and Manchester City.

Brian McBride

Bustling striker who joined Everton on loan from MLS side Columbus Crew in 2003 and was later bought by Fulham. Scored 36 goals in the Premier League.

Clint Dempsey

Joined Fulham in 2007 from New England Revolution, and the clever striker is one goal short of becoming the first American to score 50 Premier League goals.

Landon Donovan

The winger made an impact in two successful loan spells at Everton, from January to March 2010, and from January to February this year.

James Orr

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