On the road: Bolton Wanderers, Macron Stadium
SOUTHEND’S maiden trip to the Macron Stadium comes almost 20 years after they last played Bolton, a 3-1 defeat at Burnden Park between Christmas and New Year 1996, allowing the hosts to gain revenge for the 5-2 smashing they received at Roots Hall the previous September.
After winning promotion that season, the Trotters enjoyed happy times, moving to a new stadium, experiencing European football and nurturing the future England and Southend managers. However, thanks to Peter Kay, the club is probably better known for a scene in the brilliant Channel 4 comedy Phoenix Nights, when a stag party of midgets dressed in Bolton replica shirts beat up the doormen at the Phoenix Club while singing songs about Super John McGinley.
Since they bade farewell to the greed league in 2012 and chairman Phil Gartside, who stewarded them throughout their years in the top flight, has now passed away. A new board is in place, and although the club has had its money worries, a table-topping start to life in League One has revived the optimism around the club after a truly awful 2015/16. They were even able to bring in five players on deadline day.
The Macron Stadium may be spectacular with its white steel framework, but it is sodding miles from Bolton. It’s actually in Horwich, about six miles from the town that gives the football club its name, and on this particular weekend the railway station that serves thestadium and surrounding retail park (Horwich Parkway) is shut. Those travelling by train can get rail replacement bus services from Bolton or Preston, or drink in the town itself and get a cab, which is probably what we’ll do.
If you’re still undecided about whether to make the long trip, it might be best to check with Shrimpers Trust or TravelZone if they have any spaces on their excellent coaches, because a train ticket bought this late will set you back almost £100. The ground is on a retail park and there is plenty of parking around, it is not a built up area.
Ticket prices are £26 and can be bought on the day. Southend fans will be situated in the lower tier of the South Stand, which is likely to be shared with home supporters. The view and facilities are good, as you would expect, and there is alcohol on sale in the ground.
Pubs in the area around the ground are a little uninspiring. The nearest safe bet is the Bee Hive, a 15-minute walk. Outlets on the retail park and nearer the stadium are likely to be home fans only, with doorman checking match tickets.
Those heading into Bolton itself could do worse than while away a couple of pre-match hours in the town’s market. Not to buy knock off sportswear, but to drink in the Great Ale at the Market outlet, a micropub listed in the Good Beer Guide. Alternatively, there is a Wetherspoons near the station, The Spinning Mule.